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4 Democrats vie for Congress

Neill Mohammad, top left, Sara Dady, Beth Vercolio-Osmund, bottom left and Amy Murri Briel are running for the Democratic primary in the 16th Congressional District.
Neill Mohammad, top left, Sara Dady, Beth Vercolio-Osmund, bottom left and Amy Murri Briel are running for the Democratic primary in the 16th Congressional District.

The heightened energy among Democrats nationwide has not bypassed the 16th Congressional District, which includes La Salle County.

After Donald Trump's election, progressive Indivisible groups formed all around the district. And those organizations sparked a greater interest in the local congressional seat, long seen as the domain of Republicans. Area Democrats are hoping to take advantage of what they call the "blue wave" in the November general election.

Two years ago. Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Channahon, had no opponent in the general election.

In the Tuesday, March 20, Democratic primary, four candidates are vying to replace Kinzinger — nonprofit director Amy Murri Briel, immigration attorney Sara Dady, health care management consultant Neill Mohammad, and farmer and nonprofit director Beth Vercolio-Osmund.

They largely agree on the need for more government involvement in health and greater regulation of guns. They also call for friendlier policies toward immigrants.

The Times submitted questionnaires to the four candidates.

Amy Murri Briel

AGE: 43


OCCUPATION: Director, Phoenix Futbol, a nonprofit that provides low-income children with opportunities to play travel soccer.

EXPERIENCE: I have worked in sales and human resources for a number of organizations, additionally, I worked at a nonprofit, finding non-traditional work and vocational opportunities for women who were escaping abusive relationships.  

EDUCATION: Illinois State University, psychology/philosophy

Sara Dady

AGE: 45


OCCUPATION: Immigration attorney, partner at Dady & Hoffmann LLC

EXPERIENCE: Over a decade of experience practicing federal immigration law representing more than 4,000 individuals and families seeking legal status and citizenship in the U.S. Volunteer work includes serving on the Northern Illinois Workforce Alliance board, which awarded federal money for workforce training and preparedness, University of Illinois Cooperative Extension Service Advisory Council, Winnebago County 4-H fair judge for citizenship, leadership and consumer education projects, Northern Illinois Justice for Our Neighbors board which provides high quality, free immigration legal services, League of Women Voters of Greater Rockford immigration committee member and president of Neighborhood Network, which organizes and supports neighborhood groups throughout Winnebago and Boone counties. 

EDUCATION: J.D. William Mitchell College of Law, St. Paul, Minn., B.A., Classical Studies and Political Science, Luther College, Decorah, Iowa

Neill Mohammad

AGE: 37


EXPERIENCE: Former professor of foreign policy, University of Michigan; health care management consultant, Huron Consulting

EDUCATION: B.A. in political science and computer science, University of Illinois (2003); MA in Political Science, University of Michigan (2006); PhD in Political Science, University of Michigan (2011)

Beth Vercolio-Osmund

AGE: 49


OCCUPATION: Farmer/ Co-Director, Ottawa Community Food Basket

EXPERIENCE: Special education teacher, corporate trainer (Arthur Anderson), farmer/small business owner, co-director-Ottawa Community Food Basket Through these roles three themes have emerged: communication, problem solving, and service. These will be the cornerstones of my work as an elected official.

EDUCATION: Marquette High School, Northern Illinois University

Why are you the best candidate in this race?

Briel: I have deep roots in the district, having been born and raised in Ottawa and my family has been in the Illinois Valley for more than 100 years. Rather than spending my time cutting deals with political insiders for endorsements, I have run a grassroots campaign consisting entirely of direct outreach to voters. As the Chicago Tribune and IVI-IPO noted in their endorsements of my campaign, I have the most pragmatic approach to the critical issues we face in the 16th District, and am the best candidate to take on Adam Kinzinger.

Dady: As an immigration attorney, I have worked within the world federal laws, regulations and policies for over a decade. I built the largest immigration law firm outside of Chicagoland by working hard for and earning the trust of my clients. The largest part of my job is holding the federal government accountable to its own rules so my clients are given a fair opportunity to apply for legal status. As a mother, it is important to me that my children attend the same public schools I did and learn the values of good citizenship and leadership in the same 4-H club I attended. As an employer, I know first hand how the skyrocketing cost of health care is hurting the growth of my business. I have a proven record of being accessible, active and accountable in my professional and volunteer work, which is why I have earned the endorsements of 30 locally-elected Democrats and 50 faith leaders throughout the district as well as the national endorsement of the National Organization for Women (NOW).

