Racism, Immigration and Human Rights
Question 1: The murder of George Floyd is prompting a national discussion concerning our nation’s failure to fully address historic racial injustice. What is the role of Congress in defining and addressing historic injustices? What measures will you promote as a member of the United States Congress to combat racial injustice?
Systemic racism has had its knee on the throats of our black community for 400 years. We must seize this moment and purge systemic racism in all our systems, and I believe we must eliminate the underlying causes of racism. We need to reform our police, by ending police brutality and excessive use of force, demilitarizing the police, banning facial recognition technology, eliminating racial profiling, enforcing use of body cams, ending qualified police immunity, banning chokeholds, creating federal police certifications and decertifications, implementing national police diversity, bias and cultural competency training, creating national standards for use and threat of force and reallocating some police resources to education and community engagement. We also need to eliminate the systemic racism in our healthcare, education, housing, transportation, food and criminal justice systems, and in our environment.
But that is not enough. We need to go deeper if we want to truly eliminate the underlying causes of racism. No one is born a racist. No one is born to hate. This behavior is taught. Education and engagement are the antidote to eradicating racism in our country. We must double down on our investment to teach our youth at the earliest of ages that lies, prejudice and stereotypes can turn into hatred and racism and even worse, death.
We also need to elect and select diverse leaders who understand the diverse perspectives of their community, including more diversity in our political leaders, hospitals, police departments, schools, and in the boards and executive suites of our public, private and non-profit companies.
We must also protect the voting rights of all Americans, especially those in historically disenfranchised communities such as the Black and Latino communities. Finally, we must ensure everyone fills out their census questionnaire, as the data from the Census determines both equal representation and equal access to $800 billion in annual federal funds.
Question 2: There is widespread agreement that our current immigration system is in need of reform consistent with our nation’s economic and national security interests and its historic commitment to be a haven for the vulnerable and oppressed around the world. What do you foresee as the best pathway forward for immigration reform and how would you work across the aisle to achieve these policy goals?
Fixing our immigration system is a moral, ethical, and economic imperative. We need an immigration system and a society that allows EVERYone to thrive, no matter where they came from, how they got here, what they look like, and what language they speak. Creating an inclusive society that EVERYone can participate in, regardless of immigration status, will only strengthen our social, economic and civic life. Our immigration system and by extension our society, should not merely attempt to protect and support our immigrants, but rather seize every opportunity to uplift and celebrate immigrants, while expanding their access to opportunities. We are all interconnected, and we are in this together. Our immigrant neighbors have made our society, commonwealth and country more vibrant and stronger and helped it progress further. They have also made significant social, cultural, civic, scientific, and technological contributions to our neighborhoods and society, and have been a vibrant engine in our economy here in Massachusetts and throughout the country.
I believe we need compassionate and comprehensive immigration reform, with a pathway to citizenship for the 12+ million undocumented immigrants, providing permanent status for recipients of TPS and DACA, decriminalizing unauthorized border crossing, stopping ICE from continuing its xenophobic attacks on our immigrant community, intentionally intimidating, threatening, harassing and striking fear into our immigrant community, ending the public charge rule, ensuring that all of our immigrants, regardless of status receive healthcare coverage, unemployment assistance and the ability to receive their drivers licenses, stopping all zero-tolerance immigration policies at the borders for migrants, removing and destigmatizing the label and image that an undocumented immigrant is a criminal, investing in providing free language classes for English learners, and supporting the Safe Communities Act.
Question 3: To what extent should the safeguarding of human rights, including but not limited to preventing genocide and combating racism and religious persecution, inform our nation’s international relationships, trade agreements, and diplomatic conduct?
Safeguarding human rights, preventing genocide and combating racism and religious persecution must be at the core of how we approach our international relationships, trade agreements and diplomatic conduct. The United States must continue to be a leader in upholding values of democracy, freedom and justice. As one of the world’s only superpowers, the United States not only has a moral and ethical obligation to be a protector of human rights, but also to help lift other countries to join them in celebrating and upholding these standards.
The United States should implement trade policies and conduct its foreign diplomacy in a way that rewards our trading partners and allies when they implement fair labor laws, minimum wage laws, safeguard human rights, combat religious persecution, encourage democratic free trade unions, implement stringent environmental protections, combat racism, and strive to give access to opportunities to all its residents, regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation, gender, sex, socio-economic status, immigration status, abilities or language.
