U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici says she still wants to see comprehensive legislation to deal with the fate of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants who entered the country illegally.
But Bonamici also says she's willing to vote for specific protection against deportation of 800,000 young immigrants — known as "dreamers" — who were brought here illegally while they were children.
"This issue is at the top of my list because it is so important to our community and our country," she said Saturday (Sept. 16) at a town hall meeting attended by 200 people at Tualatin High School. "What are we saying to these young people, who are members of our community, that they are not welcome? That is unacceptable and heartless."
About 11,000 of them are in Oregon.
At an earlier town hall meeting in North Plains, the Oregon Democrat said: "It's heartless for us to say you were brought here as a baby, but you have to go back to a country your have never known. That is not what we stand for as a country."
President Donald Trump announced Sept. 5 he would end a 5-year-old order by Democratic predecessor Barack Obama to shield the 800,000 immigrants from deportation. But Republican Trump and leaders of the Democratic minorities in Congress appear to agree on protecting them, though legislative details have not been settled on a successor to Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). Trump excluded Republican congressional leaders.
Bonamici is a cosponsor of such legislation (HR 3440), which has 199 cosponsors, only four of them Republicans.
She is also a cosponsor of another bill (HR 392), which has 141 Democrats and 120 Republicans, that would lift the per-country limit on high-skilled immigrants — who often wait years to obtain visas needed for entry.
An Indian immigrant brought up the latter issue during the North Plains meeting attended by more than 100 at the Jessie Mays Community Center.
"We desperately need comprehensive immigration reform as well," Bonamici said.
"If we can't get that, then we do the DACA program to get those kids — people who were babies when they came into our country — the ability to stay here and contribute."
She said she would support enhanced security, but not the wall Trump advocates, along the southern border with Mexico.
The Senate, then with a Democratic majority, passed a comprehensive bill on a bipartisan vote in 2013. But Republican leaders never let it come to a vote in the House.
The meetings in North Plains and Tualatin were the first two of six town halls Bonamici plans in the next few weeks. The final one will be at 6 p.m. Oct. 16 in the gym of Friendly House, 1737 NW 26th Ave., Portland.
Bonamici usually has two rounds of town halls each year.
She said so far, people are expressing "serious and deeper concerns" than in the first round, when Trump was in his first few months as president — but health care has receded as an issue.
The House voted May 4, with no Democratic support, to repeal the Obama-era Affordable Care Act with its requirements for insurance coverage and government support through expanded Medicaid and subsidies. But a Senate effort for a separate bill died July 28 when three Republicans joined the Democratic caucus to block it.
"Now there are other issues, such as DACA and North Korea, that were not at the forefront in the last series," Bonamici said.
Bonamici did sign on a few months ago as a cosponsor of another bill (HR 676), sponsored by Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., to expand the federal Medicare program to cover everybody under age 65. A similar bill was introduced in the Senate last week by Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, the independent who sought the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016.
Bonamici said she is under no illusions that such proposal wills advance in a Republican Congress. But she said she supports it as an entry point for discussion of the U.S. health care system, which consumes one of every six dollars (17 percent) the nation produces in goods and services.
"We need to have the conversation about how we can improve access and reduce costs, because we in this country are paying so much more and the results we are getting are not commensurate with what we pay," she said.
In North Plains, Bonamici said she has supported efforts by Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden and others to separate forest firefighting costs from forest management and other tasks.
Congress did add $100 million for western wildfires, including major blazes in the Columbia Gorge and the south coast, to a broader bill Trump signed for hurricane relief and three-month extensions of federal spending authority and the debt ceiling.
Although she would oppose suspending federal protections for the environment and endangered species, Bonamici said federal agencies need to get on with forest thinning to reduce the buildup of potential fire fuels.
"We have had no rain, but also not good enough forest management," she said.
Among those observing the Tualatin meeting were seven students from China, now at George Fox University, and Rebecca Valdovinos, director of the English Language Institute. They are part of a College of Education program to train teachers for Mandarin Chinese instruction in Oregon dual-language schools, or English instruction if they return to China.
Bonamici took a few moments afterward to chat with the students, all of whom can understand and speak English, and are taking a course in U.S. history and culture.
One of the students said afterward: "It's different than in China," where public criticism of national leaders is usually censored.
Adds Oregon estimate of young immigrants.