RICHMOND — Republican gubernatorial candidate Ed Gillespie said Friday that the the 800,000 young immigrants who have been protected from deportation under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals should not be forced to leave the country.
He made those comments after initally declining to take a firm stance on the Trump administration's announcement Tuesday that it would rescind DACA, putting the future of the so-called "dreamers" in question.
Gillespie's Democratic rival, Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, joined other Democrats and some Republicans to immediately slam the DACA decision when it was announced.
"I strongly disagree with President Trump's decision to pull the rug out from under Dreamers who came out of the shadows to build a better life for themselves and their communities," Northam said."His decision lacks compassion, lacks moral sense, and lacks economic sense."
In the following days, the president's position seemed to waffle. Trump suggested he would "revisit" the issue if Congress didn't come up with a solution within six months and he sought to reassure "dreamers."
On Friday, after a joint appearance with Northam in Richmond, Gillespie spoke about the DACA decision.
"I'm the son of an immigrant," he told reporters after the event. "My father came here as a child from Ireland. He was eight years old. … Now, they came here legally. He was processed through Ellis Island. But obviously, it wasn't his choice to move to America and in the case of these dreamers, it wasn't their choice either. And so, I think that clearly is a factor and I do not think they should be deported. And I hope Congress takes action to make sure that they're not."
Earlier, his appearance at the forum had been briefly interrupted by immigration advocates.
"Ed!" a man yelled from the back of the auditorium. "Reports confirm ICE [U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement] wants to deport 10,000 migrants!"
A woman chimed in: "They want to deport all of us, all of the migrants! What are you going to do?"
A handful of protesters tried to get a chant going — "Not one more de-por-ta-tion!" – but were ushered out before it could really catch on.
Gillespie made the briefest nod to the commotion – "We live in a country with freedom of speech. We're blessed to have it"— then went on with his standard pledge to be a "faithful servant-leader" as if nothing had happened.
Gillespie's stance on immigration is complicated – as is his relationship to President Trump. To beat Northam in November, Gillespie needs the support of both Trump voters in the state as well as moderates.
"I don't believe that children should be punished for decisions that were not their own, but at the same time, it is important for us to enforce our laws," he told the Richmond Times-Dispatch in the immediate aftermath of Trump's decision.
Gillespie's Democratic opponent, Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, has voiced straightforward opposition to Trump's move.
"I strongly disagree with President Trump's decision to pull the rug out from under Dreamers who came out of the shadows to build a better life for themselves and their communities," he said in a written statement Tuesday. "His decision lacks compassion, lacks moral sense, and lacks economic sense."