The vigilante targeting of immigrants in the city of Burien is hateful, dangerous and has absolutely no place in our community.
As a proud immigrant and now member of Congress, I know what it feels like to be targeted by hate: I have been threatened with lynching, denied a room because of my skin color, and been told—even after I became an American citizen and was elected to public office—to “go back” to my birth country.
What I know, though, is that these kinds of attacks are not what the majority of Americans believe about immigrants. And I don’t think it reflects what the majority of community members in Burien believe is right.
Last Thursday, it was reported that thousands of disgusting anti-immigrant flyers were distributed in Burien ahead of an important election. The flyers listed and mapped purported addresses of immigrants in Burien, and inaccurately linked these addresses to crimes, describing them as “DACA rapists,” “Drug Dealers,” and “Murderers.” It is not a stretch to say that the flyers point to the real possibility of physical violence against the individuals who live at these addresses.
The sad irony is that it appears those who are responsible for the dissemination of these home addresses—along with horrible, unsubstantiated slurs on the character of those who lived there—may not even be from Burien. These attacks are funded by extremist, national groups who have an agenda of divisiveness. They are designed to drive a wedge in our own communities, make immigrants feel unwelcome and sow false ideas and stereotypes into the minds of good people.
The vigilante flyer is the latest effort in the extreme right’s "hate-building" strategy. The flyer was produced by a xenophobic group called “Respect Washington,” which in turn receives support from national white supremacist and anti-immigrant organizations. Respect Washington is backing a slate of City Council candidates calling themselves "Burien Proud, Burien First,” who have been complicit in demonizing immigration and are calling for a repeal of the city’s ordinance that protects and respects all immigrants, regardless of immigration status.
I can’t imagine how this makes immigrant families or the larger Burien community feel. I know Burien. It’s a city that is an important part of the 7th District’s fabric. It’s a place that has become increasingly diversified, supports small businesses, has taken big steps to fight climate change, and values the dignity of work. But the rapid increase in immigrant communities in Burien has been seized upon as an opportunity to sow divisiveness and to whip up the same forces of exclusion and racism that Donald Trump has relied upon in his time in office.
The national forces funding this Burien effort is trying to make inroads into welcoming cities across the country. Now, it’s up to us to reach out with love and support, and to help Burien fight for the American Dream and opportunity for all – values that have helped build Burien into the successful city it is.
Burien residents are already fighting back. Community members have put together a letter-writing campaign, penning love letters to the targeted households and dropping them off at a local Presbyterian church.
But the strongest message we can send would be to completely defeat the anti-immigrant candidates at the ballot box on November 7. We have the opportunity to elect progressive city council candidates Pedro Olguin, Jimmy Matta, Krystal Marx, and Nancy Tosta—a group of candidates who will ensure Burien is a welcoming place for all.
Last month, my own campaign’s volunteers joined a massive grassroots day of action for these candidates, with 80 people fanning out in Burien neighborhoods to knock on nearly 2,000 doors in one morning. But now is the time to step up our efforts – and this Saturday, there will be another major canvassing effort on the ground.
Election Day is November 7, less than one week away, and Burien is a test for all of us. These council races in Burien are critically important in our fight for the values that truly make America great: inclusiveness, diversity, opportunity, fairness. That’s who we are. Let’s tell these national extremist groups to stay out of our town by showing up at the ballot box in droves.
By standing together and fighting back, we can win. Let’s show every family in Burien, regardless of immigration status, that we have their backs.
U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal represents Washington's 7th congressional district.