Question 4: There is growing concern in the country about financial inequality and its consequences for those lower on the economic ladder. If elected to the United States Congress, describe at least one initiative you will propose to address this concern?
My platform is based on the premise of “We the 4th” meaning that we are all in this together and we all have the moral obligation to lift those around us, particularly the most vulnerable. It must start with providing relief for our most vulnerable members, creating economic mobility for our workers and ending the systemic racism, including combating environmental injustice and racism.
We know that education is one of the most powerful ways to address the disparities and inequalities in our country. We need to create a 21st century interconnected education system, starting with universal pre-school for 3-5 year olds and expanding Early Head Start. We must invest in our K-12 education by providing more professional development for our teachers, diversifying our teachers, and providing resources to upgrade and modernize school infrastructure. We must also make public higher education more accessible and affordable, by capping any student debt at a small fixed percentage of a student’s income, allowing students to have the friendly interest rates on their school loans as banks have on loans they receive from other banks. Finally, we must provide free adult vocational education so adults may receive the skills and training necessary to achieve a higher living standard. We must also provide free English classes for our immigrants who have the required skills and tracing for 21st century jobs but do not have the English proficiency.
In addition, we must also enact a Federal Paid Family and Medical Leave policy, as we can’t be the only industrialized country in the world not to have it. We must allow the federal government to negotiate prescription drug prices under Medicare to drive down prescription drug costs. We also must expand the Earned Income Tax Credit, pass a $15 minimum wage that is indexed, and expand social security benefits.
Question 5: Antisemitism and violence against Jews are on the rise around the world. According to the FBI’s most recent Hate Crimes Statistics report, in 2018 anti-Jewish hate crimes accounted for 57% of all religiously motivated hate crimes. Nearly one third of respondents in a recent AJC survey of American Jews reported having been afraid to wear something in public that identifies them as Jews. To address this problem, the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance drafted a “Working Definition” of antisemitism, which has been adopted in dozens of countries in Europe (including Germany, France, and the UK) and endorsed by UN Secretary General Gutierrez and the US Department of State. This definition provides a means for assessing when given actions may involve bias against Jews, thereby reducing confusion and providing a basis for constructive action. Will you go on record to endorse the IHRA Definition of Antisemitism?
Yes! This is an integral part of my Anti-Semitism platform which you can view at bensigelforcongress.com/anti-Semitism. I have also met with many members of the Diplomatic Corps and Congress to advocate for countries to adopt the IHRA definition of Anti-Semitism.
Question 6: In recent years, advocates for anti-Israel and, at times, anti-Jewish political agendas have demonstrated growing success in their effort to coopt the movement for racial justice. For example, before and since the murder of George Floyd, some proponents of the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement have circulated a false and tendentious narrative that holds Israel responsible for law enforcement tactics that brutalize people of color. These claims undermine the fight against the current manifestations of white supremacy (e.g. voter suppression, de facto segregation, over-policing, over-imprisonment and other measures that promote inequality). They also demonstrate how readily false and malicious claims about Jews and Jewish interests can take root and spread. Should you be elected to the United States Congress, how do you propose to ensure that the quest for racial justice remains strong and that those who would undermine it through false and malicious claims are marginalized?
I intentionally released my full platforms for ending Racism and combating Anti-Semitism on the same day and am the only candidate in this race that has placed both as central tenets of my platform from the beginning. Growing up as a Latino and Jew I have experienced both, having been told “pick up that penny you spic” on occasion. The Friday before my announcement, I was told outside my synagogue that my grandmother should have died in the Holocaust by a gentleman. This is not new to me, I have spent my adult life building, connecting and strengthening the Jewish and Latino communities, and connecting those communities with other diverse communities. We cannot let these hateful and malicious claims interfere in the efforts to end systemic racism, but we also have to address these claims. Anti-Semitism is on the rise, with a record high number of reported cases in 2019, I believe education and engagement is the key to eliminating the underlying causes of hate and Anti-Semitism. No one is born a racist. No one is born a bigot. No one is born an Anti-Semite. This behavior is taught. We must double down on our investment to teach our youth at the earliest of ages that lies, prejudice and stereotypes can turn into hatred and racism and even worse, death. We must also truly commit ourselves to better educating and training our police, teachers, first responders, and political and civic leaders on cultural competency, diversity, equity & inclusion and explicit and implicit bias. We must also pass tougher Hate Crimes legislation and be tougher on prosecuting hate crimes. We also need to support the NO HATE Act. I will be a champion for combating and eliminating racism and Anti-Semitism in our country.
