Daniel Chen once helped a Vietnamese woman provide a life-saving stem cell transplant for her sister.
Chen helped the woman obtain humanitarian parole so she could travel to the United States and complete the transplant for her 61-year-old sister. Her family had previously applied for a visa and been rejected three times, but Chen’s constituent services team worked with the U.S. Department of State to get her through within two months.
“Our office was able to do a lot of legwork to help her out and save her sister’s life,” Chen said.
Chen, director of constituent services for Sen. Kamala Harris, graduated from UCLA in 2007 with a bachelor’s degree in political science with a concentration in international relations. He said he became interested in a career in government after the 2008 presidential election.
Chen interned with Sen. Dianne Feinstein the summer before his fourth year at UCLA before going on to join her office as a staff assistant. He eventually served as her director of constituent services for 10 years. The position involved corresponding with a senator’s constituents, managing casework and acting as a liaison between certain local and federal agencies.
“Constituent services is an aspect of the government that a lot of folks don’t really think about,” Chen said. “In reality, it’s an opportunity to impact people’s lives in a very direct manner.”
After working for Feinstein for more than 10 years, Chen said he decided to join Harris’ team when she was elected senator in 2016 because he would have the opportunity to pioneer her constituent services program during her senate term.
“I knew that working with her would give me a chance to start from the ground-up and create a 21st-century office, ” he said.
After joining Harris’ office in January, Chen said he helped constituents affected by President Donald Trump’s travel ban, an executive order that prevented the entry of refugees and citizens of several countries.
Chen said Harris’ constituent services team ensured individuals affected by the ban obtained legal representation and worked with the U.S. Department of State and Customs and Border Protection to confirm individuals’ travel statuses. Chen said he spent four days at San Francisco International Airport working directly with attorneys.
In one case, Chen was involved with a constituent who was barred from boarding a flight from Istanbul to Los Angeles as a result of the travel ban. Chen’s team worked with the Department of State, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the airline and other federal agencies to ensure that he was able to return to the U.S.
Julie Chavez Rodriguez, Harris’ state director, said the office hired Chen because of his passion and determination.
“He was relentless in how he would approach each individual case and in how he would look at every possible avenue to get to a solution,” Chavez said.
Heather Hutt, Harris’ Southern California deputy director, said she enjoyed working with Chen because of his diligence, which she said was evident in his efforts to brief staff dispatched to regions of California affected by brush fires earlier this month. Hutt said that Chen specified that his staff should offer assistance to veterans who may have lost their discharge cards in the fires.
“You have to have patience, because you’re working for the people and with the people, and that’s one thing (Chen) really has,” Hutt said.
Chen said he doesn’t think that his job is partisan, and added that politics do not impact his direct interactions with constituents.
“Casework is not party-specific,” he said. “We don’t ask if you’re a Democrat or a Republican.”
Chen said the various individuals he has been able to help, such as the Vietnamese woman who received humanitarian parole, taught him the power of public service.
“When it comes to being in government, there’s really no job too small and no job too large,” he said. “There’s a tendency to only think of the broader implications, but constituent services is where the rubber meets the road.”