I Voted Trump, Part 2: Why these Pennsylvanians support the president’s immigration orders

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     Marian and Phil Spotts chat with their family on the National Mall during Inauguration Day on Friday, Jan. 20, 2017 in Washington D.C. They traveled by bus from Erie to D.C. to see President Donald J. Trump take the oath of office. (Margaret Krauss/WESA)

    Marian and Phil Spotts chat with their family on the National Mall during Inauguration Day on Friday, Jan. 20, 2017 in Washington D.C. They traveled by bus from Erie to D.C. to see President Donald J. Trump take the oath of office. (Margaret Krauss/WESA)

    Marian Spotts and her husband, Phil, rode a bus with other Trump supporters 350 miles from Erie County, to Washington, D.C. for Inauguration Day earlier this year.

    After Trump’s speech, we asked Marian for some feedback.

    “Very plainspoken,” she said. “And spoken to the Americans that wanna hear some encouraging words. So, yeah, it’s an encouraging time.”

    Marian says immigration is an important issue for her.

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    Two executive orders in Trump’s first week focused on just that, prompting nationwide protests.

    The travel ban was ultimately overturned, and the Trump administration got to work on a legally-sound second attempt expected to land any day now.

    Meanwhile, confusion lingered for weeks over another executive order targeting so-called sanctuary cities.

    We reached Marian by phone exactly one month after the inauguration. It was a day before the Department of Homeland Security issued guidance.

    “We need to back up and make it more clear and more fair,” she said. “I don’t think anybody wants to say nobody can come into this country. We’re grandchildren of immigrants, but they did it the right way. And that’s the most important thing is, do it the right way.”

    Seth Kaufer is a gastroenterologist in Philadelphia, where he’s also a Republican ward leader.

    “I think it’s been a little bit of a whirlwind start. And he really came out sprinting from the blocks I would say,” Kaufer says. “A lot of executive orders, a lot of promises kept from the election. And I think having a president who’s not a typical politician, is people are getting what they were hoping for.”

    Pennsylvania’s largest city has been one of its most vocal in its stance against detaining people without a warrant when requested by federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

    For that, these cities stand to lose funding under Trump’s executive order, as with like-minded bills moving in Washington and Harrisburg.

    Kaufer says most Trump supporters probably expect him to use this kind of leverage.

    “Withholding money, if the mayor is willing to give up the money and have to actually use some money from the council people slush funds and all the wasted money maybe they’ll have to actually budget better or actually follow the rule of law in America. So those are pretty much going to be the two choices there,” Kaufer says.

    kaufer part2 1200Dr. Seth Kaufer said he thinks that the people of Philadelphia could lose out if the city continues on as a sanctuary city. (Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY)

    The funding threat wouldn’t be limited to communities broadcasting their sanctuary stances like Philly, Lancaster and Pittsburgh. Liability concerns have pushed many Pennsylvania counties to quietly stop holding people based solely on requests from ICE.

    Technically, though, jurisdictions aren’t in violation of federal law unless there’s a written policy against cooperating with ICE.

    Some counties avoid detainer requests in practice, but don’t have an explicit prohibition in writing.

    That includes Blair County.

    Ben Hornberger lives in Blair County near Altoona.

    He’s 23, served in the Marines and is very supportive of the travel ban. He says critics just don’t understand.

    “It’s nationalism, but it’s not like extreme nationalism like Nazi Germany was where you had to wipe out entire races because this is Germany. No. What he’s saying is we have a lot of problems here at home, we need to take care of our problems first here in our own country so that we can better help other countries when they need it,” Hornberger says.

    Jim Bowers told me about the same thing at his bakery in Shamokin.

    “You know, we’re supposed to take care of our own nation first,” Bowers said.

    Bowers and his wife, Janet, opened the bakery recently to support their mobile soup kitchen they run out of a retrofitted school bus.

    “God’s Chuckwagon,” as they call it, hits nearly a dozen communities in Pennsylvania’s coal country every week, on designated days, and served more than 11,000 meals last year.

    bowers kneading 1200Jim Bowers kneads bread at his bakery in Shamokin, Pa. (Emily Previti/WITF)

    So I had to ask him:  If he knew someone wasn’t a citizen or in the country illegally, would he still give them food?

    Bowers says he’s already pretty sure he’s serving some clients who are undocumented.

    “We give them food. We give everybody food. All they have to do is come to the bus,” Bowers said.

    bill snyder 1200Bill Snyder waits for a hot meal from Bowers’ mobile food pantry in the parking lot of the Dollar General store in Mt. Carmel, Pennsylvania. (Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY)

    Bowers wasn’t the only one letting some internal conflict show.

    Penny Stenger lives in Pittsburgh’s Lawrenceville area now, but hails from a long line of West Virginia Republicans.

    She was an Obama supporter, backed Bernie Sanders, and later chose Trump because she’s pro-life — which to Stenger, a practicing Catholic, goes beyond abortions.

    It’s also about caring for older people, people with health issues, immigrants.

    She says it’s clear Trump’s not pro-life in that sense, and she thinks voting for him was a mistake, but that he’ll be impeached.

    “I’m not concerned a bit,” Stenger says. “I see that man losing his job fairly fast. I do. I’ve heard impeachment — I just, now it’s like a light goes off. I see everything wrong. The cabinet posts are horrible if you look into them.”

    penny stenger1200Penny Stenger and her husband Thomas Stenger at their Pittsburgh home. She voted for Donald Trump and he voted for Hilary Clinton. (Jessica Kourkounis/for Keystone Crossroads)

    Other Trump voters like Bowers seemed suspect of the scrutiny of the new president.

    “They haven’t given him a chance,” Bowers says. “From the day he signed his first pen stroke, they were on him.”

    Editor’s note: Keystone Crossroads reporters Margaret J. Krauss, Eleanor Klibanoff, and Lindsay Lazarski contributed to this story.

    This is the second story in an occasional Keystone Crossroads series, “I Voted Trump,” checking with Trump supporters throughout his presidency.

    Check out the first installment here.

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