‘[Dreamers] believe in our democracy, and we have got to keep it up’

At town hall, Sen. Kamala Harris expresses optimism about democratic process

[The following is the second installment of a two-part story on U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris’s April 6 visit to Long Beach, when she addressed residents during a town-hall meeting.]

Immigration
The people of California are impacted the most by federal decisions regarding immigration policy, Harris said, because of California’s large immigrant population.

Harris described her experiences with numerous politicians as a member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

“Now, having served on the Homeland Security Committee, from the early days, we had the responsibility on various committees of doing an analysis and conducting hearings on the president’s nominees to serve in his cabinet,” Harris said. “One of them includes the secretary of Homeland Security, so those folks came before us. The first one was, who is now the chief of staff to the president, John Kelly. During the course of that hearing, serving on that committee, I asked him about DACA, and I will tell you I also asked the current secretary of Homeland Security about DACA, and they both had the same response.”

The current Secretary of Homeland Security is Kirstjen Nielsen, who Trump appointed on Oct 12, 2017. Harris said that she explained to Kelly and Nielsen that, through the process of obtaining DACA, one has to fill out a sheet asking for personal information such as, “who they are, the conditions and the circumstances of their arrival, what kind of life they are living, are they living a productive life,” to prove that they qualify.

“We told [the DACA recipients] when you go through this process, if you answer all of these questions and give us this information, we will not share it with [U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement]. ‘We will not use this information to deport you,’ is actually what we were saying,” she said. “So, I held up a frequently-asked-questions document that was paid for by your tax dollars on this government form that said, ‘If you give us this information, we will not share it.’ So, I held it up, and I asked the secretary, both of them, ‘Will you keep America’s promise to these young people? And neither one of them committed. […] They are unwilling to keep their word. They are unwilling to keep their word that we promised that these kids would not be deported if they played by the rules.”

Harris stated that there are 220,000 DACA recipients, or Dreamers, in California going to college, serving in the military and working for various companies.

Harris said that, although the Trump Administration is continuously encroaching on the rights of DACA recipients, the strength of democracy can protect Dreamers.

“Back to the beauty of our system of democracy, because I know some of you are looking at me like, ‘Kamala, what are you talking about? It’s not that great.’” she laughed. “No, but it is. It is. It actually is. Here’s the other thing– think about it this way. Our democracy, the Republic, think of it as a table top, and the table top stands on essentially four pillars. The three legs– the three co-equal independent branches of government, and the fourth is the free, independent press. In these moments, when– I think our morals, our being, our ethics, our thoughts about who we should be– are being challenged, look at what’s happening. We have got a free and independent press that is engaged in all kinds of investigative, deep journalism, and we have got a court system that is saying, ‘transgender ban? That’s not OK.’ They are saying, ‘These DACA kids? You can’t take away the protections.’ So, right now there is a hold on the administration’s effort and intention to rescind DACA, because our court system is working.”

However, Harris said Congress needs to act. She said she has co-sponsored the Dream Act, which would grant legal status to those who are brought to America as schoolchildren.

According to the Anti-Defamation Leagues’ website, the Dream Act was introduced in Congress in 2001, and it still has not passed.

“We need to pass that,” Harris stated.

One resident in attendance asked why military service is not a stepping stone to citizenship, and Harris agreed that it should be.

“We actually got a law passed,” Harris responded. “I co-sponsored with Dick Durbin out of Illinois to address that very point, which is when our service members who have served, that they are not deported, understanding that these are individuals who signed up to give up their lives for our democracy and our safety.”

The law Harris mentioned is the Durbin-Harris Amendment, and according to a Politico article by Seung Min Kim, the amendment ensures that “immigrants in the military who have been recruited through the Military Accessions Vital to National Interest initiative– hundreds of them beneficiaries of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program– would be able to retain their status in the military until background checks and other screening processes are completed.”

Harris has also taken these matters in to her own hands.

“So, I’ve got a sign in front of my office at the Capitol, and it says, ‘Dreamers welcomed here,’” Harris explained. “Because, these young people have been coming from all over the country by car, by train. I don’t know how they are getting there. I don’t know how they are paying for it. Thousands and thousands walking the halls. Literally, Dreamers from every state come by my office, and we have like snacks for them and stuff, because you have got to feed people. The thing is this– I’m sure they are sleeping 10-deep on someone’s living-room floor. They keep coming– they have been coming for months and months and months. The beauty of it is this, they are coming, because they truly believe if they walk those halls and they are seen and their stories are heard, they believe it will matter. They believe in our democracy, and we have got to keep it up.”

As a final note, Harris emphasized a sense of balance needed to maintain a sustainable and trusted political system.
“Let’s walk out of here knowing that we have so much more in common than what separates us,” she said. “There is so much of what has been happening that can make us full of anxiety and despair and outrage. This has got to be sustainable. So, let’s find time to laugh and sing and hum a little, while we are marching and shouting.”

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