Mohammad: Things like affordable health care, workers’ rights, and even immigration reform aren’t abstractions to me, but the issues that define my story. Growing up, my family worried about making ends meet. I went to subsidized daycare, enrolled in the hot lunch program at my grade school, and took out government loans for college. All this happened against the backdrop of my mother’s struggle with Crohn’s Disease. Generations of activists fought for the very investments that have helped people like me enter and stay in the middle class. I’m running for Congress, because I want the same opportunities for every other kid in Illinois. I’m the only candidate in this race with the expertise to not just vote for, but write, a bill establishing Medicare-for-All. I’m one of very few national candidates to have belonged to a union. And I know I’m the only candidate in this race with the foreign policy credentials to take the fight to Adam Kinzinger on his pet issue area.

Vercolio-Osmund: Voters deserve a representative that listens, understands and cares about their issues. I am a mother, a farmer, a small business owner, and co-director of the Ottawa food pantry. I taught special education in Sheridan, Minooka, and Ottawa as well as in Utah. I worked at corporate jobs with travel, commutes, and the mirage of job security. I fill out FAFSAs and hope financial aid will make college affordable. I am a leader. I started an after-school program that became a resource center for the community. National organizations ask me to speak to hundreds of farmers. I teach and mentor many others. I am proud to call myself a Rural Progressive, I know that people throughout our district care about our land, our livelihoods, and our communities. As the representative from the 16th District, I'll make sure that our voices are heard.

Should the United States move to single-payer health care? Why or why not?

Briel: I believe we are headed towards a single-payer system at some point. However, unlike my opponents, I recognize the reality that regardless of how successful Democrats are in November, we will have a Republican president and lack veto-proof majorities in the House and Senate, therefore, rather than telling voters simply what they want to hear, I am focused on making sure we undo the damage done to the Affordable Care Act in the last year. While there is much that needs to be fixed in the ACA, the legislation was a critical first step towards reforming our health care system and, in many states, was beginning to bend the cost curve when the president and Republicans in Congress gutted it.

Dady: Yes. We are the only first world nation that does not have universal health care, which not only fails our citizens who need access to medical care, but hurts our ability to compete in the global marketplace. Single payer health care is more cost effective, would cover everyone and detaches health care from employment, which will allow employers to increase employee wages and encourage the growth of small businesses. It is time for the U.S. invest in universal health care.

Mohammad: I’ve worked with hospitals to contain the costs of prescription drugs and resist corruption in the private insurance industry. The way forward is clear: a universal, single-payer insurance system like Medicare-for-all, which has at least three benefits: 1) Reduced cost: Each person pays $9,000 per year for health care in the U.S; the next expensive system in any other developed country costs $6,000. That difference represents a substantial tax on the middle class, and it’s a tax that needs to be repealed. 2) Improved fairness: over half of Americans get health insurance from their employer. Thanks to a series of recent Supreme Court decisions, employers can decide what doctors — and what kinds of doctors — their employees can see, which is an invasion of privacy. 3) Higher quality: Medicare has held doctors and hospitals accountable for the quality of care they provide. The private insurance industry has no incentive to improve outcomes because they may only have responsibility for a given patient for a few years. Only Medicare has the long-term incentive to invest in patient wellness.

Vercolio-Osmund: I support moving towards universal health care, such as the Medicare for All bill.  Making sure that all Americans have access to high quality health care is not only the right thing to do, it is the smart thing to do. Universal coverage will lower the overall cost to the economy. It will enable the government to exercise control over the cost of medical service and drug prices through negotiation and regulation. It will also ensure that we have a healthier citizenry. Preventative care and a nationwide standard of high quality early childhood care will not only benefit our people, but will save money in the long run.

Can the federal deficit be dramatically reduced without affecting defense, Social Security and Medicare? Why or why not?

