GLENDALE, CA – In an exclusive interview, Massis Post discussed various issues with Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) affecting the Armenian American community. The following is a transcript of the interview:
Massis Post: Thank you Congressman for taking the time to talk to Massis Post about issues that are relevant to our community. Our first question deals with U.S. recognition of the Armenian Genocide. What is the status of the current Armenian Genocide resolution in Congress?
Congressman Schiff: We have between 80 and 90 co-sponsors and we continue to try to press to have it taken up on the House floor. I was talking to Representative David Trott who is my GOP counterpart. He’s retiring this year and he’s asking the Speaker as his sole ask for his remaining year in Congress to take up the Genocide resolution in Congress. It really is up to the Speaker and it’s the Speaker’s last year as well, so there is an opportunity if the Speaker is willing to make this a part of his legacy for us to have a vote on the House floor. We’re also hopeful that the President will take another look and be persuaded to recognize the Genocide this year. As you know, he didn’t recognize it last year, but the President is nothing if not unpredictable and he could be moved to do so. Certainly Erdogan is doing a lot to antagonize the United states and that might be part of the motivation that the President needs to do the right thing here. So I would hope that he would. I think if anyone could reach the TV personalities on FOX and get them to talk about recognizing the Genocide, the President pays deep attention to what the morning hosts say on FOX and does a lot of what they urge, so that’s one very effective way to lobby the President is by going on FOX. But we need to keep pushing at both avenues – on the Presidential level as well as in Congress.
MP: As you may be aware, Armenians in the Middle East are being negatively affected by the current administration’s immigration policy, what is the current status of the immigration policy, and what are your thoughts on them?
CS: Particularly for Syrians of Armenian origin, it’s very bleak. I think we’ve only this year allowed about a dozen people to immigrate from Syria. It’s been practically a full stop on any refugees from coming here. Armenia has taken a great many of the Syrian refugees. One of the things that we’ve been trying to do is to make sure that Armenia is not penalized for granting them citizenship because traditionally when someone is a citizen they don’t qualify for as much relief because they are no longer a refugee. The fact that Armenia is extending citizenship to people shouldn’t be a penalty, it’s something that is encouraged of countries that are taking in refugees if that is the will of the refugees to stay. So I wish that we were doing more at home to provide a safe place for families that have had to flee the violence. I know that it’s been a challenge particularly for those immigrating from Syria of Armenian origin, but likewise Armenians from Iran are having a great deal of difficulty, many holed up still in Vienna trying to come here through the HIAS program, so we in our office continue to work with them on a case by case basis, but it’s been very very difficult.
MP: Within the past year many ethnic Armenians who are undocumented have been rounded up by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, is there any movement or hope within Congress to give such individuals a path to legal status?
CS: This has been the big bipartisan challenge for many years – passing a comprehensive immigration bill that would allow people a path to citizenship that are here but are undocumented. And unfortunately at times it looks like we are very close. At the moment we seem to be at an impasse that the President is determined to build a wall at the border which does not enjoy popular support and he is attempting to leverage everything else to build a wall, so he’s holding the fate of the Dreamers in the air until he can get billions of dollars for his wall. The President has been resistant to the idea of providing a legal pathway to citizenship for people. Whenever I think he entertains the idea, I think there was a point at which he seemed to have reached an agreement with Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi, the hardliners within the Administration, the Stephen Millers, among others and those on FOX like Laura Ingraham accuse him of amnesty and then he backs away. So it’s proven to be a moving target and very difficult. But the idea of a comprehensive reform does enjoy bipartisan support and we just need to keep fighting for it until the climate is suitable and we can get the job done.
MP: What is your opinion on the current political protests in Armenia due to the appointment of the former President Serzh Sarkisian as Prime Minister?
CS: Deeply concerned. I was in Armenia some years ago after a deeply contested election in which there was violence in the streets and several people were killed. I just hope and pray that there is no loss of life with the massive demonstrations that are going on today. I understand the deep concern over whether Sarkisian is attempting to follow the model that Putin has laid out of going from one position to the next as a way of maintaining a continual grip on power. I’m particularly concerned about it because I’ve been working hard to try to gain STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) funding through the Millennium Challenge Corporation for Armenia and Armenia is right on the cusp of once again qualifying, but the criteria involve democracy and the rule of law and anything that might detract from that means that Armenia will be less likely to get that assistance. I think it would be enormously beneficial if we could help Armenia build a strong STEM program and being able to develop the Armenian economy, tap the intellect of the Armenian people. I’ve always dreamt of Armenia as the Silicon Valley of the Caucuses and this would be a wonderful contribution to that vision. So I am concerned that the current situation in Armenia may harm our chances with the Millennium Challenge Corporation.
MP: Lastly, with election season approaching us, we have noticed a spike in fake news on social media attacking you targeting the local Armenian American community, what are your thoughts on this issue, and how do you plan on combating fake news in general?
CS: It’s a huge problem and I see both how wonderful social media be. I use it extensively to communicate with my constituents. But I also see how ugly and violent and vile it can often be. You also see the influence of foreign governments using bots to try to amplify their messages to try to get Americans against other Americans. Certainly the Russians did this extensively during our last presidential election. It does make you concerned about the degree to which these bad actors can try to manipulate opinion through social media. I’m often deeply concerned with the posts on my own page that seem either vehemently anti-Armenian or anti-Semitic or just plain nasty and uncivil and it makes you worry about the nature of our discourse. People will say things on social media they will never dream of saying in person, even though they’ve got their face attached to it and their names. This is a real challenge, certainly the social media companies are, I think, becoming far more aware of the problem than they were. We had the testimony of Mark Zuckerberg in Congress last week. I think they operate for a long time thinking that social media was an unmitigated positive and have come to the realization as most of us have that it’s come with some real negative consequences as well and we have got to do our best to mitigate the negative and extenuate the positive.