Just hours after President Donald Trump announced his “merit based” immigration proposal, Sen. Kamala Harris invoked her unique background as a candidate for president – being the daughter of a South Asian immigrant.
“I found the announcement today to be shortsighted,” said the California Democrat, slamming the Trump plan before an Asian American audience in Las Vegas.
On the plan’s intention to award immigrants certain points based on education or skills, Harris said, “We cannot allow people to start parsing and pointing fingers and creating hierarchies among immigrants. The beauty of the tradition of our country has been to say, when you walk through the door, you are equal. We spoke those words in 1776, ‘we are all equal’ and should be treated that way. Not, oh well, if you come from this place, you might only have a certain number of points, and if you come from that place you might have a different number of points.”
Asians have historically immigrated as family units, Harris pointed out.
“It is usually the sibling connection. There was no mention of that in the policy whatsoever,” she said. “It is, and has always been, about family. And that was completely overlooked, and I would suggest, denied, in the way the policy was outlined today.”
At an event hosted by an Asian American group, One APIA Nevada, Harris dove into her barrier-breaking election to the US Senate as the first South Asian to serve in the body’s history. She acknowledged her presidential run as a biracial woman helping to shatter notions about being black, Asian and a woman.
“I often think about the work that we do of breaking these barriers as being, again, not only about personal achievement, but it is so much bigger than that. It’s about making a statement and redefining images about who can do what and how we do it,” she said.
In her campaign stump speech, Harris always includes stories about how her mother, Shyamala Gopalan, impacted every aspect of her life. And while she has spoken about visits to India during her book tour, Harris on the trail has leaned far more into the African American identity her mother raised her to embrace.
Harris’ comments on Thursday marked a departure from her general stump speech. Before Asian Americans, she reflected a viewpoint on immigration as the child of immigrants – a father from Jamaica and a mother from India.
In a lighthearted moment, an audience member asked Harris if she would commit to wearing a traditional Indian garment to her inauguration, known as a sari.
“Let’s first win,” Harris said, smiling. “My mother raised us with a very strong appreciation for our cultural background and pride. Celebrations that we all participate in regardless of how our last name is spelled. It’s the beauty of who we are as a nation.”
Margie Gonzales, an immigrant from the Philippines, said the Harris candidacy was raising a key issue for her: immigration.
“We in the Philippines, we wait for more than 20 years,” Gonzales told CNN, as she talked about the difficulty in bringing family into the US.
Reflecting on what Harris’ candidacy has meant to her personally, Gonzales said, “It is very important for us because she is an Asian just like me. And so we feel that we are getting this recognition, getting this importance in this election.”