Capitol Alert

Kamala Harris takes aim at court for blocking immigration actions

Attorney General Kamala Harris speaks to California Democrats in May.
Attorney General Kamala Harris speaks to California Democrats in May. AP

California Attorney General Kamala Harris on Tuesday blasted a federal appeals court for rejecting President Barack Obama’s executive actions on immigration, arguing it will make it tougher to protect public safety and will harm the economy.

Harris, a Democrat facing an intraparty challenge from Rep. Loretta Sanchez of Orange, said the ruling also hurts federal officials’ ability to exercise their prosecutorial firepower, based on limited resources, on the worst criminals.

A three-judge panel of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals late Monday upheld a federal judge’s injunction blocking the Obama administration’s immigration actions, which the president ordered last year as a means to effectively shield an estimated five million people living in the United States illegally from deportation.

“The 5th circuit’s decision to uphold the injunction is preventing millions of undocumented immigrants from coming out of the shadows, submitting to background checks and paying taxes,” Harris, a candidate for the U.S. Senate, said on a conference call with reporters in which she did not take questions.

“The injunction impairs the interests of California and our residents because we know that our state will substantially benefit from the president’s actions rather than be harmed,” Harris added.

The ruling in Texas v. United States drew praise from Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who in a statement urged Obama to drop his “lawless executive amnesty program and start enforcing the law today.” Instead, Justice Department officials said they would seek review from the U.S. Supreme Court.

“The Department of Justice remains committed to taking steps that will resolve the immigration litigation as quickly as possible in order to allow DHS to bring greater accountability to our immigration system by prioritizing the removal of the worst offenders, not people who have long ties to the United States and who are raising American children,” spokesman Patrick Rodenbush said.

Sanchez, in a prepared statement issued later Tuesday, called the decision yet another setback for the country’s dysfunctional immigration system.

“Blocking comprehensive immigration reform stunts America’s progress,” Sanchez said. “We cannot rely on the courts to correct this injustice. Congress must take action to pass comprehensive immigration reform and voters must make their voices heard at the ballot box.”

Harris and more than a dozen state attorneys general in March wrote a friend-of-the-court brief pushing to allow Obama’s executive actions to move forward. California has the most unauthorized immigrants in the country, and the largest number of immigrants eligible for deferred action.

Harris has called the fight for justice in immigration the defining civil rights issue for this generation, and has framed the issue as one in which she would seek to protect immigrant families from being broken up.

She was pulled back into the broader debate this summer when Kate Steinle, 32, was shot to death, allegedly by a man who had been deported from the United States five times, while she walked with her father along Pier 14 in San Francisco.

As the state’s top law enforcement official, Harris previously filed a brief arguing against Arizona’s tough illegal immigration law, she worked with lawyers to provide access to the judicial system for unaccompanied minors entering the United States, and has issued consumer alerts for various scams targeting immigrants.

“I know that when immigrants feel safe, it improves public safety for everyone because it encourages a broader community to cooperate with police,” Harris said, adding that everyone from victims of domestic crime to exploited day laborers often do not come forward out of fear of being deported.

“There’s a persistent underclass that we have created of immigrant workers – and we’re not allowing them to be safer, and we are breeding distrust.”

Christopher Cadelago: 916-326-5538, @ccadelago