U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici has pledged her support for immigrants and asylum seekers, who have been political targets of Donald Trump during the three years of his presidency.
Bonamici made her comments Friday, Jan. 31, at a meeting with immigrant advocates and public officials at Virginia Garcia's Beaverton Wellness Clinic. Two weeks earlier, the Oregon Democrat was part of a congressional delegation that visited Brownsville, Texas, and Matamoros, Mexico, for a firsthand look at Trump's policy of requiring asylum seekers to remain in Mexico while their cases are being considered.
Bonamici said about 2,500 people are housed in tents in a refugee camp in Matamoros, across a bridge from Brownsville, awaiting their hearings.
,"It is so critical to be on the ground, because when you hear descriptions, it is not the same as being there," Bonamici told the group. "This is absolutely unnecessary. This is no way to treat people who are seeking asylum. They should be allowed to make their case in the United States. Congress needs to put an end to this program."
The Trump administration began the remain-in-Mexico policy a year ago.
Bonamici said that asylum seekers are assigned reporting times as early as 4 a.m., they lack access to legal counsel, their camp conditions are unhealthy and unsafe, and families often are separated.
During the meeting, advocates brought up other points of friction between Trump and immigrants:
• A Jan. 27 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that lets Trump proceed with a revised rule allowing federal officials to deny permanent residency (green cards) if immigrants are deemed likely to depend on public benefits such as Medicaid and housing vouchers. The rule takes effect Feb. 24. Bonamici recalled that she studied the underlying law while in law school, "and it has never been interpreted this way" until now.
Virginia Garcia Memorial Health Clinic, which serves 50,000 patients in Washington and Yamhill counties, has posted notices in restrooms informing people about their rights under the "public charge" rule. "Even people who are eligible for benefits are left wondering whether they can or should apply," said Gil Muñoz, its chief executive.
• A pending ruling by the Supreme Court about the 2012 program set up by then-President Barack Obama to shield from deportation about 700,000 young immigrants known as "dreamers," who came to the United States illegally as children. Deferral Action for Childhood Arrivals was abolished by Trump last year, but his order was challenged in court.
Christopher Villa is president of Portland Community College/Rock Creek, which has worked actively to protect them. "We are in the process of developing a plan to make sure they feel safe and that they continue to be served by the college in some way," he said, but did not know what the timeline will be.
The House passed a bill (HR 6) last year, with Bonamici's support and largely along party lines, to give them a path to citizenship. But the Republican-controlled Senate has taken no action.
• Increased administrative fees. For citizenship, the filing fee jumps from $640 to $1,170; even with another fee dropped, the net increase is $445. For a DACA two-year renewal, a new fee boosts the total from $495 to $725. "It's like they are trying to create these ways to limit what kind of person is a desired immigrant — people who can afford to pay these outrageously expensive fees," said Miriam Vargas Corona, executive director of Unidos Bridging Community, based in McMinnville
Bonamici said she is still pushing to add courthouses to the list of sensitive places deemed off-limits to arrests by federal immigration agents. Among them are churches, hospitals and health-care centers, and schools. The Oregon Supreme Court has weighed in with its own rule barring warrantless arrests, but federal officials say they will ignore it.
The House has passed a bill (HR 5038), which passed with bipartisan support Dec. 11, to give undocumented farmworkers a path to legal status and allow them to apply for work permits. "It's not a perfect bill but it is a step in the right direction," Bonamici said.
Still, she said, Trump's Jan. 31 expansion of a travel ban to six more nations and his advocacy of a citizenship question on the 2020 Census — since blocked by the Supreme Court — have left no doubt about the administration's anti-immigration stances.
"This administration has taken executive powers beyond the limits of what one can imagine," Bonamici said. Her grandparents emigrated from Italy in the 1920s, when the United States set up strict immigration quotas by country. The quotas were repealed in 1965.
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