Briel: First and foremost, we must reverse the gift Adam Kinzinger and Republicans gave to their donors, corporations, and the 1 percent in the form of a tax plan that punishes the lower and middle-class families. Every independent source has said the tax bill will further explode the debt and leading CEOs — with the exception of a couple of employee “bonus” publicity stunts, which were followed by layoffs — have said they will not pass that tax savings on to employees, it will instead go to investors. I also support eliminating the cap for the Social Security tax — which in currently $128,700 — which will help to keep one of country’s greatest efforts to reduce poverty solvent. I also believe that the Republican myth of trickle-down economics needs to be retired for good. We have a historically low marginal tax rate, nowhere near what it was during the Eisenhower or Reagan administrations — and there is a growing amount of research, most notably, the work of economists Peter Diamond and Emmanuel Saez that argue that the optimal marginal rate for the wealthiest to spur economic growth is much higher than the current rate. And finally, I believe we can reduce military spending without reducing military effectiveness or troop strength by reinvesting funds from pork projects and questionable investments like the F-35 fighter program.

Dady: Yes. The dollar amount of debt is less important than whether we have the ability to pay down the debt. The average American has about $137,000 in debt, but an income of under $60,000. American cost of living has increased 30 percent over the last 13 years, but incomes are not keeping pace, which indicates the average American will be unable to continue to pay down her/his debt without cutting expenses or increasing income. We tend to think of government debt in the same terms as individuals but they are two different animals. To put the current U.S. debt in perspective, the U.S. national debt to gross domestic product ratio is 75 percent, lower than it was following World War II when it was 112 percent. Japan has a debt to GDP ratio of over 200 percent, but enjoys strong credit terms due to both its strong economy and ability to continue paying on its debt. So the dollar amount, and even the debt to GDP ratio, is not a good measure of whether a country is spending beyond its means. After WWII, the wealthiest Americans and corporations were taxed at a higher rate, we had strong labor unions bargaining for higher worker wages, and we spent heavily on education, health care and infrastructure. The weakening of unions, tax cuts for corporations and the highest individual bracket, increased spending on wars, and deregulation have caused wage stagnation, widened the wealth gap, and hindered our economic development and our ability to pay on our debt.

Mohammad: Social Security and Medicare are solvent, and if we modernize the tax structure for Social Security and allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices, they’ll be even stronger. No honest debate about the federal debt can ignore the role of our disastrous wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. President Eisenhower understood that spending on ships, tanks, and jets necessarily meant less money for feeding and clothing people. Nobel Prize-winning economist Joe Stiglitz has estimated the total cost of the Iraq War itself to be over $3 trillion. We need to bring our troops home, invest in our own national infrastructure, and stop our dangerous addiction to regime change in foreign lands.

Vercolio-Osmund: To be responsible when we talk about the national debt, we must look at the bigger picture of economic growth, interest rates, and debt to GDP ratio. According to the Congressional Budget Office, we can keep our debt to GDP in the safe zone by either increasing income or cutting spending by 1.1 percent of the GDP over the coming decade. Carefully considered cuts or changes to purchases of military hardware, including canceling plans to purchase additional F-35 Joint Strike Fighters and instead purchasing F-16s and F/A-18s and reducing funding for naval ship construction to historical levels can, according to the CBO, generate $99 billion in savings over the next decade. We can also maintain our fiscal health by increasing revenue. There too, the CBO's 2016 report offers suggestions. Increasing the maximum taxable earnings subject to the Social Security payroll tax and requiring a minimum level of taxation on foreign income as it is earned are two I support.

Do you support keeping the middle-class tax cuts under the tax bill signed by the president? Why or why not?

Briel: I support repealing this tax plan which unduly punishes the middle class, and would support a bill to simplify the tax code while removing the gifts provided for corporations and the 1 percent. I reject the premise of your question, which suggests this bill is a net tax cut to the middle class —the bill will actually raise taxes on families earning less than $75,000 over the next decade, and that increase is exacerbated further by the reckless decision to remove the individual mandate from the ACA as part of the tax bill. By next year, most Americans between the ages of 50 and 64 will see a rise in their health insurance costs of up to $1,500 because of the removal of healthier Americans from the insurance pool. This bill, passed in the dead of night, without consideration of the Congressional Budget Office’s scoring of the bill, is an example of everything that is wrong with this Republican Congress.

