By IEB member Phil
A delegation from Indivisible East Bay met with Senator Kamala Harris’s staff on November 8, 2019, at her offices at 333 Bush St., San Francisco.
Harris Staff Attending: Dino Chen, Deputy State Director; Adam Mehs, District Director; Intern
- Homeland Security Spending Bill
IEB: We were disappointed that the September Continuing Resolution did not keep the administration from stealing money from military families and disaster relief. When the CR expires in November, we want the Senator to work to pass a spending bill that safeguards our tax dollars from this corrupt, racist administration.
IEB: Will Sen. Harris vote NO on any bill that allows the Department of Homeland Security to reprogram funds?
Adam Mehs (AM): That’s tricky—that’s the “sausage making” of politics—but the Senator is very vocal about standing up to the administration.
Dino Chen (DC): The Senator is staunchly against reprogramming. We’ll continue to message her about this, conveying your concerns; and she’ll continue to state hard opposition to the wall.
IEB: Will the Senator vote NO on any bill that doesn’t include additional protections for migrants at the border and everyone in immigration detention?
DC: We’re looking at every possible way to add protections for people coming into our country. That’s something we’re always looking for ways to strengthen.
- Trump-announced plan to pillage Syria’s oil—a war crime
IEB: We’re very concerned that the president has called on the US military to commit a war crime. Pillaging Syria’s oil would violate Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, the 1907 Hague Laws and Customs of War on Land, as well as the War Crimes Act of 1996.
IEB: Will the Senator offer an amendment to the Defense appropriations bill to ban the use of funds?
DC: The situation in Syria is being tracked closely by our Foreign Affairs team. We’ll pass along your request.
- Defense Authorization & Appropriations:
IEB: We’re very concerned about the top-line numbers as well as program specifics for both the defense authorization and appropriations bills. The dollar figures are very high—$730 billion—and, compared to the House bills, the Senate bills give this corrupt, racist president even more latitude to conduct overseas military operations and expand assorted costly and destabilizing weapons programs.
IEB: Will Sen. Harris vote no on any defense authorization or appropriations bill that includes a back-fill of funds used to build the wall?
DC: We didn’t get answers on this yet, but we’ll pass this along.
AM: The Senator is adamantly against the wall.
IEB: But will she vote no on any Defense Authorization & Appropriations bill with funds for the wall?
DC: We haven’t gotten a “yes” or “no” yet.
IEB: Does the Senator support Representative Barbara Lee’s bill to repeal the 2001 AUMF—the legal justification for the ongoing wars in the Middle East?
AM: We don’t have an update [from the last meeting]. The language is changing…
IEB: In terms of reconciling the House and Senate NDAA bills, will she advocate with Sen. Reed to stand firm on including the provisions that passed the House to end US support of Saudi atrocities in the war with Yemen, preventing war with Iran, and restraining expansion of nuclear weapons programs?
DC: We passed along your concerns.
- Election Security
IEB: With the Congressional appropriations process heading towards the passage of another stopgap bill, and Sen. Shelby saying it will take a “miracle” to avoid another Continuing Resolution, the chances of funding for securing the 2020 elections have fallen precipitously. But waiting until February or March to even consider financing will make it difficult or impossible to adequately prepare countless states and counties to defend against attacks on our elections.
Defense spending is always marked “security.” We’re currently spending 1/1000th of what we spend on defense on election security – less than the cost of five F-35s – yet it’s the gravest current threat to our national security. There’s no legitimate reason to oppose this on national-security grounds. We’d like the Senator to advocate declaring election security “essential.” People need to hear this from our leaders!
IEB: Will the Senator call for election funding to be “essential” spending? Elections are a matter of national security at least as important for our national defense at this point in our history as any of our military spending.
DC: The Senator is on the same page. We’ll pass along the idea of declaring it “essential spending.”
IEB: What will the Senator do to focus the attention of the public and the press on this issue? Election security experts have been unanimous in describing the danger, but it does not get coverage commensurate with that danger.
DC: In terms of press coverage, we’ll urge her to beat the drum and say more.
IEB: There is going to be significant attention on this issue from activists next week; it’ll be a good time for the Senator to speak to it.
AM: In 2017, the Senator introduced legislation on this with Sen. Langford, a conservative, Sen. Klobuchar, and Sen. Collins. Mitch McConnell wouldn’t bring it up [for a vote].
