On August 25th, Republicans will meet for the 2018 state convention to nominate candidates.
Among those vying for the nomination for Michigan Attorney General are Representative Tom Leonard, currently Speaker of the House, and state Senator Tonya Schuitmaker.
Tonya Schuitmaker has served as a state Senator for Michigan’s 20th district since 2011. Prior to that, she served as a member of the Michigan House of Representatives. She sat down with Stateside’s Lester Graham to discuss criminal justice, immigration, and environmental regulation.
In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled mandatory sentences of life without the possibility of parole are unconstitutional for juvenile offenders. Those who are serving time should get a review of their sentence. Attorney General Bill Schuette has pushed back on that and hundreds of juvenile lifers still have not had their sentences reexamined. What would you do as Attorney General?
"Well, as Attorney General I think it's important to follow the rule of law and certainly the Supreme Court has ruled that you cannot incarcerate a juvenile, that was a juvenile at the time that the crime was committed, for life. And so I think it's important and the Legislature, myself included since I’m a member of the appropriations of the judiciary, have put forward with the funds — both on the prosecutorial end and on the defense end — to ensure that the juveniles are getting, in accordance with the ruling, a fair and just sentence."
What do you think that entails? It’s supposed to be very unique before a juvenile is sentenced to life, and as we reexamine these sentences, I wonder what you think is going to be rare and unique. What would keep somebody in versus releasing them?
"I think it's important to look at every case-by-case basis. Certainly there are some heinous crimes, and you know I think one of the reasons the Supreme Court did rule [the way] that it did is because a juvenile's mind is not developed fully, and they’re not thinking as an adult and they are very impulsive. But it's also important to take into account victims' rights as well to make sure that there is justice and to look at the whole circumstances of each case."
Across the nation, 18 Attorneys Generals have filed suit against the Trump administration to stop the child separation policy. I am wondering — that is changed now by a court order of course — but would you have joined them?
"I would not have. I think, first of all, this is a practice that has been going back for two previous administrations. And you never know, you have about, if I recall from the DHHS Secretary’s press conference, you had 10,000 young children that came here without any parent. And so you’re talking around two or three thousand people that did come here with a parent, and so I think it's important before you give them back to the parent to make sure that they're not a product of human trafficking. And I think this goes to the overall issue that we need to secure our borders."
You have posted on Facebook and your campaign has produced a couple of videos condemning local jurisdictions that provide sanctuary to “criminal illegal aliens." What's your concern?
"Well, my concern is that you have people that are breaking the law by entering this country illegally. You and I can't go to any other country on the face of the planet and just decide to live there forever. So I think we have an immigration policy that is what the law is, and you have a lot of people that do wait in line that want to get into this country. We are all part of immigration in one form or another, and so it's important that we respect the rule of law, and that's first and paramount."
What about the cities who say their police officers can’t do their job well because the community, which might include undocumented immigrants, are scared — that they won't work with the police?
"Well, I think, first and foremost, the law enforcement should be enforcing the law. And if they are in this country illegally, I think it's important that they be arrested and shipped back to the country of origin. You saw over in California, you saw the case of Kate Steinle, who, that child was murdered from an illegal immigrant. And you have a lot of other cases, not to mention you see a lot of drugs coming over the border, and you see a lot of human trafficking, and so I think it's important that you make sure, first and foremost, and this is really up to Congress, to secure the border."
What would you do in Michigan as Attorney General to deal with this?
“Well, I would call upon Congress to, one, secure the border and, two, to defund any city that is not enforcing its laws, whether that be a city law or state law or federal law, and immigration would certainly be part of that.”
This post was written by Stateside production assistant Sophie Sherry.