Students in the Quad Cities area dispute over immigration forum

Republican+Teenage+Campus+Leaders%2C+Olivia+Schilling+%28left%29%2C+Ben+Crawford+%28middle%29+and+Grace+Thalacker+%28right%29+voice+their+opinions+at+the+immigration+forum+in+the+Pleasant+View+Baptist+Church+on+Monday.

Gary Krambeck

Republican Teenage Campus Leaders, Olivia Schilling (left), Ben Crawford (middle) and Grace Thalacker (right) voice their opinions at the immigration forum in the Pleasant View Baptist Church on Monday.

By Cienna Pangan, Pleasant Valley High School - IA

A forum discussing immigration was held by local Republicans on Monday Dec. 2 in Bettendorf, IA. The forum was intended to discuss policy change and honor “angel parents”, or parents whose children died due to the involvement of an illegal immigrant. 

However, this event did not go as planned. Dylan Wheeler, one of the speakers, was unable to talk at the time, and Nick Fuentes, a far-right white supremacist who preaches anti-semitism, took the platform and condemned both legal and illegal immigration. He argued all immigration to the United States should be stopped to preserve a “monoculture” for “others to assimilate into.”

It was later discovered Fuentes had been invited by Michael Sisco, a coordinator for Republican Bobby Schilling. Schilling is a former Illinois representative who is a congressional candidate for Iowa’s second district in 2020. Sisco admitted no one, including Schilling, had known Fuentes had planned to infiltrate the event.

Schilling has since fired Sisco. In a recent tweet, Schilling stated his disapproval of Fuentes. “His rhetoric is disgusting and I want in no way to be associated with him. His racist anti-Semitic statements do not reflect my own views,” he said.

Soon after the event, there was intense media backlash about what had been preached there. On the QC Times’ Facebook story, Sahil Desai commented, “Nick Fuentes should not be anywhere near our kids. This was a poor decision from Scott County Teenage Republicans…Shame on the Church to invite him.” Another comment by Angela Wilson read, “They had a Klan rally without the white robes and hoods.”

However, those involved with the event made it clear the appearance of Fuentes was unplanned and not welcome. Olivia Schilling, a Republican teenage campus leader, said, “He does not represent the Republican party. He infiltrated our event.” She added, “We can have immigrants and still be America–that’s what’s so great about our country. Everyone here is American if they come here legally. People come here because they have a dream.”

Lindsey Wilken, a moderate who attended the event, said, “It gave me a huge understanding for why people relate the words ‘racist’ and ‘Republican’. News reports tend to focus on the negative parts of situations, such as what Fuentes had to say.”

Still, Democrats in the area continue to express their condemnation of this event. Laura Meloy, a student at St. Ambrose University and a member of the Democratic Party, said, “I was very disappointed and upset that our community held an event like this, especially at a church. Calling these people ‘illegal aliens’ is dehumanizing and, to me, it’s almost impossible to have any type of meaningful conversation with people using such disparaging language.”

Meloy acknowledged the negative impact of Fuentes’s infiltration. She said, “He creates and promotes division in this country, especially at a time when hyper partisanship is so high. He makes it easy for Democrats to paint Republicans as racist or as white supremacists when that’s obviously not the case.”

Nevertheless, both Democratic and Republican students in the QC area agree this forum and its repercussions convey the importance of young people voicing their opinions. “The issues being debated need a wide variety of diverse opinions from all walks of life: young and old. Young people can bring a fresh new energy and perspective to the table,” said Meloy.

Olivia Schilling said, “I feel like kids just don’t really care about politics, but they need to understand that the lawmakers today are determining our future.”

This story was originally published on Spartan Shield on December 9, 2019.