IEB: She could force a vote in the Senate. Kentucky Gov. Bevin [now former governor] is saying there were “irregularities” in the recent vote which he lost; this is a good time to focus on this issue.
IEB: We are relieved to see the House finally taking strong action to hold Trump accountable, and we’re counting on Sen. Harris to do the same when this comes to the Senate.
DC: The Senator has been clear: What’s been described [in the July 25 call Trump had with Ukrainian President Zelensky] is a “quid pro quo.”
- Asylum Seekers
IEB: Migrants with asylum claims in process who are waiting at the border under the “remain in Mexico” policy may not get a fair hearing after all. In some cases, the policy is also causing children to be held in detention far past legal limits—such as the case of “Maddie,” who has been held for 130 days in Pennsylvania while her family sues to avoid being sent into unsafe conditions in Mexico.
IEB: Will Sen. Harris work to free Maddie and investigate how many other children are being detained under similar circumstances?
DC: Our team is deeply involved with this. We continue to do site visits. We’re looking at cases like Maddie’s. How does it go into ongoing oversight? How do we hold them accountable? How do we stop new contracts, new potential detention facilities? There are myriad ways our office is working on family separations, etc. The Senator is very committed.
IEB: An Indivisible member in Alaska who works for a private company (contracted by the government for detention-related services) in Anchorage has shared the training they get to dehumanize immigrants, so that detention workers don’t see them as human. It’s heartbreaking, and not how we should be treating people. It’s our money, our government doing this.
DC: Dehumanization, the inability to empathize—this leads to deadly consequences. Please urge people like the Indivisible member in Alaska to reach out to us. The way to get rid of this is to shine a light on it.
- Office of Refugee Resettlement
IEB: This is a follow-up on something we’ve mentioned before: the Disability Rights California report that, here in our state (mainly at the Yolo Juvenile Detention Center), the ORR has “consistently failed to provide detained immigrant children with disabilities sufficient special education services, medical exams, and mental health assessments that meet the state standard. Worse, some children suffering from suicidal ideation and other mental health issues have learned that they will be penalized for reporting their suicidal thoughts and seeking help.” In some cases, finding family or friends living in the US will be very difficult, but it’s unacceptable for ORR to give up on finding sponsors for a third of the children in its care, not to mention turning down willing and appropriate foster families.
IEB: Did you get a chance to look into this? Are there any updates regarding oversight of the treatment of children with special needs in ORR facilities?
DC: We did ask about it, I don’t know if we got a specific answer. It’s part of that overall bucket of issues. It’s horrible.
IEB: We also want the Senator to look at how laws could be strengthened so that future administrations can’t do the same. We personally have first hand experience at detention centers where the children there are too depressed to come outside for exercise; we bring McDonald’s food to entice them outside. Some of them have been in for two years.
DC: It’s certainly a priority for the Senator.
- Disaster Relief
IEB: We thank Sen. Harris for her office’s work to help those affected by the fires. Please let us know if you can think of anything we can do to help.
IEB: What can be done to protect disaster relief funds from being raided (as they have been in the past, notably the reprogramming/theft of over $200 million from other DHS agencies in 2018 for immigrant detention) by this president for the southern wall or immigrant detention?
DC: I was at the disaster relief aid center in Healdsburg and it was distressing to see that the largest population at the aid center was migrant workers. They’re already food-insecure, and due to PG&E’s “PSPS” [planned “Public Safety Power Shutoff”], their work was disrupted. They’re not eligible for help, but they’re already below the poverty line. I don’t have something specific as a way to help, but if you contact Indivisible Sonoma County, they should know more about what’s needed. And in your communities, be prepared. And make sure your neighbors are prepared and know what to do.
IEB: Thanks for the press release yesterday. PG&E needs to be addressed.
DC: The Senator has been outspoken about PG&E’s handling of the PSPS, etc. She’ll continue to be vocal about holding PG&E accountable. PG&E is not a federal entity, but there is a federal liaison with them.
IEB: Please thank the Senator for being involved with that. Senator Harris is not on the Senate Energy Committee, but surely she has contacts there.
DC: She has written to Verizon et al. to make sure they have backup power during outages. California’s Office of Emergency Services had requested info and assurances about the resiliency of their networks.
IEB: We appreciate too that she called for microgrids.
DC: And “grid hardening.”