Eric Swalwell and Jackie Speier Let Down Their Pro-Immigrant Base

Pro-Immigrant BaseOn Twitter, Congressmembers Eric Swalwell (D-Dublin) and Jackie Speier (D-Hillsborough) proclaim their opposition to President Trump’s abuses of power.

But last month, rhetoric didn’t match reality. Both Swalwell and Speier voted in favor of Trump’s attempts to demonize and deport millions of immigrants.

The pair were the only California Democrats to join House Republicans in supporting HR 3004, a draconian bill that would punish people fleeing violence or desperately seeking to return to the only home they know.

This proposal, riddled with constitutional violations, may never make it to Trump’s desk, let alone go into effect. Nonetheless, we are ashamed to see our representatives lend legitimacy to a xenophobic agenda.

Reading the fine print, HR 3004 should perhaps be called the “Profits for Private Prisons” Act. The bill would abolish protections under current law for asylum seekers and trafficking victims. The federal government could criminally prosecute mothers, fathers, and children fleeing horrific violence in Central America for seeking help and protection.

Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, May 17, 2017. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

People seeking asylum might find themselves behind bars for up to 10 years if this bill becomes law, fattening the pockets of private prison corporations whose stocks have skyrocketed under Trump.

HR 3004 would also further criminalize community members who come back to the United States to reunite with their families and loved ones after an unjust deportation.

The bill would even prohibit immigrants from challenging a previous deportation order – no matter how blatantly unfair it might be. Legal experts say this provision is likely unconstitutional.  We know that most immigrants are deported without adequate legal counsel.

HR 3004 doesn’t even exempt those giving emergency medical care from “aiding and abetting” reentry, a serious attack on humanitarian workers.

As people of faith, we regard this vote as a betrayal of our deeply-held values of compassion and humanity. We are called to guard against unfair scapegoating. In these troubling times, we are called to critically analyze Trump’s distortions and lies.

But Swalwell and Speier appear to have fallen for the president’s propaganda.

In truth, HR 3004 exploits a heartbreaking tragedy, the Pier 14 shooting in San Francisco, as cover for serious civil liberties abuses. Let us be clear: We mourn the tragic killing this bill invokes and extend our deepest prayers and sympathies to the Steinle family.

But we need real solutions that address the root causes of gun theft and gun violence. We don’t need Donald Trump and anti-immigrant forces exploiting tragedy for political gain.

Congresswomen Jackie Speier, Anna Eshoo and Nancy Pelosi, from left, attend a groundbreaking ceremony for Caltrain’s electrification project at the Millbrae Caltrain Station in Millbrae, Calif., on Friday, July 21, 2017. The project aims to equip the train line between San Francisco and San Jose with high-performance electric trains and offer faster, more frequent service for a rapidly increasing ridership. (Anda Chu/Bay Area News Group)

Consider the story of Alfonso Martinez Sanchez, a 39-year-old father of five U.S. citizen children and his family’s main breadwinner. Five years ago, a trip to a store to buy milk led to a senseless deportation. Alfonso repeatedly tried to come home to his family.

Wouldn’t you?

Border Patrol arrested Alfonso several times, but he never gave up on his family. He died of heatstroke in the desert trying to reunite.

Had he survived, under HR 3004 he would face even harsher prosecution.

Swalwell says he wants to “punish individuals who repeatedly break the law.” Yet the federal government has never created a workable immigration process, even though undocumented immigrants are deeply rooted in our communities.

Speier’s and Swalwell’s votes represent a significant failure to think critically and compassionately.

Trump’s next attack on human rights and civil liberties may also come cloaked in the false language of safety and security. Will Swalwell and Speier see through it – or will they fail us again?

Rev. Deborah Lee and Bob Lane
The Mercury News

The Rev. Deborah Lee is Director of the Oakland-based Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity. Bob Lane, a Swalwell constituent, is a leader in the Faith Alliance for a Moral Economy/EBASE. They work with a growing network of Sanctuary Congregations in the Bay Area. They wrote this for The Mercury News.

About Deborah Jian Lee

Deborah Jian Lee is an award-winning journalist, radio producer, and the author of Rescuing Jesus: How People of Color, Women & Queer Christians are Reclaiming Evangelicalism (Beacon, 2015). She has worked as a staff reporter for the Associated Press, taught journalism at Columbia University, and written for Foreign Policy, Forbes, Slate, Reuters, GOOD, WBEZ, WNYC and others.