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Congressional District Two Candidates Debate Immigration; Neal Dunn Wins By Straw Poll

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Tori Whitley
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WFSU
Four of the five candidates for Florida Congressional District Two attend a debate hosted by the Network of Entrepreneurs and Business Advocates. From left to right: Republicans Ken Sukhia and Neal Dunn, Democrats Steve Crapps and Walter Dartland.

Each candidate for Florida Congressional District Two – which runs along the coast from *Panama City almost to Ocala – is calling for immigration reform. But their strategies vary.

Democrat Walter Dartland blames Congress for creating problems in the immigration process.

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Credit Florida Supreme Court
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The new Congressional District Two runs from Pensacola almost to Ocala.

“The folks were coming in, students were coming in," Dartland says at a forum hosted by the Network of Entrepreneurs and Business Advocates. "They would stay beyond their visa. Did anybody fund the people to go get them, and bring them home, and send them back to where they came from? When people can’t get here legally, who let them stay here?”

Dartland – who describes himself as a social progressive and fiscal conservative – says since Congress created the problem, it should find a solution through a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

While Democrat Steve Crapps has a different approach:

“We can’t grant amnesty across the board," the traditional North Florida Democrat says.

Crapps disagrees with the mass deportation of all undocumented immigrants, but he does call for a better identification process to vet for potential security threats.

“They really need to fill out an application, they need to go through the process," he says. "You know, mass amnesty is out. That’s not happening.”

On the Republican side, Neal Dunn – who was voted as the winner of the debate – blames President Barack Obama for issues in immigration, saying services like the Affordable Care Act encourage illegal immigration.

“We have a president who’s made a mockery of the immigration system," Dunn says. "He has incentivized the illegal immigrants to come over and get education, healthcare (and) sanctuary cities to hide in. All these things that they didn’t expect to get before he was president.”

Dunn wants to revoke what he calls "incentives" and to reevaluate the federal welfare system.

Republican Ken Sukhia was the only candidate to argue undocumented and documented immigrants contribute to issues in immigration.

“I think the problem with the immigration system is two-fold," Sukhia says. "It’s both the illegal immigrants and the legal immigrants.”

He says the rise of general immigration in the country is a concern.

“In the next 50 years, we will have 14 million Americans by natural population growth," Sukhia says. "We will bring in 104 foreign-born residents.”

According to a 2015 Pew Research Center study, by the year 2065 immigration is expected to raise the U.S. population by 103 million. This includes immigrants and their decedents. The projected population growth without immigration is 14 million.

Republican Mary Thomas did not attend the Network of Entrepreneurs and Business Advocates forum.

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*Correction: A previous version of this story mislabeled Congressional District Two, saying it went from Pensacola to almost Ocala. The district runs from Panama City to almost Ocala.