SEASIDE — Immigration was one of the most discussed topics at a town hall hosted by U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici on Saturday at Seaside Heights Elementary School.
The town hall took place as President Donald Trump continues to push a hard stance on immigration and federal lawsuits seeking reunification of families separated at the U.S.-Mexico border continue. It also came less than two months before Oregon voters will decide on Measure 105, which would repeal the state’s sanctuary law.
Bonamici discussed the Family Case Management Program, a pilot program created in 2016 that aimed to keep families seeking asylum together. Former President Barack Obama created the program in response to a refugee crisis in Central America, and it was shut down last year.
“A lot of them are seeking asylum for religious persecution,” Bonamici said. “Isn’t that what United States is about?”
After the town hall, Bonamici discussed her opposition to Measure 105. She referenced a letter written by Washington County Sheriff Pat Garrett and District Attorney Kevin Barton opposing the repeal. Clatsop County Sheriff Tom Bergin cited Garrett’s letter as a major reason for penning one of his own — co-signed by 15 other sheriffs from around the state — that supported the measure.
“We want everyone in our community to feel safe and be safe, whether it be reporting a crime, testifying against a criminal,” the congresswoman said.
Bonamici repeatedly mentioned ongoing negotiations to rework the North American Free Trade Agreement. The U.S. and Canada remain far apart in talks, which the congresswoman noted is important.
One person in the audience asked if Bonamici would vote down any agreement that doesn’t enforce labor or environmental standards.
“We’re hearing some positive signs from the labor community about some of the labor and environment protections, but we’ll have to see that to see what it looks like and get to the details,” she said.
Bonamici said Oregon is dependent on trade and brought up a 65 percent tariff recently placed on hazelnuts. The vast majority of the country’s hazelnut supply comes from Oregon.
“That’s devastating to family farms in Oregon,” she said. “There doesn’t seem to be a strategy, but we have to get trade done right.”
While she does not have a vote in the matter, Bonamici mentioned that many have had serious concerns about Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, though she did not specify what those concerns are. She used the example of Oregon federal prosecutor Ryan Bounds, whose nomination for a vacancy on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals was withdrawn after inflammatory writings surfaced from his college days.
“I think you’re seeing more and more people speaking out that the process is wrong,” Bonamici said. “It has happened in the past, but I don’t know what’s going to happen with this nomination.”
The Oregon Democrat threw a jab at Trump’s Twitter usage that spurred laughter from the more than 50 people in attendance, none of whom seemed to disagree with anything she said.
“Twitter is not the appropriate platform for trade negotiations, right?” she asked rhetorically.
Other topics of interest included housing and a proposed space force. Bonamici said the government missed an opportunity to address low-income housing in last year’s Tax Cuts and Jobs Act by not including more low-income housing tax credits and anti-poverty programs. She’s a member of the House Committee on Space, Science and Technology, and opposes a potential space force.
“Space is one of those areas where there has historically been international cooperation,” Bonamici said. “We need diplomacy on the Earth before we need a military force in outer space.”
Cathey Ryan, who was in the audience, asked the congresswoman at one point what she is doing to stop the government from “being held hostage by the GOP.”
“We all want to see people romping and stomping on our behalf,” Ryan said. “I know that that may not be the process, but I’m kind of done with the process.”
Bonamici mentioned that she has been in the minority party in Congress since she was first elected in 2012. “And I don’t think my constituents elected me to only get things done when I’m in the majority, so I’ve been trying to get as much done as I can.”
As part of her answer, the congresswoman said she has called out Education Secretary Betsy DeVos enough times that “I’m kind of losing track.” She poked fun at DeVos’ visit last year to McMinnville High School.
“I thanked her for visiting a public school. I don’t think she’s been in many public schools,” Bonamici said.
Again, she drew laughter and applause from the crowd.
“I just want to say ‘thank you’ because I just needed to hear it from your lips,” Ryan said. “I know you’re there, but I just needed you to say it.”