A national gathering of U.S. state leaders continues Sunday in Washington, with a focus on child hunger and infrastructure efforts.

The annual National Governors Association (NGA) meeting follows President Donald Trump’s recent orders to get tougher on the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States, in part by cutting off billions of dollars in federal funds to so-called sanctuary cities that limit cooperation with federal immigration authorities. Trump’s plans include deputizing local law enforcement agents to act as immigration agents.

In interviews with VOA, many state leaders said they want to see immigrants and refugees newly arrived in America succeed in making new lives for themselves; they also stressed that everyone should be treated with compassion and in a reasonable manner as laws are enforced.

NGA Chairman, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe has said he considers the new measures “immoral and illegal.”

Speaking to VOA’s Persian News Network, he said immigrants and refugees are “safe in Virginia. … We want people to come, we want you to start a business and raise your family and have a great quality of life. In Virginia, we’re going to protect all the basic and fundamental civil liberties and civil rights,” McAuliffe said.

Oregon Governor Kate Brown told VOA her state is “inclusive,” and added: “We want to make sure Oregon is a place where everyone can thrive; that includes our immigrant and refugee populations.”

Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson told VOA’s Somali service his state has a large number of immigrants from Vietnam as well as Mexico and Central America.

“Immigrants and refugees are what make up the United States of America,” Hutchinson told VOA. “It just has to be done in a legal process. What you see is not just in the United States, but really globally, a tightening of immigration enforcement.

“Europe has a border policy they’re struggling with. … The United States is in the same position,” Hutchinson added. “Let’s start by enforcing the laws. Obviously we need to do it in a compassionate and reasonable way, but we have to protect our borders and enforce the law.”

Medicaid proposal

Saturday’s discussions at the NGA winter meeting were highlighted by tensions over a proposal by U.S. Republican state governors to overhaul Medicaid, the federal program that provides insurance to more than 70 million low-income Americans.

The Republican governors’ Medicaid proposal, a draft of which was obtained by The Associated Press, urges Congress to change Medicaid from an open-ended federal entitlement to a program designed by each state to stay within financial limits.

The Republicans say their plan would give states more flexibility to administer health coverage for poorer residents while also protecting them from absorbing the costs of repealing the Affordable Care Act, signed into law by President Barack Obama.

Democratic governors accused their Republican counterparts Saturday of being dishonest about the effects of their plan, which they said would take away people’s health care coverage to finance tax cuts for the wealthy.

Democrats passed the Affordable Care Act in 2010 when they had majority control of both houses of Congress, as well as the White House. Republicans have opposed the law since its passage, and they tried more than 50 times unsuccessfully to repeal it during the Obama administration.

The Republican Party argues that prices are too high for Affordable Care Act insurance coverage, and individual states should have more control than the federal government over the issue.

The governors met Saturday with recently confirmed Health Secretary Tom Price. As a congressman, Price was a vocal critic of the Affordable Care Act and led efforts to repeal the law and replace it with alternative legislation. Price told the governors the administration would release its plan soon.


Meanwhile, before Sunday’s talks on infrastructure, Governor Matt Bevin of Kentucky told VOA .

“The time has come for us to address this. We have spent an inordinate amount of money globally, building and rebuilding infrastructure in places where we, frankly, were not exactly welcomed or appreciated. I think there’s a lot of folks who think, ‘Let’s deploy those dollars in our own nation,” the Kentucky governor said.

The governors will attend a ball at the White House Sunday and all the state executives will meet Monday with the president and congressional leaders.

Trump will speak Tuesday to both houses of Congress, laying out his vision for the coming year. Such a speech, the equivalent of the State of the Union address, traditionally is delivered by a new president shortly after his inauguration.

VOA’s Persian and Somali services contributed to this report. Some information for this article came from AP.

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