Essential Politics: VP Harris’ new communications director faces criticism for 11-year old immigration tweets

Jamal Simmons speaks onstage
Jamal Simmons, the new communications director for Vice President Kamala Harris, faced outrage this month over 11-year old tweets about immigrants in the U.S. illegally.
(John Lamparski / Getty Images for Advertising Week New York)

It’s a familiar cycle in Washington: Someone lands a new job, and reporters and critics dig through the person’s social media accounts. With lightning speed, inflammatory or out-of-context posts go viral.

That’s what happened earlier this month to Jamal Simmons as he was taking over as Vice President Kamala Harris’ communications director.

Simmons tweeted over a decade ago that he had just seen “2 undocumented folks talking on MSNBC. One Law student the other a protester. Can someone explain why ICE is not picking them up?”


Not long after news organizations on Jan. 6 published stories on Simmons’ appointment, Twitter erupted. Many on the left accused Simmons of advocating for the arrest of immigrants in the U.S. illegally. Meanwhile, some on the right lauded him. Stephen Miller, a Trump White House senior advisor who was a hard-liner on immigration, tweeted: “I agree with @jamalsimmons. If you break into our nation there must be deportation.”

Simmons on Jan. 7 apologized on Twitter, saying “at times I’ve been sarcastic, unclear or plainly missed the mark.” “I apologize for offending ppl who care as much as I do about making America the best, multiethnic, diverse democracy+I’ll rep the Biden-Harris admin w/humility, sincerity+respect,” he added.

Simmons is scheduled to meet with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus on Thursday to discuss the matter.

Hello, besties. I’m Erin B. Logan, a reporter covering the White House for the L.A. Times. Welcome to the latest installment of Essential Politics, which I will call “The Cycle of Online Outrage: Kamala Harris Edition.”

The internet is forever

When asked for comment, the White House directed The Times to Simmons’ apology tweets.

“Frankly, it’s depressing ppl can forget about every other thing I’ve said in public on this bc of bad tweets,” Simmons tweeted, noting he’s advocated for “comprehensive immigration reform for years.”

It’s also worth pointing out that Simmons in 2010 sought to clarify his words and said he was not suggesting that authorities “pick them up.”


“Just seems odd u can go on TV & admit breaking law & not be arrested,” Simmons tweeted.

Erika Andiola, a longtime immigration rights advocate, believes she was one of the people Simmons was referring to. She tweeted Simmons apologized during a phone call on Jan. 8 and explained that his 11-year old tweet was meant to be inquisitive, not offensive.

Andiola told The Times she “really took this as an opportunity to not just go by Twitter and just cancel him, but rather hear him out.”

“I honestly would have thought this guy’s anti-immigrant and that he was basically calling for ICE to detain me,” she said, adding that she believes the tweet was a poorly worded and a reflection on “how things were in 2010, and how it was really, really surprising and shocking for people to see undocumented folks going on TV.”

She said she accepted his apology.

“I don’t know if it’s true or not but I decided to give him the benefit of the doubt,” she said. “What is important is that he shows that he’s an advocate in his new job.”

Other advocates were less forgiving.

Tony Choi, digital director of Immigrants Rising, a San Francisco nonprofit, said that Simmons comes off in his 2010 tweet as being upset “seeing undocumented people on television, making statements and using their voices.” Choi added that the tweets were especially jarring when juxtaposed with some of the Biden-Harris’ administration’s immigration policies.

On the campaign trail, both Biden and Harris decried many of Trump’s border policies as inhumane and vowed to overturn them.


On his first day in office, Biden made “very aggressive and consequential changes” to immigration policy, including rescinding the travel ban targeting majority-Muslim countries, said Jorge Loweree, policy director at the American Immigration Council.

But the administration has continued other policies, angering immigration advocates. The administration, for example, kept in place a Trump administration health rule that effectively blocks asylum for most people seeking entry at the U.S.-Mexico border.

“I believe the Biden administration when they say that they are supportive of immigration reform but I don’t believe them to be an advocate to really fight for immigrants,” said Choi.

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The latest from the campaign trail

— Rep. Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles) on Friday unveiled a plan that calls for 15,000 homeless people to be placed in city-funded housing in her first year in office if she is elected mayor of Los Angeles, Benjamin Oreskes reported.

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The view from Washington

— President Biden is expected to step into the East Room Wednesday afternoon for his second press conference since taking office, Eli Stokols reports. Facing strong political headwinds, Biden is eager to shift the latest narrative around his presidency that his ambitions and experience have been no match for the crises he has confronted.


— People can now order free COVID-19 tests that will be delivered to their homes, Anumita Kaur reported. The launch of is an attempt to remedy nationwide shortages, but tests will be limited to four per household.

— Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley and Marine Corps commandant Gen. David Berger tested positive for COVID-19, the Associated Press reported. Milley’s most recent contact with President Biden was on Jan 12.

— The Supreme Court on Friday agreed to hear a case from a conservative Christian man on whether a former high school football coach from Bremerton, Wash., has a free-speech right to kneel and lead postgame prayers at the 50-yard line, David G. Savage reported.

— The House committee investigating Jan. 6 issued a new batch of subpoenas Tuesday to some of former President Trump’s closet advisers, including Rudy Giuliani, as the committee widens its scope into Trump’s orbit.

The view from California

— Tracy Wilkinson reports that Los Angeles has been chosen by the Biden administration to host this year’s Summit of the Americas, a key gathering that U.S. officials hope will help mend diplomatic fences in the Western Hemisphere.

— California could send $500 a month with no strings attached to college students from low-income families as part of the state Legislature’s latest approach to a guaranteed basic income plan, Mackenzie Mays reported. State Sen. Dave Cortese (D-San Jose) is considering legislation that would create a pilot program at select California State University campuses, issuing monthly stipends for one year to students whose family income is in the bottom 20% of earners. Up to 14,000 students could be eligible for the payments.

— Veteran Democratic legislator Bob Hertzberg, who serves as the majority leader in the state Senate and was previously the speaker of the state Assembly, plans to run for the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, one of the most powerful local government bodies in the nation, Seema Mehta reported. Hertzberg, 67, told The Times he was motivated to run by new district lines that place much of the Valley inside a single district.


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