State senator Bryan Townsend disputes Smyk’s stance on SB 60

September 19, 2017

At a constituent coffee gathering Sept. 12, state Rep. Steve Smyk made comments regarding 2015 immigration-related legislation in the Delaware General Assembly. Unfortunately, these comments continued a pattern of falsehoods and misrepresentations that Rep. Smyk has chosen to utilize around the important topic of immigration. It also begs an important question: How can voters have confidence in a public official's ability to vet public policy when he cannot even talk about it honestly with his constituents?

The legislation in question was Senate Bill 60 from the 148th General Assembly, which related to the relationship between law enforcement and undocumented immigrants. SB 60 sought to promote public safety and trust between these groups by assuring undocumented immigrants that, while they would be arrested if they committed a crime, police officers would not arrest them solely because of their immigration status.

Here's a critical point: I decided not to move the legislation forward once law enforcement (led by Delaware State Police) made it clear that they already practiced this common-sense policing policy.

Why is this already their policy? Because federal officials do not have the time or resources to respond to local police inquiries about individual, nonviolent undocumented immigrants, and local police do not have the time or resources to enforce federal immigration law.

Detaining these individuals would waste Delaware police time and taxpayer money. More than that, it would result in a breakdown of trust between police and immigrants - which would mean victims of serious crimes, from domestic violence to sexual assault, might not come forward. It would mean witnesses to crimes would not come forward for fear of deportation, while criminals who present an immediate threat to public safety go free. This sad reality would run counter to the noble causes that police officers stand for: protecting and serving as beacons of safety, not standing by as members of our community become victims in the shadows.

In the limited space on these pages, I want to be clear about a few points:

On Sep. 12, Rep. Smyk told constituents that I had refused to talk with him about SB 60. This is false. I had spoken with Rep. Smyk several times in 2015 and 2016 about SB 60, including after he submitted a letter to the Cape Gazette.

On Sep. 12, Rep. Smyk told constituents that SB 60 would have caused police officers themselves to be arrested if they asked about a person's country of origin. This is as false as it is ridiculous.

On Sep. 12, Rep. Smyk recounted his frequent story about terrorists jumping ship in the Delaware Bay to try and make it to shore. Nothing - absolutely nothing - about SB 60 would have limited Delaware law enforcement's ability to investigate, arrest or charge terrorists or suspected terrorists.

I cannot say I am entirely surprised by Rep. Smyk's choice to take liberties with the facts. I have seen him distort the content of SB 60 (and SB 59, driving-privilege card legislation that passed with a bipartisan vote) before. I am surprised and disappointed, though, that he chose to misrepresent my accessibility to my colleagues - and that, even years later, he would continue to drive a wedge between his constituents.

It is disturbing that immigrants are permitted to work in our restaurants, sweat in our chicken plants, and labor in our fields, but not to receive fundamental respect from an elected official whose community depends heavily on those sectors of the economy. It also is disturbing that at a time of tremendous local policy challenges, rapid global transformation, and heightened community tensions, an elected official would spend his time peddling falsehoods.

People deserve discussion, debate, and respectful disagreement based on facts, not distortions. They deserve elected officials who are committed to honesty, integrity, solving problems, and meeting our needs as a community.

Rep. Smyk's comments fail to meet that standard.

Contrary to Rep. Smyk's statements, I welcome a discussion and dialogue with him about SB 60 (and any other issue). I invite him to join me in finding time to have this dialogue at the Lewes Public Library or another appropriate public location in Sussex County in the coming weeks. The residents of Sussex County deserve truthfulness, transparency, and serious leadership. Anything less is an affront to the voters of the 20th District and the people of Delaware.


  • Cape Gazette commentaries are written by readers whose occupations, education, community positions or demonstrated focus in particular areas offer an opportunity to expand our readership's understanding or awareness of issues of interest.

Subscribe to the Daily Newsletter