Dady: Maybe. Whether or not the alleged middle-class tax cuts will significantly help the middle class remains to be seen. As an employer, I advised my employees that while less is being withheld from their paychecks, their over all tax liability at the end of the year may not be as low as they think so they may end up having to pay more in taxes than anticipated. We have a federal progressive tax system so that all income levels pay their fair share. The GOP tax plan is the opposite of fair share, sharply decreases revenues and will result in $1.4 trillion deficit without encouraging economic growth. It is important to understand that the changes to the middle class tax bracket are not permanent but the corporate tax cut is.

Mohammad: The tax bill signed by President Trump raises taxes on the middle-class in the long term. Republicans are hoping that by the time that bird comes home to roost sometime after 2020, that we’ll blame Democrats for it. We know that cutting taxes for the rich doesn’t do anything to stimulate the economy — ask any one in Kansas, whose former governor was so addicted to tax cuts that he bankrupted the state and caused a complete collapse of needed public services. Building and restoring the middle class starts with affordable, universal health care, quality public schools, and infrastructure that maintains America’s competitive edge in the global economy. Yet another billionaire bailout pushes all of those goals further and further away, and will mean more and more of us getting left behind.

Vercolio-Osmund: The so called middle-class tax cuts are a small fraction of the GOP tax scam of 2017. They are nice, while they last, but the vast majority of the permanent benefits will go to the very wealthy. This massive upwards redistribution of wealth makes the rich even richer at everyone else's expense. Trickle-down economics has been demonstrated not to work, and is largely responsible for the appalling income inequality that we see today. The top 10 percent own 75 percent of the total wealth, while the top 1 percent controls 35.5 percent. The lower 50 percent of households in this country have only 1.1 percent of the wealth. This is especially fiscally irresponsible when business are enjoying record profits and our infrastructure is failing. The American taxpayer should not be held hostage to the threats of corporations who reap the incredible benefits of operating in our country.

Do you support a wall all along the U.S. border with Mexico? Why or why not? 

Briel: No the wall is a solution in search of a problem; the number of individuals entering the U.S. from the Southern border has been on a steady decline for years. Rather than the president’s silly, jingoistic wall, I would support legitimate measures to strengthen border security, including: Stopping the pipeline of American weapons into Mexico and Central America, which continue to create a refugee problem as citizens flee those countries. Reinstating the cuts in the tax plan for treatment, research, and prevention of drug addiction — which will only increase the demand for illegal drugs. And finally, if the president and Republicans in Congress were truly serious about stopping illegal immigration they would pass legislation with strict penalties for employers who hire undocumented workers — they will not because they know the value these individuals bring to the economy, so they will continue to pander to part of their base with fear mongering about immigrants, while pandering to another part of their base by protecting their workforce and profits.

Dady: No. The proposed border wall is an unnecessary waste of taxpayer dollars. U.S. immigration reached its peak in 2005 and as of 2014, and right now more Mexican immigrants are leaving the U.S. than coming. Border apprehensions are at the lowest level since 1979. The Department of Homeland Security estimates a border wall will cost $21.6 billion to build and additional millions to maintain each year. This money would be better spent on implementing universal health care and strengthening social security. The inflammatory language used by the president against one of our top three largest trading partners for Illinois corn, pork and beef is harmful to our current and future trading relationship. It is unacceptable to put our farmers' economic future at risk for a campaign slogan.

Mohammad: The total number of undocumented immigrants has declined since 2007, and more undocumented immigrants have left the U.S. than have entered for the last several years. The reason why is pretty simple: because there aren’t as many jobs as there used to be. Meanwhile, the total cost of an unnecessary border wall would be at least $20 billion and probably closer to $70 billion. We could completely end homelessness in this country for $20 billion. That we’re having this conversation at all is an embarrassment. The best thing we could do to respond to the challenge of illegal immigration is to pass the DREAM Act, end our military interventions in Central America (which create refugee flows through Mexico and eventually to the border), and pass worker protection laws that stop the abuse of workers by employers. Corporations use undocumented immigrant labor to try to hold down wages, and that should stop.

