U.S. Sen. Doug Jones said he wants to see a comprehensive immigration overhaul, saying it was badly needed - but that the issue has become a political football, wrapped up in President Trump's desire for a border wall.
"Unfortunately, immigration has become a political football now," he said in an interview Monday with the Daily Mountain Eagle. "You mention the word 'immigration,' and people go to their corners, and they think it is only about a wall or not about a wall, and it is so much more than that. We need more visas in this country for seasonal workers. We need more education visas for people going to colleges and universities and become doctors, lawyers and engineers. We need to overhaul that but it gets caught up in the wall.
"If you look at what has happened in the last year with all the asylum seekers, the thousands and thousands of people who came across the border. Those people were not just trying to float into the country and disappear. They stopped at the border and got arrested."
He said the U.S. needs to look at how to reduce the number of asylum seekers - which doesn't mean to crack down and use resources from another country to stop them before they get here.
"It means trying to help our neighbors a little bit," Jones said. "These are women, children and families who are fleeing really bad situations down there. I don't think enough people fully recognize that." He pointed out that with the Marshall Plan and other activities, the U.S. rebuilt the world after World War II, helping allies and former enemies alike.
"We became the moral leader of the world because we had the resources, we had the economy and we had the morality to do it," he said. "We need to help our neighbors," helping the to get rid of corruption, drugs and gangs.
Jones said, "The president can talk about a wall and demagogue this all he wants to, but until he gets serious about really wanting to get something done as opposed to scoring political points, it won't get done in this atmosphere, and that is unfortunate, because we have enough good people of good will who could get it done."
He pointed to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) children, saying the U.S. is the only country many have ever known, many serving in the military or teaching in schools. A path to citizenship for those people and $26 billion of border security was ready to pass after a bi-partisan effort of 22 or 23 senators, but Trump said more because he wanted more, Jones said.
"He wanted internal enforcement and he wanted to do away with certain visas here, so he got it to where we were three or four votes short in the United State Senate," he said, saying it was a "travesty" that the bill didn't pass.
Jones said on the State Department's actions to relaunch an investigation into Hillary Clinton's emails, he said the department may be looking at it from a number of angles, including reshoring their own internal reviews to make sure it doesn't happen again.
"Clearly, I think it was wrong to do what she did, but I don't know whether it was criminal to do what she did," he said, saying State Department officials and even former secretaries of state, like Colin Powell, who have taken the same action.
"We've had people in this White House, relatives of the president and close advisors of the president of the United States, who have also used private servers for some work," he said.
He said the technology has changed over the years, and he wondered if the government has done a good enough job to catch up enough to create policies that are needed to govern that equipment.
Asked about Republican criticism that Democrats are now pushing socialism and is too far to the left, Jones said that was "absurd" and was being used as a "political boogyman" to scare people.
"That seems to be the biggest, best tactic for the Republicans in Alabama is to scare people to death," he said. "This is not a socialist party. We're not trying to anything remotely like that."
He said Democrats have people on the far left in our party, similar to people in the Republican Party who are so far right that they get called names as well.
He said Democrats are trying to represent "the American people in a fundamentally fair way" from all segments of society. "We don't want exclude everybody. We don't want to divide this country into us versus them, the way Republicans seem to be doing," he said.
On Medicare for all, Jones said he does not think the idea is as popular as a middle ground. "It is very popular on social media for people who yell the loudest," he said. "But I don't think it is the most popular among the Democratic party, certainly not among the American people."
The middle ground will be to keep the Affordable Care Act - the Obamacare plan - instead of dismantling it as Trump and other Republican officials would like, he said. "Try to find those areas where we can work to save the healthcare system and to do things," he said. "I've always believed that some form of a public option to give people the opportunity to buy into a Medicare type program is feasible," providing reasonable, affordable healthcare that would bring down costs.
He said many people like their current private plans, and those people, by and large, should be able to keep them. "But I want to make sure those plans cover pre-existing conditions," he said.
On reconciling mining with climate change, he said it would be very difficult.
"I think coal is still going to be used a lot for steel production and things like that, but down the road I think we need to be looking for some transitions of how we can do things to make sure that our economies continue to move in the right direction. But we also need to make sure that we do things to protect this climate. We can't deny the science. The science out there right now is that this planet is getting in trouble. We've got to start taking action."
He said those working in coal-related industries need to be taken into account in how they can be transitioned. "I think we can transition from some of this into an economy that is clean fuel-based, that is doing a lot of carbon capture," he said. Jones said he prefers to work for what can be done between the two extremes of the issue.
On opioids and drug trafficking, Jones noted he had a handyman that usually comes to his home. He found out that man's mother, who was in her 60's or 70s, died from a heroin overdose, which resulted from her addition to opioids.
He said the national lawsuits and education will help, as well as physicians prescribing more for short-term instead of long-term. He said better record keeping is needed to compare cases, as well as more transparency.
"We're trying to fund more research to get alternatives to opioids for reduction to pain, but it doesn't mean to having a pain-free society. That's just not going to happen," he said.
He also said pharmaceutical companies have to "be called on the carpet" for what they have done, although he added, "I think the medical profession is doing a much better job of policing themselves and trying to get that education as to alternatives, and the public also has to be engaged in this education of what can happen, not only to you but to your children who go into that medicine cabinet."