California’s newly elected Sen. Kamala Harris, star of recent protests against the Trump administration, filed her first bill Thursday, a response to the turmoil that followed President Donald Trump’s temporary ban on refugees and people from seven Muslim-majority nations entering the U.S.
Harris’s legislation would guarantee access to legal counsel for people detained trying to enter the country. She called it an urgent measure to address the confusion that followed Trump’s executive order temporarily banning refugees and citizens of seven Muslim nations, when people were stopped on arrival at the airport and detained.
“As people started to arrive I received countless calls from attorneys at airports around the country, certainly California and Dulles (outside Washington D.C.) in a panic because they were being denied access to these detainees,” said Harris, who was California’s attorney general before her election to the U.S. Senate.
Harris said that in California she also had experienced child immigrants fleeing violence in Central America who didn’t have access to legal counsel once they’d crossed the border.
Harris said her bill wouldn’t have the government pay for legal counsel but would ensure that lawyers who were offering assistance to the detainees would be allowed to speak with them.
“This is about due process, a fundamental principle on which our system of justice is based,” Harris said.”It’s about saying, ‘Let’s make these individuals have a fair opportunity to go through the process in a way that the outcome will be just.’ ”
Six other Democratic senators, including Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Cory Booker of New Jersey, signed on as co-sponsors of the measure.
It also has the support of groups including the National Council of La Raza and Amnesty International USA. With Republicans in control of the Senate and immigration such a controversial subject, the measure will have a tough time moving forward, however.
The bill fits the emerging profile of Harris, who was a featured speaker at the Women’s March on Washington last month and a White House protest against the travel ban. Harris has made immigration a centerpiece of her efforts so far in the Senate.
“It’s a big issue in our country right now and it’s certainly a big issue for California. We have an outsized stake in the outcome,” Harris said.