Kamala D. Harris

United States Senator for California

Senator Harris Delivers Maiden Speech on Defending Immigrant Communities

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HD Video: https://s3.amazonaws.com/sdmc-media.senate.gov/HARRIS/Harris+2-16-17.mp4

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Kamala D. Harris delivered her maiden speech on the Senate floor, addressing the contributions immigrants make to our society and how she will be a fierce advocate for them, especially the more than 250,000 DREAMers who reside in California. Harris, a former California Attorney General and career prosecutor, also discussed why President Trump’s Executive Orders that target immigrants and refugees run counter to our nation’s ideals, and threaten public safety, national security, and the economy. 

A full transcript of Harris’ remarks is below:

Mr. President,

I rise today humbled to offer my first official speech as the junior United States Senator from the great State of California.

I rise with a deep sense of reverence for this institution, for its history, and for its unique role as a defender of our nation’s ideals.

Above all, I rise today with a sense of gratitude for all those upon whose shoulders we stand.

For me, it starts with my mother Shyamala Harris.            

She arrived at the University of California, Berkeley from India in 1959 with dreams of becoming a scientist.  The plan, when she finished school was to go back home to a traditional Indian marriage.  But when she met my father Donald Harris, she made a different plan.  She went against a practice reaching back thousands of years, and instead of an arranged marriage, chose a love marriage.

This act of self determination made my sister Maya and myself.  And it made us Americans, like millions of children of immigrants before and since.

And I know she’s looking down on us today.

And knowing my mother, she’s probably saying, “Kamala, what on earth is going on down there?  We have got to stand up for our values!”

So in the spirit of my mother, who was always direct, I cannot mince words.

In the early weeks of this administration, we have seen an unprecedented series of executive actions that have hit our immigrant and religious communities like a cold front, striking a chilling fear in the hearts of millions of good hardworking people.

All by executive fiat.

By fiat, we have seen the President stick taxpayers with a bill for a multi-billion dollar border wall without regard for the role of the United States Congress under Article 1 of the Constitution.

By fiat, we’ve seen a President mandate the detention of immigrants, both documented and undocumented, creating a dragnet that could ensnare 8 million people.

By fiat, the President has ordered the creation of what essentially will be a 15,000-member deportation force.

By fiat, he wants to take away state and local authority, by making local police officers act as federal immigration officials.

By fiat, the President wants to slam the gates of freedom by instituting a Muslim ban – a ban which was carelessly written as it has been incompetently enforced.

And in recent days, we have seen an increased severity in immigration raids sweeping across this country, including the arrest of a DREAMer in Seattle and a domestic violence victim in Texas.

And we have seen an administration violate court orders, attack the first amendment, bully federal judges, and mock Americans exercising their right to freely assemble.      

Mr. President, I rise today to discuss how these actions impact my State of California and our country. And in particular, the State of California I believe is a microcosm of who we are as America. In California we have farmers and environmentalists, welders and technologists, Republicans, Democrats, Independents, and the largest number of immigrants – documented and undocumented – of any state in the nation.

I rise because the President’s actions have created deep uncertainty and pain for our refugee and immigrant communities.

I rise on behalf of California’s more than 250,000 “Dreamers” who were told by the federal government -- if you sign up, we will not use your personal information against you.  

I rise to say, the United States of America cannot go back on our promise to these kids and their families.

And I rise today as a lifelong prosecutor and as the former top cop of the biggest state in this country to say these executive actions present a real threat to our public safety. 

Let me repeat that.  The President’s immigration actions and Muslim ban will make America less safe.

As a prosecutor, I can tell you, it is a serious mistake to conflate criminal justice policy with immigration policy as if they are the same thing.  They are not. 

I have personally prosecuted everything from low-level offenses to homicides.  I know what a crime looks like.  I will tell you: an undocumented immigrant is not a criminal.

But that’s what these actions do.  They suggest all immigrants are criminals and treat immigrants like criminals.

And there’s no question, those who commit crimes must face severe and serious and swift consequence and accountability.  But the truth is the vast majority of immigrants are hardworking people who deserve a pathway to citizenship.

Instead of making us more safe, these increased raids and executive orders instill fear in immigrants who are terrified they will be deported or have to give up information resulting in the deportation of their family members.

For this reason, studies have shown Latinos are more than 40 percent less likely to call 911 when they have been a victim of a crime.

This climate of fear drives people underground and into the shadows, making them less likely to report crimes against themselves or others. 

Fewer victims reporting crime and fewer witnesses coming forward. 

And these executive actions create a strain on local law enforcement. Any police chief in this country will tell you they barely have enough resources to get their job done in their communities. So when you make local law enforcement do the job of the federal government, you strain the resources for local law enforcement. And that hurts everybody’s safety.

And let’s consider, the economic harm this order will cause. Immigrants make up 10% of California’s workforce and contribute $130 billion to our state’s gross domestic product. Immigrants own small businesses, they till the land, they care for children and the elderly, they work in our labs, attend our universities, and serve in our military.

So these actions are not only cruel. They cause ripple effects that harm our public safety and our economy.

The same is true of this Muslim Ban.

This ban may as well have been hatched in the basement headquarters of ISIS. We handed them a tool of recruitment to use against us. 

Policies that demonize entire groups of people based on the God they worship have a way of conjuring real life demons. 

And policies that isolate our Muslim American community take away one of the greatest weapons we have in the fight against home-grown extremism.

And here’s the truth, Mr. President. 

Imperfect though we may be, I believe we are a great country. I believe we are a great country. And part of what makes us great are our democratic institutions that protect our fundamental ideals - freedom of religion and the rule of law, protection from discrimination based on national origin, freedom of the press, and a 200 year history as a nation built by immigrants.

So this brings me to my message today, we have a responsibility to draw a line with these administrative actions and say no.

And this is not a question of party.

This is about a government of co-equal branches with its inherent checks and balances.

This is about the role of the United States Senate, the greatest deliberative body in the world.

I know having spent now a few weeks in this chamber, that we have good men and women on both sides of the aisle, men and women who believe deeply in our immigrant communities and who understand that nationalism and patriotism are not the same thing.

I know that it was the junior United States Senator from the State of Texas who said “it's an enormous blessing to be the child of an immigrant who fled oppression, because you realize how fragile liberty is and how easily it can be taken away.”

It was the junior United States Senator from the great State of Kentucky who said we “must always embrace individual liberty and enforce the constitutional rights of all Americans-rich and poor, immigrant and native, black and white.”

It was the senior United States Senator from the great State of Arizona who said undocumented immigrants should not be “condemned forever to a twilight status.”

So yes, we have good people on both sides of the aisle. And I say we must measure up to our words and fight for our ideals because the critical hour is upon us.

I thank you.

Mr. President, I yield the floor.

                                                                                       ###

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