Washington Review, September 4, 2020
This week, I signed onto legislation to stop harmful image exploitation and distribution of non-consenting individuals. I also signed onto letters to oppose harmful environmental law erosions proposed by the Administration, support the inclusion of protections against harmful pesticides in the final National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), and to demand accountability for vehicle inspections across the country. Additionally, I led a leader with my colleagues condemning the recent violence in Colombia, and led another letter urging the Administration to cease the deportation of Nicaraguan asylum seekers.
This week, I became a cosponsor of H.R. 2896, the Stopping Harmful Image Exploitation and Limiting Distribution (SHIELD) Act, introduced by Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA). This important piece of legislation would help to establish criminal liability for individuals who share private, intimate images of others without consent in an effort to combat the nonconsensual sharing of pornography. This legislation would ensure that the Department of Justice has an appropriate and effective tool for addressing these serious privacy violations. If a person shares a nude image, knowing there is a substantial risk that that the person depicted does not consent, that would be a federal crime. Similarly, if a person makes a true threat to share a nude image, that would be a federal crime. It is far too unfortunate that often-times, otherwise private images are shared and distributed without consent of the individual. This legislation aims to crack down on these practices by making the distribution of these images without consent illegal. No individual should be harassed or threatened about having their private photos distributed.
On Monday, I signed onto a letter led by Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) to the Chairman of the Council on Environmental Quality Mary Neumayr, Department of the Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, and Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue opposing attempts by the Administration to weaken our nation’s environmental protections under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Recent directives from the Administration have led to the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) as well as the Department of the Interior and the Department of Agriculture loosening environmental protections in order to benefit large polluters. The letter stresses concern with these attempts and urges the Administration to put public health before profits for big polluters. The COVID-19 public health emergency continues to impact our nation every day. We are also grappling with climate change, biodiversity depredation, and environmental and racial inequality. It should be clear that during these times we must do everything possible to protect public lands and public health.
I also signed onto a letter led by Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-MI) addressed to the NDAA Conference Committee leadership Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA), Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK), Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-TX), and Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI), urging them to include provisions regarding harmful PFAS chemicals in the NDAA. PFAS chemicals are harmful toxins that we know cause grave dangers to our communities and environment. Across the country, including on military bases and in townships, PFAS chemicals have contaminated ground water and drinking water sources. The Department of Defense (DoD) estimates that at least 678 military installations have known or suspected PFAS contamination in their water. The brave men and women who sign up to serve our country have more to worry about than whether their drinking water is safe. It is of paramount importance that these provisions against PFAS chemicals are included in the NDAA, so we can continue to keep our soldiers, and our communities safe.
In addition, I signed onto a letter led by Rep. Doris Matsui (D-CA), to the Deputy Administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) expressing concern over the alarmingly low number of Vehicle Defect Inspections in recent years. The Office of Defects Investigation (ODI) in the NHTSA is responsible for investigating and identifying safety defects in vehicles and equipment that could pose a risk to safety for operators. In 1989, ODI conducted more than 200 investigations and from 2006-2015, averaged 61 investigations per year. In 2017, ODI conducted only a mere 13 investigations, with 22 in 2018, and 24 in 2019, even though vehicle safety complaints have remained steady. The letter calls for an explanation in the decrease of inspections and asks for information to back up why these investigation rates have plummeted. Ensuring the safety of vehicles for drivers and passengers is a top priority. Car manufacturers should in no way be allowed to cut corners or include designs which could impact the safety of the operator. We must ensure that all vehicles are safe for the road and do not have an increased risk of malfunction which could cause harm.
I led a letter to Colombian President Duque concerning the deaths of five Afro-Colombians in the country. On August 11th, five Afro-Colombian teens were found dead in eastern Cali, Colombia, with clear signs of torture, after leaving their homes to fly kites that morning. Eight days later, on August 18th, eight young people were murdered by armed men at a birthday barbecue in Nariño. These murders highlight the continued lack of adequate state presence in many parts of Colombia and decades of underinvestment in Afro-Colombian communities. The letter, also signed by Reps. Eliot Engel (D-NY), and Gregory Meeks (D-NY), acknowledges the progress Colombia has made in crime rates and human rights, but urges President Duque to ensure that the Colombian government carries out an exhaustive investigation to bring the perpetrators of this and other recent massacres to justice. Violence against the Afro-Colombian community cannot go unnoticed, and I hope President Duque will help bring the perpetrators to justice.
I also led a letter to President Trump expressing my opposition and concern with the deportation of Nicaraguan asylum seekers from the United States. On August 28th, the Washington Post reported that Valeska Alemán, a 22-year-old Nicaraguan activist, had been deported back to Nicaragua in July, 17 days after crossing the border into Texas to seek asylum, after being denied the right to seek asylum despite repeated evidence of political persecution by the Ortega regime in Nicaragua. Moisés Alberto Ortega Valdivia and his wife, Jessica Carolina Pavón, were also deported in July without being granted a credible fear interview, despite having been tortured and beaten by the Nicaraguan police at a protest in 2018. Earlier correspondence with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) confirmed that the Trump Administration is partnering with the Nicaraguan government to deport Nicaraguans, despite the migrants’ persecution back home. The letter, signed by 6 of my colleagues, urges the United States to immediately cease deportations of Nicaraguan asylum-seekers back to the oppressive regime in Nicaragua. The United States has long welcomed those who have been politically persecuted in other countries, we should be continuing that tradition, rather than playing into the hands of lethal despots.
I signed onto a letter led by Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), to the Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), expressing my dismay at the treatment of Muslim Detainees. On August 18th, Muslim Advocates sent a letter to the Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties of the Department of Homeland Security outlining in detail allegations that Muslim detainees held in ICE detention facility Krome Service Processing Center in Miami, Florida, were given a choice to violate their religious tenets by eating pork, or offered spoiled halal food as a substitute. If the well-documented allegations are true, forcing Muslim detainees to choose between eating pork and eating spoiled halal food would be a clear violation of ICE’s 2011 Performance-Based National Detention Standards. The letter asks that these allegations be thoroughly investigated, and that the office ensure that all Muslim detainees and other detainees requiring religious accommodations be given immediate access to those accommodations and violators be held accountable. If these reports are true, the treatment of these Muslim detainees is morally reprehensible and must be swiftly investigated.
The Census response rate in the 8th District is far below the average for the rest of New Jersey. Completing the Census is not only a constitutional responsibility but also greatly helps your district and local community get the funds it needs. Census results are directly tied to funding for emergency first responders, hospitals, schools, and many other important federal programs. Completing your census takes less than 10 minutes total and can have a significant impact. To complete your census visit: https://2020census.gov/en.html
I would like to wish everyone in the 8th District a happy Labor Day. During the day, please remember the thousands of labor activists who have fought to ensure the worker protections that are a part of our society today. Please know that I will continue working to get the 8th District the resources it needs. If you have questions or need assistance please call my Washington, D.C. office at (202)225-7919 and follow instructions to be connected to my staff or send an email to NJ8inquiries@mail.house.gov. Together we can get through this.