Question 7: We are in the midst of another fraught moment in the ongoing struggle for peace between Israel and its Palestinian neighbors. Hamas continues to advocate for Israel’s destruction. The Palestinian Authority has refused negotiations for more than 5 years. And, in the absence of a credible peace process, the new Israeli coalition government has stated its desire to apply Israeli law to West Bank settlements (albeit, it appears now, within a much smaller territory than was proposed before the formation of the current government). For decades, a two-state solution has been a pillar of American foreign policy. Do you support a two-state solution to this conflict that will provide for a Palestinian and an Israeli state? What do you believe the role of the United States should be in resolving this conflict? As a member of Congress, what policies would you advocate for to advance your view of our nation’s role?
I strongly believe in a two-state solution, two states for two peoples, existing side by side in peace, security and mutual recognition. Israel deserves to live in peace, safely and securely, free from terror and incitement, in a state that is publicly recognized by the Palestinians and its Arab neighbors. Palestinian leaders must take action to end all forms of violence against Israel and its civilians and acknowledge Israel’s right to exist.
I strongly support the United States’ recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and the relocation of the US Embassy to Jerusalem.
The Palestinians must also be permitted to realize their own national aspirations in an independent, demilitarized state, and determine the location of their own capital, once borders have been agreed upon and they become a sovereign member of the UN.
I also oppose unilateral action by any international entity that imposes final status solutions on either Palestine or Israel. The terms of lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinian Authority cannot be imposed by any international entity because peace can only be achieved through diplomacy between the two people. I do believe however, that the United States has an important role to play in helping Israel and the Palestinian Authority achieve two states for two peoples.
Not only do the United States and Israel share common interests and values of democracy, freedom, and justice, but millions of families have loved ones living in both countries, becoming our neighbors, friends and colleagues in the United States and helping strengthen our communities. As a result of Israel’s innovative and entrepreneurial spirit, it is in the United States best health, economic, strategic and environmental interest to continue to encourage and promote joint US-Israel programs. Providing security assistance to Israel is also in the United States best security and economic interests. I would not place any additional conditions on US military assistance to Israel.
I also believe we need to fight for continued US aid to the Palestinian Authority, Egypt, and Jordan. These funds are critical to the Palestinian Authority’s state-building and security efforts in the West Bank. Without such aid to Egypt and Jordan, those countries might easily become weaker and fall prey to Iran’s terrorist proxies or other terrorist groups around the world, which in turn would put the United States’ national interests in jeopardy and threaten the very existence of Israel.
Question 8: Israel is home to nearly half of the world’s Jewish population. Israel is a democratic country and its citizens are accustomed to robust debate, at home and abroad, concerning their nation’s policies and actions. Regrettably, in the United States and elsewhere, there is mounting support for movements, such as the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) campaign, that purport to promote Palestinian rights but do so by denying Israel’s legitimacy, refusing dialogue, and advocating for Israel’s destruction. This malicious portrayal of Israel and the reality of its conflict with the Palestinians has prompted notable acts of antisemitism; especially on college campuses. It has also polarized public discourse and dimmed prospects for a negotiated solution to the conflict. If elected to Congress, what, if anything, would you say to those who deny Israel’s legitimacy and advocate for an end of the world’s only Jewish state?
I strongly condemn the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel. As someone who has visited the West Bank, and has personally spoken to Palestinians living in the West Bank, I know and have seen first-hand that BDS actually hurts the Palestinian people more that it helps them, because it closes the door to jobs and economic opportunities that could raise their standard of living. The very creation of the BDS movement was meant as a way to economically wipe Israel off the face of the earth, when it became apparent that terrorist groups could not attain their goal militarily.