Vercolio-Osmund: No. Building a border wall is fiscally irresponsible, operationally dubious, environmentally destructive, and violates the rights of landowners throughout the Southwest. I support the rights of landowners’ in the 16th district and will do the same for citizens in California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. This is a bad idea that needs to be put to bed. There are more effective and less costly means to secure our southern border.

How should Congress address the issue of net neutrality?

Briel: I would support legislation that protects net neutrality — a bill that says essentially that all internet data is equal. One that protects the consumers from the whims of the corporations who have lined Adam Kinzinger’s pockets with contributions — the best analogy is we a law which does not allow the companies that maintain the “pipes” manage the content that flows through those “pipes." In order to protect basic rights and the interests of consumers, those companies should be barred from charging different companies different amounts for access to data, or block and slow down access to sites they do not agree with.

Dady: Congress should pass a bill upholding net neutrality by prohibiting internet providers from slowing down, speeding up, or blocking content or websites users wish to view. The FCC's decision to reverse the rule upholding net neutrality undermines the free flow of information and ideas in favor of more profits for corporate service providers. 

Mohammad: In many communities across Illinois, quick, reliable internet is already less prevalent than it should be. Without net neutrality, fast broadband will only increase in cost, widening the gap between those who can and cannot access the Web. Our small businesses will face higher operational costs and our high school students will face more roadblocks researching and applying for college. We can address net neutrality by first electing representatives who will invest in our communities, not big telecommunications firms. We need to focus on upgrading antitrust legislation for the digital age to protect us as consumers. Rep. Kinzinger’s voting record, donor networks, and recent appointment as vice-chairman of the Digital Commerce Subcommittee reflect his loyalty to corporate donors, not the thousands of voters who protested the Federal Communications Commission’s net neutrality repeal last December.

Vercolio-Osmund: Congress needs to protect a fair and open internet for all by codifying net neutrality rules through legislation, legislation debated and voted upon by 435 representatives and 100 senators not determined by five non-elected FCC commissioners. Net neutrality is vital to the 16th district for our businesses, our families, and our students. Our rural communities are already stuck in the slow lane of the information super highway due to inadequate investment in high speed internet access. Net neutrality rules will ensure equal access and level playing field for our students to flourish and entrepreneurs to build 21st century businesses in the 16th district.

What role should the United States play in Syria?

Briel: First of all, the administration must consult with Congress moving forward.  I am against their unilateral decision this week to not seek Congressional input for the indefinite deployment of troops.  The full scope of any action in Syria  needs to be provided--with clear details of the action, and how airstrikes fit in within the framework of our policy.  I am opposed to the position of the Trump and Obama administrations that used the 2001 authorization to use force and the 2002 authorization for action in Iraq as justification to bypass Congress on Syria.

Dady: We have approximately 200 Syrian refugees settled in Rockford, and our current representative has not bothered to speak to a single one for a first-hand point of view of what the U.S. should do in Syria. The U.S. should lead in pursing a diplomatic resolution to the removal of Bashar Al-Assad and end to the civil war in Syria. A president who kills his own citizens to maintain power is unfit to govern. In the last seven years, 400,000 Syrians have been killed, 5 million forced to flee to other countries and over 6 million displaced internally in Syria. Al-Assad is being backed by Russian and Iranian forces which appear to be using Syria to undermine the U.S.'s humanitarian leadership in the world. Escalating military intervention and, at the same time, abandoning our humanitarian obligation to resettle refugees, plays directly into Russia's hands and diminishes U.S. standing in the world.

Mohammad: As small a role as possible, as quickly as possible.In Syria, as elsewhere, the United States has tried to export democracy on the cheap by arming “moderate rebels” to take on hostile regimes. Most of the rebels we armed eventually defected to al-Qaeda, and all their presence in Syria has done is prolong the war and lead to the growth of ISIS. Former Gen. Stanley McChrystal observed that we cannot “kill our way out” of the problem of international terrorism, because civilian casualties from our military interventions add up faster than we are able to actually eliminate terrorist cells. We need to bring our troops home and stop meddling in other people’s civil wars where we don’t have any clear national security interest. And we need to spend more time rebuilding our own infrastructure, ensuring that our kids have access to schools and clean drinking water, before we look after someone else’s.

