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Portman and Strickland Find Common Ground in Rejecting Donald Trump's Immigration Policy

picture of Rob Portman and Ted Strickland in Senate debate

Two long-time Ohio politicians battling for your vote in the race for U.S. Senate. Republican Sen. Rob Portman has held the office since 2011, but Democratic former Gov. Ted Strickland wants to take his place. 

Deporting millions of people from America, building a wall, banning people of Muslim faith, turning away refugees. These have all been prominent in the presidential race.

'He's supporting a man who has taken outrageous positions when it comes to immigration.'

But as heated as the rhetoric surrounding immigration has been at the top of the ticket, Ted Strickland and Rob Portman have barely differed on the issue.

During the second U.S. Senate debate in Columbus, Strickland tried to tie Portman to the controversial comments Republican Presidential nominee Donald Trump has made about Mexicans and Muslims.

“He’s supporting a man who has taken outrageous positions when it comes to immigration. A man who’s called Mexicans rapists, murderers. A man who wanted to ban an entire religious group from entering this country,” Strickland said.

Portman moves away from Trump
Portman had delivered less-than-enthusiastic support for Trump when it became clear that Trump would be the party’s nominee. But before the Senate debate Oct.17, Portman announced he will no longer endorse Trump and would write-in Mike Pence’s name instead.

But even when he did back Trump, Portman spoke out against his push to deport a mass amount of undocumented immigrants.

“I’ve supported immigration reform, but I have not supported deportations of millions of non-citizens who are here because I don’t think it’s practical and I don’t think it would be humane for a lot of those families,” he said.

Immigration debate
Strickland has hit Portman over a bill that came through the Senate in 2013 that got the backing of Portman’s fellow Republican senators John McCain and Marco Rubio. It would’ve created a path to legalization and eventually citizenship while increasing border security with more patrols. Strickland noted Portman voted against the bill.

'I have not supported deportations of millions because I don't think it's practical and I don't think it would be humane.'

“I do believe there should be a pathway to citizenship; I don’t want a two-tiered society but Sen. Portman, as a senator, voted no, and we’ve had this problem drag on and on and on,” Strickland said.

But Portman said he thought the border-security measures in that bill were too weak and that more enforcement needs to be added to workplace hiring. He said it was necessary to address what he called “the magnet that draws people here illegally."

“And that’s been one of the issues that I’ve focused on in Washington and do have some bipartisan support for that, Senator Chester and I offered an amendment to the very legislation that was talked about because we believe we ought to tighten up enforcement,” he said.

But at that debate in Columbus, Portman indicated he would break away from many in the Republican Party in suggesting there should be a way for some living in the U.S. without proper documentation to stay.

“Frankly I think for those who are here, have roots in the community, are willing to come forward and pay a fine and pay any back taxes and certainly if they have a criminal record they should be deported but the others should be able to have a path towards legalization,” he said.

Strickland noted that his plan and Portman’s plan seem to be similar, with one exception.

“He indicated a pathway to legalization. I think that’s certainly the beginning but I would like to see a pathway to citizenship ultimately for these folks,” Strickland said.

The difference between legalization and citizenship has been a sticking point for a lot of immigration advocates. Some believe only providing legalization would create a subgroup of people who would be considered second-class.

As for Syrian refugees, Portman said he’s concerned about the ability of the U.S. government to check everyone out, and says he’d rather see a no-fly zone so they can stay in Syria.

Strickland, who said last fall that he thought a short-term pause in the acceptance of Syrian refugees was “reasonable," now says the U.S. should bring in those who are properly vetted, noting that the process can take up to three years.

Andy Chow is a general assignment state government reporter who focuses on environmental, energy, agriculture, and education-related issues. He started his journalism career as an associate producer with ABC 6/FOX 28 in Columbus before becoming a producer with WBNS 10TV.