COLUMBIA CITY — Eagle Tech Academy students challenged Indiana Senator Jim Banks on his views on immigration reform Friday. Banks visited with American Studies classes to help prepare students in a debate project centering around immigration laws.
Being a former debate team participant at Columbia City High School, Banks was able to hold his own as some students took opposing view points.
“I like to read and research issues,” Banks said. “I spend a lot of time hearing from people in the community and listening to their feedback. It helps me make better choices on voting for or against something.”
One of the debate topics dealt with birth-right citizenship. This measure is currently being proposed by lawmakers and could thwart the current law that names someone a citizen if they are born on U.S. soil.
“This is a principle of our country, and I would tend to support that and defend it,” Banks said. “On the other hand, we know the impact this sort of legislation has on our nation. It’s a tough issue.”
Banks explained to the freshmen that one of his frustrations as a representative for the state is the wall he sometimes faces when an issue lies in the hands of the federal government, but directly affects Indiana.
“When it comes to immigration topics, what we really need is for the Federal Government to enforce the laws that are already in place,” Banks said. “It is about citizenship, but it is also about national security. All around, this issue touches my voters here in Indiana, but there is only so much we can do on a state level.”
One student prompted Banks’ opinion on gun control. According to the Senator, the topic of gun control is the one he hears opinion on the most.
“Each morning I have hundreds of emails and the majority of them are regarding gun control,” Banks said. “It is a big issue, and I am an advocate of the second amendment. It was a right granted to us by our founders and it’s our freedom. However, there are several issues that go along with that.”
Phil Stanczak, a teacher at ETA, asked Banks about legislation to arm teachers in schools.
“School safety was one of the most important bills we dealt with this session,” said Banks. “We wanted to see better safety in schools. Originally the bill looked completely different than what was passed. At the House, the bill changed and required that there be one person armed at each school.”
In the end, the bill was amended to allow for additional funding for school resource officers and school safety plans. Continuing on the topic of safety, Banks was asked why he voted against a bill that dealt with school bullying.
“That was an emotional committee hearing, but my job is to make decisions rationally, not emotionally,” he said. “I voted against it not because bullying isn’t a problem, but because I didn’t think it was fair for the state to tell teachers how to handle it. That seemed like control the state didn’t need to have.”
As students continued to ask questions ranging from education topics to domestic concerns, Banks addressed each issue using his perspective as a Senator, but also as a Columbia City native.
“I want to support the people here. I want to support you,” he said. “For instance, I support this program at Eagle Tech because it is collaborative and you all work together. That is how things work at the state too.”
Understanding the process a bill goes through before it becomes law, was one of the facets of Banks’ role as a Senator that was new to students.
Conveying the difficulty in staying abreast of all the issues being lobbied was another part of Banks’ job that he was willing to share with the classes.
“Sometimes it is not popular to be the politician that says, ‘I don’t know,’” Banks said. “I vote on issues where a yes or no isn’t always clear. I have to make the best decision I can at the time. Only history will prove if I was right or wrong.”