Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Barbara Bollier sat down for a special roundtable discussion Friday with some of the Latino voters in Dodge City.
Residents gathered at the future UFCW District Union Local 2 community center to ask Bollier how she would represent the Latino and other minority communities on various issues.
Guests included Democratic candidate for Kansas Senate District 38 Edgar Pando, Ford County clerk candidate Angie Gonzales, Democratic candidate for Kansas House of Representatives District 119 Jan Scoggins, and UFCW District Union Local 2 president Martin Rosas, who additionally assisted with translating Bollier’s words to the audience.
"We the people of southwest Kansas, specifically those working in the meatpacking plants, we are considered essential and critical to the structure of the food chain," Rosas said.
Bollier said it is time the Latino community was recognized for that.
"Fifty-plus (percent) of the Latino population of Kansas resides in this part of the state, and no one has ever looked beyond and see how they can help us to highlight the needs of these communities," Rosas said. "Not just Latino, Caucasian and African-American communities, but the communities of all people and their access to education, medical care, and the things these communities need in regard to immigration reform and DACA."
Rosas supported Bollier, saying he sees her supporting those things, as well as the working people, above anything else.
Bollier responded that even when she was Republican and now as a Democrat, she has always voted for the working people, not the party, and that she has voted in favor of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and education, and that as a physician and a person, she believes it’s important that everyone has access to health care.
Bollier said current immigration policies are broken and have been for years, and only by cooperation can they be reformed.
This prompted a question from Dodge City resident Coral Lopez, who asked Bollier what her idea of reform was.
"A path to citizenship for everybody," Bollier said. "If you’re here undocumented, you need a path to citizenship."
Lopez said immigrants do not have a path to citizenship unless they have someone to petition for them.
"So, if you come here as a married person with your spouse, both undocumented, there’s no path for you, until your child turns 21 years old," Lopez said. "And then even when your child turns 21 years old, it’s a 15-year wait line."
Bollier said those are unacceptable roadblocks that she is ready to fight against in Washington, and that is why she knows a push for immigration reform needs to happen, especially when undocumented immigrants are already working and contributing to society.
"One in 10 Kansans is an immigrant in the workforce, one in 10, and we need to grow that," Bollier said.
Lopez and Bollier agreed that without the whole immigrant population, documented and undocumented, the Kansas economy would likely collapse.
Dodge City resident Blanca Soto expressed concern about whether Bollier would forget that she represents the entire state of Kansas and its people, due to a perception that southwest Kansas is mostly ignored in favor of the eastern part of the state.
Soto said this has been demonstrated in Washington by elected officials from Kansas who seem to have forgotten they were elected to represent Kansans in the first place.
Bollier cited her roots in Kansas and her 11-year record voting for the needs of rural Kansas, starting with funding public education for all.
Bollier said she put her political career at risk for Kansas by endorsing and voting for Gov. Laura Kelly when Bollier was still a Republican, because she believed that Kelly was the person who was best for Kansas.
Bollier also used this to segue into her belief that broadband access is critical for Kansas.
She said local higher education opportunities, especially four-year programs, are severely limited in the Latino community as many kids from those communities tend to not leave home because they either have to support their families or can’t afford higher education.
This is made more difficult since many Latino immigrant parents do not know the process of helping get their child into higher education programs in the first place.
Additionally, while DACA recipients can be granted scholarships, there are few Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, opportunities.
Bollier agreed that local and easily commutable options to make higher education more affordable for Latino students are necessary.
Bollier said it is important for people to communicate and elect an official who best represents those interests, and she believes she is the best fit. Bollier gave examples of her voting history, such as voting in favor of two transportation plans, a 50-year water plan, and funding for broadband access, schools and Medicaid expansion.
"I’ve been on both sides of the aisle and I can tell you, leadership on any side when they aren’t doing the right thing, I vote for the people, always have and always will," said Bollier.
Rosas said it is a critical time for the Latino community in southwest Kansas because it is the first time in a long time that he remembers that people like Pando, Scoggins, Gonzales and Bollier want to represent the Latino community.
"We can change the direction of the state of Kansas," Rosas said. "The polls right now are tied. We can change who we elect for senator, the senator we elect for six years.
"Whatever happens in the future of this country is going to depend on people like Barbara to move forward, including immigration reform, health care reform, access to better education for our kids."
Rosas stressed the importance of the UFCW District Union Local 2 community center as a platform for opportunities for future generations of the Latino community to be able to meet with elected officials like Bollier.
Rosas and Bollier encouraged everyone to vote and to help those who can vote but do not know how to learn the process.