Members from Indivisible Baltimore, Indivisible Towson, and Indivisible Howard County along with representatives from CASA de Maryland met with Congressman Dutch Ruppersberger yesterday in his DC office. He spoke candidly, and at length, on his vote for Kate’s Law and his position on DACA and the Dream Act. We began the meeting by thanking the Congressman for standing up for Baltimore and criticizing Attorney General Sessions’ threat to withhold federal funding over the city’s immigration detention policy and for speaking out against Trump’s decision to end DACA. His reply: “I will always stand up for Baltimore.”
Congressman Ruppersberger was one of 24 Democrats to vote ‘yes’ on Kate’s Law, which passed the House in late June on a largely party-line vote. We opposed Kate’s Law because it stigmatizes immigrants and validates Trump’s myth that the country is being overrun by an immigrant crime wave.
The Congressman was unapologetic about his vote. Citing his experience as a former prosecutor, he argued that it would provide law enforcement with additional tools to deal with criminals in immigrant communities – ‘bad apples’ that provide fodder for sensationalized attacks by the right-wing media on immigrants. He stressed that he had worked hard to ensure that, unlike previous versions of Kate’s Law, this bill did not have mandatory minimums and only applied to those already convicted of felonies (not misdemeanors).
We urged the Congressman to see Kate’s Law in the broader context of Trump’s war against immigrants. Like the ‘wall’, the Muslim Ban, and other measures, Kate’s law ostensibly targets a narrow group, but, in effect, stigmatizes all immigrants by validating Trump’s narrative of minority groups and immigrants as the primary culprits for crime and terrorism – dangers that require immediate federal action. That Kate’s Law is named after a white woman who was murdered by an immigrant carries far more significance that anything written within the bill.
Congressman Ruppersberger was sympathetic to our point of view – that it was wrong for laws to single out immigrants, Muslims or other minority groups – but remained undeterred in his conviction that, on its merits, Kate’s Law would help, and not hurt, immigrant communities.
Would he reject any bill that singled out and stigmatized immigrants? Not outright, but he did say he would not vote for Kate’s Law if it came back to the House including changes such as mandatory minimum sentences.
We told the Congressman we were concerned about any kind of support for funding the wall. The Congressman agreed that the GOP would try to attach wall financing, which he is against, to other bills. He said he had already stood up to such efforts. While he said that “I do believe that all countries should be able to secure their borders,” he said he had voted against the defense appropriations bill because it included funding for the wall—despite having two military bases in his district and it “being so dangerous out there, when it comes to Russia and China”. He described this as a very difficult vote.
Would he reject any bill that contained financing for the wall? Probably, but he would likely support some other form of border security.
A representative from CASA, an undocumented immigrant and Baltimore-area resident, described how the end of DACA affected her teenage son, who would be documented under the DACA program when he turned 16. She explained how her son came to this country when he was 1 yr old and how important DACA was to her son’s future. She also explained how fearful she was of recent ICE raids and deportations and how much anxiety it caused her family.
Congressman Ruppersberger was clearly moved by her account and assured her that “I will be behind you on this,” and “will do whatever I can to make sure your son is okay.” He said he was optimistic about restoring DACA or some other bill that would protect Dreamers. He thinks there is sufficient support from both parties: “Even some of Trump’s people are saying, we don’t want this,” he said. And deporting Dreamers doesn’t make economic sense. “Losing this generation of Americans will cost us billions of dollars….I think we are going to win.”
The Congressman stressed that the challenge wasn’t in having a sufficient number of votes to pass the Dream Act, but in bringing it to a floor vote. He added that he supported the Dream Act, as well as the BRIDGE Act (which codifies DACA), which is he a cosponsor, and said he would support signing a ‘discharge’ petition which, with sufficient votes, would immediately bring the BRIDGE Act to a floor vote in the House.
UPDATE: On Sept 8, two days after the meeting, Congressman Ruppersberger co-sponsored H.R. 3440 DREAM Act. Also Congressman Mike Coffman (CO-6) has reportedly withdrawn his discharge petition for the BRIDGE Act.
The meeting ended shortly after because the Congressman was called to take a vote on the House floor. We want to thank Congressman Ruppersberger and his staff for taking time out of what was clearly a busy day to discuss these issues with us.