Editor’s Note: RLn’s Washington correspondent, Sara Corcoran, interviewed Rep. Nanette Barragán (D-CA 44) on Feb. 15 in her Washington, D.C. office. Barragán discussed issues impacting San Pedro and the rest of her district include homelessness, port security, Trump’s border wall, and the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, perhaps better known as DACA.
How does the president’s infrastructure plan impact the ports?
The president’s infrastructure plan does not make a significant financial investment in any part of our infrastructure, the ports included. The proposed $200 billion in this plan is woefully insufficient to help rebuild our crumbling infrastructure. The American Association of Port Authorities has identified $66 billion in infrastructure needs at our ports alone. This bill is an unserious attempt to deal with the challenges we face.
How do you feel the ports interact with their communities?
The ports are essential parts of our communities. San Pedro and Wilmington in particular grew hand-in-hand with the port. I grew up in this district, and I have family who work in the port to this day. The port continues to be a major economic engine for our economy and for the region. I was glad to see that last year the port shattered its record for annual container volume shipped. Part of my mission in Washington is to ensure that the port will continue to provide good-paying jobs for our communities and fuel the national economy. The growth and prosperity of our communities is deeply connected to the future of the port.
What plans does Congress have for cyber-security?
As a member of the Homeland Security Committee, I take cyber-security concerns very seriously. Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team has released 13 new indictments against Russians who meddled in the 2016 election. It is clear their goals were to undermine faith in our democratic institutions, erode support for Secretary [Hillary] Clinton, and prop up the campaign of Donald Trump. Playing defense in cyber-security is very difficult and it is going to take a government-wide commitment to prevent further election meddling in 2018. I am committed to support every effort to protect our election systems and integrity from future interference.
Locally, the Port of Los Angeles experiences almost 20 million cyber-attacks a month. I am focused on ensuring the federal government does its part by providing essential funding and resources for ports to harden cyber defenses. The Ports Security Grant Program is one of the vital tools the ports rely on, and I’ve been working to get the program more funding.
DACA people in the district
There are an estimated 8,000 DACA recipients. We have been pretty vocal on this issue. Everything from signing on to bills, speaking on the house floor… I’d like to force a vote on the Dream Act. We have met several times with John Kelly on this issue, originally when he was Secretary of Homeland Security and now that he is the president’s chief of staff. He’s moved on this issue quite a bit, unfortunately, Secretary Kelly now chief of staff Kelly on this issue has moved on this issue quite a bit — unfortunately, and not in a positive direction. Frankly, I have had meetings with the Senate Democratic leadership, conveying that our communities feel the Senate’s Democratic leadership has turned their backs. I have been calling for the Clean Dream Act for a long time. When other bills started coming forward, like the Aguilar-Hurd bill [Reps. Peter Aguilar (D-Calif.) and Will Hurd (R-Texas)] which is a combination of DACA protection and border security. We spoke in favor of it as a way start having a conversation about what we can do to get the protections if there is going to be a compromise [on the president’s wall]. It’s something we have been pushing a lot. It’s been in the media that I have been We the person who has been willing to stand up and be vocal against my own Democratic leadership. We are going to continue to do that. I think it was a mistake…we didn’t use the last spending bill as leverage. We saw that there was real leverage there because the Republicans only had about 168 votes and they needed so many Democratic votes. We had 73 support that bill. I thought that was unfortunate.
On the Border Wall
I sit on the Homeland Security Committee, and the experts on the wall tell us it is more a speedbump. It is not going to solve the problem. Unfortunately, it has turned a into a political campaign promise by this president. It has turned a committee that has generally been very bipartisan to being more partisan. I’m for putting more customs and border protection at the ports of entry. Look, I represent the Port of Los Angeles. They have a staffing shortage. More officers will improve security and efficiency in the movement of cargo. It’s going to help the economy and it’s going to help create jobs. So there are much smarter ways for us to use that money.
Do I think we are going to have to shell out money for the border wall? I don’t know. Everything is so up in the air. The president one day says he’s willing to do something without a wall. The next day he say he wants money for a wall. I think at the end of the day … we are going to see where the politicians fall — where my colleagues will fall on what they are willing to ask for in return for DACA protections. What’s really sad is that [DACA is] such a bipartisan issue across the country [but] they are using these kids as hostages. I think you may see a proposal for a border wall have some funding. It’s not as quick as you think it is. It takes a while. So there is some political reality that they could get some wall funding.
On the Housing Crisis
So the president’s budget is cutting a whole bunch of things from Medicaid to health care funding. In the prior budget they were trying to cut “home funds.” They have tried to cut that in the past. Those are funds that go to organizations that help put up affordable housing … people like Habitat for Community. They (Habitat for Humanity) came in here and said, “Look this is crazy. If they cut funding we are not going to be able to provide as much affordable housing.” Which is an issue in Los Angeles, where we face skyrocketing rents. The past budget also had some cuts to homeless programs. I haven’t seen the new budget to see if that is proposed again, but there is no doubt this president doesn’t have homelessness as one of his priority issues. It’s more of him trying to make up where he is going to find the money to pay for the big cut he gave to the top one percent. So the homeless problem is a huge issue. Its exploding. I live in San Pedro myself. I’ve seen it explode.
We have tried several things. Under a program called HUD VASH [Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing] bill, across the country the federal government gives out housing vouchers. Some areas don’t use them. But Los Angeles, being such a high level of homelessness, uses theirs. My goal is to reallocate some of those HUD VASH vouchers to cities in need of them. It would make priority of veterans. You would think something like that would be easy, but it’s not bipartisan. It becomes an issue of, “Well, I don’t know what that is going to do with my area. I don’t even know if I can get a vote on it because leadership won’t put it up.
A bill this week would add to the income tax box at the very end [of the form]that says, “Do you want to donate to this cause or that cause?” There will be a new box if somebody wanted to contribute to a homeless fund so that we can invest more affordable housing and more services for homeless.
There are a lot of things we can do. We need to focus on homelessness, affordable housing, making sure people have access to mental health services and taking care of our veterans.