California Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris on Tuesday joined immigrant rights activists in criticizing a federal court ruling blocking President Obama's executive actions to shield up to 5 million immigrants living illegally in the United States from deportation.
Harris, a Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate, called the fight for justice in the nation's immigration system a "defining issue for this generation."
"An undocumented immigrant is not a criminal," Harris said during a Tuesday morning conference call.
During the event, Harris spoke of all she has done to protect immigrants in California as attorney general. She then left the event without taking questions from reporters. The host of the event promised to forward questions to her.
Harris said the ruling by the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals will be a blow to the California economy and would threaten public safety because many immigrants fear reporting crimes out of concerns they may face deportation.
In a 2-1 decision, the appeals court sided with Texas and 25 other states that had sued to block Obama's immigration programs, Deferred Action for Parents of Americans, or DAPA, and an extension of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA.
The two judges ruled that Obama had "no statutory authority" to issue such sweeping orders on immigration.
Rep. Loretta Sanchez of Santa Ana, Harris' main Democratic rival in the Senate race, has been a strong proponent of fixing the nation's immigration system. Sanchez was among the 181 House members who filed a court brief supporting Obama's executive actions on immigration.
Sanchez released a statement Tuesday afternoon calling the court decision "another setback for our dysfunctional immigration system."
"Congress must take action to pass comprehensive immigration reform, and voters must make their voices heard at the ballot box," Sanchez said.
In a Field Poll released in early October, 30% of likely voters in California supported Harris for Senate, and 17% supported Sanchez. Among likely Latino voters in California, 35% supported Sanchez, compared with 17% who supported Harris.