Vercolio-Osmund: Syria is a mess. A civil war between a brutal dictator and his forces against their own people striving for freedom has morphed into a regional proxy war involving Syria, Iran, and Russia on one side and Saudi Arabia and the United States on the other. Over half of Syria’s people are in need of humanitarian assistance. Five million are refugees and six million are internally displaced. All live on a knife’s edge of survival. Strong effective leadership is needed. We don’t currently have that. We are strongest when leading with compassion. We and our allies must provide care and comfort to the dispossessed Syrians so they don’t become radicalized by their desperation. We need to pressure Russia and Iran to withdraw their support of Assad. Enforcing the bipartisan sanctions bill is a must.  Without support, Assad will have little choice but to negotiate and move toward a peaceful resolution.

What is your view of the Trump administration's tariffs on washing machines and solar panels?

Briel: The tariffs are another example of this administration’s shortsighted and knee-jerk reactions. The group that met with the president represents less than 30 percent of the solar industry and was the only organization within the growing industry that supported the solar panel tariff. More than 70 percent of those who are advancing the technology and creating jobs in the solar market space are against the tariffs — they know this action by the president will slow down advances in the industry and provide a new job loss for Americans. While, the washing machine tariff will increase the cost of washing machines by as high as 20% and provide, at this point, zero evidence in a net gain of American jobs.

Dady: As a business owner, I am generally in favor of the carrot rather than the stick approach to trade relationships. Both parties should benefit from any bargain. The president set high tariffs (a stick) on imports of cheaper washing machines and solar panels from Asia after complaints of unfair competition from two U.S. based manufacturers. It remains to be seen whether American jobs will be protected due to these tariffs. While manufacturing jobs may increase, solar panels and washing machines will be more expensive for consumers resulting in fewer purchases and may lead to decrease in jobs in the installation sector- not to mention retaliation from trading partners on other imports. We need to protect American jobs but that also means protecting all good paying jobs, especially ones that cannot be outsourced. It also remains to be seen whether China and South Korea file complaints with the World Trade Organization which could overturn the President's tariffs as it did when then President Bush made a similar move in 2003.

Mohammad: I support the Trump administration’s efforts to grapple with the problem of “dumping,” or foreign companies who are able to gain market share by pricing their exports below the cost of production because of subsidies or other forms of support from their own governments. Tariffs on consumer goods such as washing machines can be appropriate in cases of dumping in order to maintain fair and balanced terms of trade. However, the decision to impose additional tariffs on solar panels will likely mean an unacceptable slowdown to the rate of adoption of green energy in our country. We know that manmade climate change is real, and has already begun to play havoc with the long-term climate patterns are essential for our food supply and political stability. We can’t afford not to act decisively to combat a warming climate.

Vercolio-Osmund: Tariffs often lead to tit-for-tat trade wars that will harm us economically. While it might be good for a limited number of manufacturing companies, imposing tariffs on solar panels will harm what is currently a $29 billion industry. The jobs created by the demand for installation of affordable solar panels cannot be outsourced and the environmental benefits of increasing the percentage of our energy needs met by green energy sources are good for all. As a net energy exporter, Illinois has a very diverse set of energy technologies today and is an important player in the Midwest. To maintain that leadership we should continue moving toward the successful integration of thousands of solar and wind projects in every region of the state.

Should the United States pull out of NAFTA?

Briel: No. While there have been unintended consequences from NAFTA, the president’s comment that it was “The worst trade deal in history,” was mere nonsense for the benefit of his base. As the responsible adults in the president’s own party have indicated, pulling out of NAFTA would likely have a tremendous negative influence on financial markets. As importantly, the posturing by the president on NAFTA has already hurt US farmers; As Reuters reported last week, Mexican buyers have made good on their threats to purchase crops from other countries in response to the president’s rhetoric, last year Mexico’s imports of Brazilian corn increased by nearly one thousand percent. 

Dady: No. Pulling out of NAFTA would have devastating consequences for American farmers and manufacturers. The goal should be to expand our trading relationships not terminate them. I support strengthening provisions that support strong labor rules and enforcement of those rules, elimination of "corporate courts" for foreign investors to challenges laws they claim will cut their profits, enforceable currency and point of origin rules so U.S. farmers and manufacturers are treated fairly.  NAFTA can expand U.S. markets profitably and fairly as well as create more American jobs if these provisions like these are included in the re-negotiations.

