From immigration to health care: A sitdown with Zoe Lofgren
Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren is pictured with Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins during a stop in San Jose on May 3. Photo by Nadia Lopez.

On her most recent trip to Silicon Valley, Rep. Zoe Lofgren, a Democrat representing the 19th Congressional District in Silicon Valley, sat down in an exclusive interview with San José Spotlight to discuss some of the region’s most contentious issues ranging from immigration and health care to the influence of technology and homelessness.

The veteran lawmaker, who has served in Congress since 1995 and faces re-election next year, also touched on national hot topics relating to President Donald Trump.

Her answers below have been lightly edited for clarity.

Q: The Trump administration did not have a central database of information to reunite migrant families who had been separated during the zero-tolerance policy. Hundreds of kids are still separated, and the administration’s lawyers say that reunification could take years.

How are the Democrats going to help address this and, if they win the presidency, prevent another crisis like this from happening again?

A: No other administration has separated children from their parents as an immigration tool. This was used as a deterrent to people escaping violence in Central America. It did certainly traumatize families and it’s outrageous. No president has done something like this before and if we were to replace President Trump, we are looking at what we can do in terms of our appropriation bills to prohibit something like this from happening again.

Q: At the local level, a fight is brewing about immigration. San Jose is divided on immigration following the murder of Bambi Larson and a recent sanctuary city vote. In a 4-1 vote, the Board of Supervisors decided to explore changes to the existing sanctuary city policy, with Supervisor Susan Ellenberg dissenting. Do you agree with that decision?

A: I haven’t weighed in because the county is the appropriate level of government to decide their own policies, but there was a woman murdered by a person who had a severe mental illness and methamphetamine use — not a good combination. It’s not clear that if the policy would have been different that anything would have mattered or changed about his release. ICE has tools and they have the capacity to get a warrant to get those people. Immigration enforcement spends more money than all other law enforcement combined. They are complaining about local government, well, they ought to look in the mirror and see why they haven’t done what they should have done.

Q: In Silicon Valley, we’re always talking about the negative and positive impacts that big tech companies have on the region. Facebook rolled out a plan to secure privacy — and you’ve got some big companies in your district like Google, which are criticized for not taking stricter measures on privacy and security. What’s your take? Should more companies be following in that direction?

A: The lack of privacy provisions among tech platforms is a serious concern. It’s one of the things that California is addressing that the federal government has yet to address. Tech companies are a mixed blessing — people worry about privacy issues and on the other hand, most of the jobs created in California were created in Silicon Valley. The opportunity to have a prosperous career is huge for people in the tech industry. It’s not just engineers — it’s people working at every level. We have made some progress, but the problem is that we have not created housing to match the number of jobs. You can earn a good income, but if housing prices are through the roof it doesn’t get you as much as you would think. We need to work to address the housing crisis that we face.

Q: Speaking of the housing crisis, we keep taxing ourselves here in San Jose, yet it seems like we’ve made no dent in our homelessness problem — at this point in time the city’s count still shows thousands of people living on the streets. Are there specific steps that San Jose must take to move the needle on homelessness?

A: It’s a diverse population, so it’s important to understand that one solution isn’t going to solve the issue. Some homeless people are families who lost their apartment because their rent was so high and they couldn’t afford it. You need affordable housing for that family to get into. That’s very different from someone who is suffering from PTSD as well as substance abuse, who has been on the street for 25 years. It’s not just a housing issue — it’s a mental health care issue, a substance abuse treatment issue and the remedies are not the same.

Q: What is the biggest challenge facing our region right now?

A: I hear a lot from people who are very concerned about health care. The Affordable Care Act did expand health care coverage but the costs, premiums and deductibles are still too high. The networks are too narrow for people to have the access to care that they want, so although the Affordable Care Act was the right thing to do and did improve things — it’s not enough. We’re trying in the House to poke some of those holds, meanwhile the Trump administration is trying to blow the whole thing up. If we have an opportunity to make real change in the next election, that is very high on the list.

Q: Lastly, do you think that the findings in the Mueller report prove a strong case for impeachment?

A: A lot of people are very anxious about the kind of behavior the president has engaged in and want to make sure that the rule of law is maintained. People don’t focus on the dispute between the Mueller report and the Judiciary Committee, but they know that something isn’t right when the president says he will refuse any oversight by the legislative branch. In the Nixon impeachment there were three articles — Article one were the things the president did that violated the law, Article two was the cover up and obstruction of justice and Article three was the stonewalling of Congress.

If you look at the Mueller report, volume one doesn’t find that a crime was committed, but it certainly outlines some very questionable behavior. Volume two basically is equivalent of Article two in the Nixon impeachment, and the president’s unwillingness to submit to Congressional oversight is basically the equivalent of Article three.

So the question is: Do you need a volume one where you’ve proven misbehavior sufficient to derail the functioning of democratic government? Assuming we’re successful to get the oversight that we think is necessary, we’ll have a conclusion that the American people will be able to make a decision on.

Contact Nadia Lopez at [email protected] or follow @n_llopez on Twitter.

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