While many members of the BDS movement today sincerely want peace, they have been the victims of lies themselves by the BDS leadership who seek nothing less than the elimination of Israel as a Jewish state. The goals of the BDS movement are antithetical to United States values. The movement’s single-minded focus on Israel raises serious questions about its motivations and intentions, when fundamental rights are being trampled and human rights abuses and atrocities are being committed routinely in other parts of the world, but they instead choose to only focus on the sole democracy in the Middle East and sole Jewish State in the world.
The BDS movement also makes a two-state solution and lasting peace far more difficult by demonizing, delegitimizing and isolating Israel, by suggesting that economic and political pressure on Israel can replace real bilateral negotiations.
I will also fight efforts to isolate, stigmatize or delegitimize Israel in international forums, including at the United Nations, where Israel is the frequent target of prejudice, bias, and hatred. Although the UN Charter calls for all member states to be treated equally, Israel has been unfairly singled out and targeted more than any other country by the UN Human Rights Council and UN General Assembly.
International Relations and the U.S. Role on the Global Stage
Question 9: Should a new administration come to Washington, a discussion may result concerning a return to the JCPOA. Given new evidence of Iran’s secret undeclared nuclear facilities and Iran’s: (1) refusal to allow inspection of these facilities, (2) ongoing efforts to destabilize countries across the region,(3) continuing to financing and arming of Hezbollah and other radical actors dedicated to Israel’s destruction and (4) repeated bellicose attacks on Western values and interests, are there conditions you would want to attach, beyond those stipulated in the JCPOA, to any proposal to return to the JCPOA?
I strongly support limiting Iranian influence in the region, especially in Syria and Lebanon, and will fight to ensure Iran never has nuclear capabilities. Iran is the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism. Iran continues to test ballistic missiles, abuse human rights, and provide weapons, including rockets and missiles to its terrorist proxies all over the region - in places such as Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Gaza, and Yemen - in order to attack Israel, destabilize the Middle East and bring chaos around the world. Iran has called for the extinction of Israel and the destruction of the United States.
Until Iran stops sponsoring terrorism, I will fight to ensure that it is never able to import or export any advance weapons. As the leading disruptor of Middle East peace and stability, I will fight to make sure that the United States Arms embargo against Iran is not lifted. A lifting of the embargo would likely increase an arms race in the Middle East, which would only benefit its terrorist proxies, especially Hamas and Hezbollah. I also support encouraging our international friends to follow in the footsteps of the United States and designate Hezbollah for what it is - a terrorist organization.
Regardless of whether the United States is part of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) or any future agreement with Iran, the United States must hold Iran accountable for its human rights abuses, threats against our allies and attempts to destroy Israel and destabilize the region.
Question 10: A robust Transatlantic relationship between the United States and European democracies (AJC has 5 European offices and three regional representatives) has been a pillar of US foreign policy since the end of World War II. In recent years, this relationship has suffered strains. Some contend that this historic alliance is undergoing a fundamental change. Is it important that we sustain the United States historic post-World War II partnership with Europe or is it time to rethink this relationship? If elected, what policies will you pursue to advance your views?
We must reestablish our leadership in the world and reestablish our alliances across the world, particularly in Europe. COVID-19 has shown that we are all interconnected, and we need our allies and friends to work with us to recover from this pandemic and protect each other in the case of any future pandemic. Combating climate change is another crisis that requires global action. We lost that leadership under the current administration and it's vital to our future that we re-enter the Paris Climate Agreement and reestablish our leadership on combating the climate crisis. With our economy now being truly global, our small and large businesses need to have the ability to participate in the global economy for many of them to be successful. This is good for business, for employees and their families, for communities and for the economy. We can only do that if we repair our relationships around the world. We need our allies for security and for exchanging vital intelligence and preventing cyber warfare to protect us and them. We have seen the destabilizing effects of the current administration, where our allies are treated like enemies, and our adversaries are treated as friends. This must stop. Our upcoming election is once again in danger of interference from Russia and other bad actors, far right leaders have gained more power worldwide and the world is a more dangerous place because of the destabilization of our traditional relationships.
We must go from being nationalistic and practicing isolationism, to one that engages in the world. Our national security, economy, health and environment depend on it.
Question 11: What experiences qualify you to represent the citizens living in your district?
