Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Visiting the office of Senator Kamala Harris, champion of immigrant rights

"Many people think they don't need to contact an elected official when you agree with them," said Vanessa Alderete, one of Kamala Harris' aides, when we made our office visit today. "But the Senator really appreciates hearing from constituents, and so do we. We read every email and we report on what we learn to Senator Harris."

Our Advocacy Team had a great meeting with three of Harris's aides working on immigration issues. We found out she's co-sponsoring not only the BRIDGE Act (providing a path to citizenship for "Dreamers"), but also Senate Bill 688, a  bill to nullify the effect of the recent Executive order regarding border security and immigration enforcement. Kamala is definitely a champion of immigrant rights who deserves our support.

The first African American Senator to be elected to Congress in our state. Harris has made immigration a major theme. In her "maiden" speech to Congress, she spoke out eloquently against Trump's immigration's policies: 
"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."  
She has not only spoken out about what's wrong with Trump's approach, she has shown its terrible impact on the lives of Americans young and old. We were especially moved by Sarah Wire's story in the LA TImes about how a young Latina girl was devastated when her father was arrested on his way to work. He had been a hard-working resident for 25 years and never committed a serious offense.
Fatima Avelica, 13, was training for the Los Angeles Marathon with her father before he was arrested by immigration agents last month after dropping Fatima's sister off at her Lincoln Heights school.
Fatima had to pause repeatedly, pressing her fingers to her eyes, as she told the story to reporters at a news conference in the Capitol on Tuesday. Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) handed handkerchiefs to Fatima and her sister Yuleni Avelica, 12. The girls had medals from completing the marathon dangling around their necks.
Democratic senators held the news conference to urge their Senate colleagues to reject President Trump's request for $3 billion to hire thousands of new immigration agents, expand detention facilities and build a wall among the southern border as part of his pledge to deport millions of people in the country illegally.
The White House has characterized the moves as necessary for public safety.
California's Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris said Trump's immigration enforcement orders are too broad, sweeping up nonviolent offenders or people accused of the civil offense of being in the country illegally. She called the executive orders, which vastly broadened who can be targeted for deportation and leaves a lot of discretion to local immigration officials "misguided and misinformed."
"It's irresponsible to paint a whole population of people as racists and murderers and 'bad hombres,'" she said, referencing one of Trump's own lines about immigrants. "It's actually ignorant and we can't afford to run our country that way."
The girls' father, Romulo Avelica-Gonzalez, a Mexican citizen, has lived in the U.S. for 25 years. ICE officials cited two misdemeanor convictions as the reason for his arrest. His four daughters were all born in the U.S. Fatima said the family is waiting for word every day on whether he will be deported.
Fatima said she now wants to become an immigration lawyer.
"It's like a new marathon for me, and I know I can finish it," Fatima said, tears welling up again. "But, I need my coach there. I need my dad."

When we told Harris' aides how moved we were by this story, they shared how it moved them to tears. They also told us that Senator Harris is extremely interested in stories like this about how Trump's misguided policies are impacting people's lives. If you have such a story, please send it to 

We thoroughly enjoyed our visit. Harris' aides were not only extremely well versed in all aspects of immigration, they were also very simpatico. And they were in no hurry for us to leave. Our visit lasted almost an hour. 

All of us who took part in this Congressional visit learned a lot.  Some of us were seasoned lobbyists; others were making their first lobby visit. Mark, who works as a teacher, brought his sixteen-year-old daughter, the youngest in our delegation. The oldest in our group (I won't mention any names) was an 80-years-old. Our delegation included a novelist, a professor, a therapist. We were racially and ethnically diverse, a microcosm of America. Each person had a chance to speak and share their stories. And everyone had something worthwhile to contribute.

After our visit, we adjourned to a coffee house called "Legal Grounds" in the basement of the Court House and had a leisurely "debriefing" over lunch. We got better acquainted with each other, and became more bonded. That's the goal of faith-based lobbying: to build long-term relationships with our elected officals, their aides and each other. That's important because we have a lot of work ahead of us if we hope to preserve our democracy and the values we hold dear. As Fatima said, the race we are running is like a marathon. And as the Apostle Paul said, the important thing in a race is to stay faithful and keep running until we reach the finish line (2 Timothy 4:7.) It's much more pleasant when we run the race together!

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