Congresswoman DeGette addresses community concerns, re-election
La Voz sat down with Coloradoís 1st Congressional District U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette at her offices in Denver recently. We asked her about her work in Washington D.C. and how Latinos are impacted by policy decisions. DeGette has served in the U.S. Congress since 1997 and faces re-election this year against Republican Danny Stroud.
Youíve discussed your support for immigration reform and the Dream Act. What do you think it will take to actually see the passage of comprehensive immigration reform?
Iíve been a co-sponsor of the Dream Act for many years and supportive of comprehensive immigration reform. In the last sessions of Congress I was really happy because we were able to pass the Dream Act through the House. One of my jobs is Chief Deputy Whip for the Democrats. So I was actually one of the people in charge of counting the votes and making sure we had the votes to pass the bill and it was just a wonderful moment when it passed, but it didnít pass in the Senate. So weíve reintroduced the bill this session of Congress. Unfortunately, I donít believe that [John] Boehner, the new Speaker of the House, intents to bring the bill up. Iíve actually been talking with the leaders of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and also with Congressman Luis Gutierrez from the Chicago area about how we can pass not just the Dream Act, but also immigration reform.
Itís also been really frustrating for us. We worked so hard and now we canít even get the leader to bring [the bill] up. Iím really supportive of the state efforts here in Colorado for the states version of the Dream Act (ASSET Bill). May be if some states start to pass these bills at the state level then may be [it will] put pressure [on Congress].
I know President Obama supports immigration reform and he supports the Dream Act, too. I think he was frustrated when these things did not pass. I have been concerned frankly about some of the administrationís policies. The Secure Communities policy and some of the other ICE policies because it seems to me that if youíve got a serious criminal whoís not a citizen, they should absolutely be deported. But targeting people for traffic offenses or targeting people for deportation who donít even have offenses? [Obama] says he is going to stop that and thatís good, but I really think that if you are going to focus on deporting people ó focus on people who are accused or convicted of serious crimes.
In serving the Latino Community, what would you consider has been your greatest effort/ accomplishment as a member of Congress? What is the benefit to the Latino community?
One of the issues that Iíve been really working on this current congressional session this year has been the issue of jobs because obviously weíve had a high unemployment rate. Unemployment has hit the Latino community harder than the rest of the community.
DeGette pointed to figures showing that Latinos represent an 11.6 percent unemployment rate compared to an 8.3 percent unemployment rate for the general public. She said that through her active involvement in community meetings, she hopes to help small Latino-owned business obtain the financial assistance they need.
Last month you held a community event (Hispanic Community Leadership Luncheon) inviting several well-known Latinos. Why is it important for you to hold such events that address a specific community?
At that particular lunch, that was the first time I had heard about this new program that Obamaís administration had said they were setting up as a pilot program (Prosecutorial Discretion policy) here in Denver.
As a result of that lunch my office contacted Secretary Napolitanoís office to find out what exactly they were doing and weíve still havenít gotten an answer back, but I learned a lot of valuable information at that lunch as I always do.
Heated debates surround womenís health particularly as it relates to birth control. Why do you think the debate has become so intensified?
I think that women take for granted that they should be given the ability to plan their families. This whole debate came around because the National Institute of Medicine (NIH) determined on a scientific basis that birth control is core womenís health not just for planning pregnancies, but also for treating diseases like ovarian cancer and other diseases. So they said itís part of core womenís health so it should be covered by all insurance plans.
I think it became such a hot button issue because most American women assumed that things like birth control would be part of their health care package and they were shocked when they heard people didnít want to include it.
Why was it important for you to introduce ďWomenís Health WednesdayĒ at Congress?
I think that its important for women to understand womenís health is a core part of health care and that family planning and pregnancy prevention is core part of health care.
DeGette said both female and male speakers will discuss issues of importance to womenís health that involve not only birth control, but also topics such as cancer screenings and preventative care.
Why should you be re-elected?
Over the last 16 years Iíve worked hard to represent the voters of the 1st Congressional District. Itís a great district to represent because itís very diverse both racially and economically. What I try to take is a strong sense of my Western values [to Washington]. I believe in fiscal responsibility, but I also believe we need to educate our children. We need to take care of our seniors and affirm the commitment weíve made to our seniors. We need to have an economy that grows by innovation so we need to have strong research programs at the NIH and at the research labs in Colorado and other places. And we just need to have fiscal sanity. At the same time we need to have a strong safety net.