The 4th Congressional District is a diverse district and needs representation that can relate to the diverse perspectives of the District. That is why when I announced my intention to run for this seat, the very first thing I did was embark on a listening tour of the district starting in Fall River, being the first and only candidate to visit all 34 cities and towns in the District.
I have deep connections throughout the District. I grew up in a working class, middle-class family in Braintree, which is similar to many towns in the district. My dad spent his life in public service, working for HUD overseeing and auditing the public housing authorities in Fall River and Taunton. My brother lives in Franklin, my cousins grew up in Sharon and live in Medway, and my kids went to school in Newton and now in Brookline.
I will become the first Latino ever elected to Congress from Massachusetts. I am also Jewish and have spent decades helping to strengthen the Jewish community. I have also worked in the government, non-profit and private sectors. In order for the change we need to be addressed, we need all three sectors working together. I have worked in Washington DC for the Democratic Caucus to help promote a national democratic agenda, been on the boards and committees of over a dozen non-profits in the Jewish and Latino community, including AJC for over a decade, helping to strengthen those communities and creating relationships and partnerships, and I am currently the President of the Hispanic National Bar Association for New England and have spent the past 15+ years working as an attorney at law firms, serving most recently as National Director of Client and Community Relations of a AMLaw100 firm.
As a Latino and Shomer Shabbat Jew, my personal experience growing up in a middle-class family in the suburbs of Boston and now raising 4 young children will help me better understand the perspectives of the residents in the 4th District.
Question 12: What would be your top three priorities if elected?
1. Healthcare - Enacting Federal Paid Family and Medical Leave, so families no longer have to choose between their work and their family. My wife did not receive one day of paid leave when giving birth to two of our children and was forced with this exact immoral choice. We can no longer be the only industrialized country without Paid Family and Medical Leave. We must also tackle the cost of healthcare. I will also fight immediately for the federal government to be able to negotiate prescription drug prices under Medicare. Finally, I will fight for universal access to affordable, high-quality health care for everyone, including our undocumented immigrants, by strengthening the ACA, providing a public option, and lowering the age of Medicare eligibility to 50 years old.
2. Response to COVID19 - COVID-19 has devastated families and communities. People are dying and our economy is reeling. COVID-19 has impacted all of our daily lives. I will work on equitable recovery from COVID-19 that centers on the most vulnerable in the community, including fighting for:
- Investment in Free Testing and Contact Tracing
- Science over Politics
- Emergency Paid Family and Medical Leave
- Investment in the Production and Distribution of a Vaccine
- Funds for Language Based Resources
- Personal Protection Equipment Standardized Federal Guidelines on Data Collection
- Safely Reopening Schools
- Protecting our Childcare and Healthcare Facilities
- Passing the HEROES Act
- Extending $600 weekly boost for unemployment benefits through 2020
- Investing More Resources into Small Businesses
- National Temporary Moratorium on Foreclosures and Evictions
- Broader Consumer Protections
- Supporting Childcare Services, Facilities and Workers
- Provide substantial federal aid to local governments to use for education purposes Provide significant resources to ensure all students and their families have internet and have a device in which they can learn remotely if necessary.
- Providing Relief for Student Debt
- Supporting and Protecting Our Undocumented Community
- Properly Funding the United States Postal Service
- Increasing Support to Fight Food Insecurity
- Vigorous and Independent Oversight & Accountability
3. Eliminating Racism - See my answer to Question 1 above and our entire plan that is on our website at https://bensigelforcongress.com/racism/
American Jewish Committee (AJC) is the leading organization dedicated to Jewish advocacy at home and around the world. Through a global network comprised of 24 domestic regional offices; 12 overseas posts in Asia, Europe, Latin America, and the Middle East; and 37 partnerships with international Jewish communities, AJC engages with political, religious and civic leaders to combat antisemitism and bigotry, support Israel’s quest for peace and security, and advance democratic values at home and abroad.
AJC New England recently invited all 11 Republican and Democratic declared candidates for the Congressional seat from the 4th District of Massachusetts to participate in a survey on some matters of import to our community.
AJC is a 501(c)(3) non-partisan organization and does not endorse or support any candidate for elected office, whether or not they responded to the survey. We offer this survey to educate the electorate about the views of the candidates for this office.