Mohammad: The United States should not have signed such a wide-ranging free trade agreement without having ensured that American workers would be treated fairly, and compensated for the inevitable job losses that go along with having to compete with workers around the world who work for just dollars a day. That said, manufacturing supply chains have developed over the last 20 years in a way that reflects NAFTA’s incentives, and killing the program now would hurt American workers more than it helps. We need to ensure that any new trade agreements, such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, do not repeat the mistakes at the past. Workers, and especially organized labor, need a seat at the table in those negotiations. And we need to make investments in local education and infrastructure that would help those left behind by these trade deals to catch back up.

Vercolio-Osmund: No, the United States should not pull out of NAFTA. Doing so would hurt farmers throughout the 16th District. By eliminating tariffs on U.S. commodities, Mexico has become the No. 1 buyer of beef, soybean meal, and corn sweeteners produced here in our district. NAFTA has also allowed the U.S. car manufacturers to integrate parts and assembly in North America and compete with and win against imports from Japan and other Asian manufacturers. This grows jobs and strengthens our economy. Any agreement that has been in place for 24 years can be improved. Changes should be made through good faith negotiation, not through the rhetoric of a hostage taker. Pulling out of NAFTA would be short-sighted and economically foolhardy.

Should the United States give a pathway to citizenship for people who are in the United States illegally? Why or why not?

Briel: Absolutely, we are a nation of immigrants and in the case of the Dreamers, these are individuals who know no other country, have contributed to our nation, and are law-abiding citizens and deserve a path to citizenship. As mentioned above, if the Republican arguments against undocumented workers were legitimate, they would immediately pass legislation to impose large fines and criminal charges against U.S. employers who hire undocumented workers; but they know those workers provide a net gain for the country, from an economic perspective, and commit crimes at a lower rate than native-born Americans — their anti-immigrant posturing is simply playing to the fears of their base. 

Dady: Illinois is home to approximately 519,000 undocumented people who pay over $700,000 in state and local taxes. There are approximately 11 million undocumented people who are fully integrated into our communities and workforce. We cannot deport millions of people in any reasonable amount of time or for any reasonable cost- cost in taxpayer dollars or costs to families and the communities where they are fully integrated. These individuals did not have a lawful way to come to the U.S. to begin with and are now taxpayers, business owners, family members of U.S. citizens — and should be afforded the opportunity to apply for legal status. Where there is no law, we need a law. Comprehensive immigration reform that provides a means for people to apply for lawful status must include a measure that ties visa availability to actual labor and family unity demands.

Mohammad: A clear, accessible pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants is critical. Immigration is not a buzzword for me — it’s part of my family story. My father came to Chicago with $30 and a suitcase in 1972, put himself through college at Northern Illinois University, and became an American citizen. As a second-generation immigrant, I know how damaging it is to discriminate against someone on the basis of their citizenship. In refusing to act despite multiple opportunities during this Congress, congressional Republicans have left the futures of Dreamers hanging in the balance. Immigrants are not political pawns; these are children and families who, like my father, have made valuable contributions to our nation and have every right to pursue the American Dream. For that reason, comprehensive immigration reform has to also be pursued in conjunction with a defense of workers’ rights to a living wage.

Vercolio-Osmund: The first thing I would do around the immigration issue is to change the rhetoric and tone. The politics of cruelty in Washington need to end. Fear-mongering, demonizing the “other," false binaries and zero sum choices are not productive to solving complicated issues. Regarding the overall immigration system, I believe that we can do what is morally right and economically sound. Immigrants comprise a significant portion of Illinois’ labor force in manufacturing, health care, hotels and restaurants, retail, and other industries vital to our economy. Illinois is losing population. To grow and revitalize the 16th District and more broadly all of Illinois, we need to add workers, not send them away. I support comprehensive immigration reform that is both humane and economically wise. A system that looks at our overall labor needs, acts accordingly, and provides a path to citizenship for immigrants is what I will fight for in Washington.

Should cities have the right to ignore federal immigration violations? Why or why not?

Briel: While their are many policy differences in the roughly 60 so-called “Sanctuary Cities,” I believe they are a net positive. By allowing and encouraging undocumented workers to stop hiding in the shadows, it fosters a better relationship, and greater trust between law enforcement officials and immigrant populations. Immigrant populations — documented or not — are more likely to be the victims of crimes rather than perpetrators, these policies in the various cities that have adopted also, in my opinion, ensure that immigration enforcement efforts are focused on individuals who do commit crimes, rather than law abiding undocumented workers.

Dady: Yes. I successfully led a coalition of businesses, churches, Democrats, Republicans, liberals and conservatives to stop immigrant detention in our county jail. Cities have the right to decide how their limited resources will be used. Immigration violations are not crimes. They are federal civil offenses. The Supreme Court has already ruled that the federal government cannot force states or cities to use their limited resources to enforce federal civil laws. This is called the Anti-Commandeering Doctrine, which means every state and city is a sanctuary city and has free choice whether or not to enforce federal civil immigration law.  The state of Illinois passed the TRUST Act this past August, which prohibits state and local law enforcement from being co-opted by the federal government to enforce federal civil immigration violations. Police officers need to focus on fighting crime, not federal civil offenses.

Mohammad: We all know that federal departments such as Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, have been wildly overstepping their authority, particularly in the past year. Officials from ICE as well as the Department of Homeland Security have detained people without charge, sometimes for years; have conspired to steal undocumented immigrants’ identities for criminal gain; and have continued to enforce illegal travel bans even in the face of court orders. Faced with that kind of federal lawlessness, I support local communities in their effort to respect their neighbors and promote an atmosphere of trust. Local towns and cities know best about how to maintain their own peace and foster understanding.

Vercolio-Osmund: It is within the rights of cities and municipalities to decline to act as the enforcement arm of the federal immigration system. Our local law enforcement should not be conscripted into serving the needs of the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Doing so is a gross usurpation of states' rights and local autonomy. Effective policing requires trust in the communities our officers serve. Sowing fear and distrust among our immigrant populations will make law enforcement's job much harder and our neighborhoods less safe. Local resources should be put towards community enhancing activities, not creating rifts between community members and law enforcement.

Will you hold town halls around the district in which you take questions and comments from constituents?

Briel: Adam Kinzinger is no longer a resident of Illinois, he is a creature of Washington D.C.; preferring to appear on TV parroting Republican talking points, than facing his constituents. As the next member of Congress from the 16th District, I pledge to remain a local resident — going to Washington only to do the people’s business — and spending most of my time at home listening to and working with the people I have asked to trust me with their support. 

Dady: Yes. As a lawyer, I know that I need to meet with and listen to my clients before I can act in their best interests. I will commit to holding four town halls per year throughout the district. I will also establish constituent councils throughout the district open to any district resident regardless of political affiliation who wants to learn more about pending legislation or issues, work to build consensus and have a direct line to me. I believe we need accessible, active and accountable representation in the 16th District and that is exactly what I will bring to this office.  

Mohammad: Yes. If I’m elected to Washington, I will not be hard to find. I will continue to meet voters and participate in town halls and candidate forums across this gigantic district that spans almost 8,000 square miles, from South Beloit to Watseka. Our first Facebook Live Town Hall last week reached over 1,500 people across the 16th Congressional District and in that virtual town hall, I answered every question received in real time. Our campaign plans to hold a least one or two more similar events to reach voters across our district who may not be able attend a candidate forum or debate or just want to learn more about our campaign. We will continue to host both live and virtual events regularly if elected to office.

Vercolio-Osmund: Yes. I will be the voice of voters in my district in Washington. To do that I will most definitely listen to their voices here at home. All citizens deserve robust, accessible communication with their Representative, whether or not they agree on the issue at hand. When my constituents have a question , a problem, or an issue I will respond. Constituent services and accessibility will be cornerstones of my service. I know that I will not be able to please everyone, all the time, but I have the courage to stand and listen or better,  sit and communicate, when I don't see eye to eye with someone. I am running because I believe that government can and should do better for the people living in our district. I was born and raised in the heart of the 16th district and I live here now. I will speak for us.

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