Several Republicans on the Nevada ballot this fall began to break their silence Monday about the prison-like camps holding immigrant children separated from their parents at the southern border.
However, they did not call for the Trump administration to immediately end its family separation policy. Instead, echoing the president, Nevada Republican candidates suggested that the administration’s decision to implement a zero tolerance immigration enforcement policy was the fault of Congress.
Congress was scheduled to take up immigration measures this week. Democrats have accused President Donald Trump of using children separated from their parents at the border as bargaining chips to win passage of Trump priorities such as funding for a border wall.
Meantime, from Governor Brian Sandoval to the Church of Latter Day Saints to the Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Las Vegas, condemnation of the family separation policy was widespread in Nevada Monday.
And the campaign of Democratic candidate for governor Steve Sisolak, noting Trump’s scheduled visit to Nevada Saturday, called on Republican opponent Adam Laxalt to press Trump to end separating children from their parents.
“Cruel and unusual”
In a statement issued by his campaign, Laxalt, who is courting the Latino vote via a new television ad, expressed dismay over the crisis that has outraged much of the country, but stopped short of criticizing Trump’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy, instead blaming a “a broken system.”
“Children should not be taken away from their parents while our broken system sorts out the result,” said Laxalt. “Our immigration system is broken and this highlights what’s wrong with Washington D.C.”
“President Trump’s policy of separating children from their parents and caregivers at the border is despicable and needs to end,” said Christina Amestoy, spokesperson for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Steve Sisolak’s campaign. “Steve does not support this policy in any way. The good news is, with Trump in town this weekend, Adam Laxalt will have the opportunity to personally call on the president to stop such an inhumane practice.”
Attempts to reach Laxalt’s campaign for a response to Sisolak’s campaign were unsuccessful.
The man whose job Laxalt wants, Republican Brian Sandoval, “does not support the practice” of separating families at the border, said spokeswoman Mary-Sarah Kinner. Sandoval, through Kinner, reiterated his call for a “cogent, consistent policy that allows all people to know what the rules are and moves the country forward in an orderly way.”
In a phone interview with the Current, Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Las Vegas George Leo Thomas said the immigrant children “are pawns in a struggle they didn’t create.”
“I have a deep sense of sadness for the families. These kids have been separated and subjected to emotional trauma at a difficult time. It’s a cruel and unusual response to the immigration crisis using kids this way. If there’s a silver lining, I believe the crisis has touched the hearts of ordinary Americans in a special way and if anything good can come from this, God willing it will be a catalyst for some bi-partisan dialogue and maybe a new sense of cooperation. So, I’m guardedly optimistic that blessings will come from this tragedy.”
In a statement to the Current, the Mormon Church joined Catholics in condemning the detention and separation of families.
“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints has long expressed its position that immigration reform should strengthen families and keep them together. The forced separation of children from their parents now occurring at the U.S.-Mexico border is harmful to families, especially to young children. We are deeply troubled by the aggressive and insensitive treatment of these families. While we recognize the right of all nations to enforce their laws and secure their borders, we encourage our national leaders to take swift action to correct this situation and seek for rational, compassionate solutions.”
Democrats, meanwhile, blamed the family separations directly on Trump and his administration’s policy change.
Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto participated in a Families Belong Together Day of Action Rally opposing the practice of separating family Thursday. She issued a statement that same day calling for Trump to “immediately reverse his administration’s new ‘zero tolerance policy’ for migrants at the border. I’ve co-sponsored legislation to stop tearing families apart and protect children’s rights. But let me be clear: this crisis was not caused by Congress. It was caused by President Trump. He only has to say the word in order to stop the internment of thousands of innocent children and release them back to their parents.”
The senator also tweeted that “nearly 97% of the calls my office has received on the Trump admin’s vile policy of separating families at the border are OPPOSED to it. This is an American issue about who we are as a nation.”
The Current Monday tried to obtain or round up statements from each of the major party candidates running to represent Nevada in Washington, D.C. for their reaction to the Trump administration’s policy that separates children from their parents and puts them in chained link cages.
Democratic candidates harshly condemned Trump’s family separation policy, and called for specific legislation to end it. Republicans expressed dismay over the policy but stopped short of either condemning it, endorsing congressional action to halt it, or criticizing the president.
Below are brief recaps of their responses.
SEN. DEAN HELLER
Heller “doesn’t support separating children from their families, and he believes that this issue highlights just how broken our immigration system is and why Congress must act to fix it,” read a statement from the senator’s office.
Trump is expected to speak at a private campaign fundraiser for Heller this Saturday. Heller is considered the most vulnerable Republican Senate incumbent and is at risk of losing his seat to his Democratic challenger, U.S. Rep. Jacky Rosen.
On June 1, the Reno Gazette-Journal reported the senator twice referred to the separation of families at the southern border as a “terrible policy” during a brief interview conducted at the opening of a Vietnam veterans memorial in Minden (located a 30-minute drive south of Carson City). He also referenced proposed bipartisan legislation to address the policy and said he would be looking at it. Two days prior to that comment, Heller brushed off a Nevada Independent reporter who asked him for comment about the issue after a Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce event.
Heller’s office did not respond to the Current’s request Monday for further comment on his position and whether he intends to support proposed legislation to end the family separation practice. Identical legislation has been introduced in the House and Senate.
REP. JACKY ROSEN
Heller’s Democratic challenger on Friday cosponsored a resolution condemning the Trump administration’s family separation policy, and Tuesday she was expected to sign on as a cosponsor of legislation to end the practice. The statement announcing her cosponsorship included the following quote from the congresswoman:
“The images we’re seeing of children crying alone while being held in detention centers are heart-wrenching and demand action from Congress. Parents are being separated from their kids every day, even though there is no mandate in the law requiring border agents to do so. This brutal behavior tearing families apart needs to stop. The Administration’s cruel decision to implement this callous family separation policy is making an already dire humanitarian crisis along the southern border even worse.”
FOURTH CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT
In a statement Monday, the Republican trying to recapture the seat he lost in 2014 said “Congress should come together in a bipartisan manner to ensure that no child is ever separated from his or her parents, and as a Congressman, I would work with colleagues from both sides of the aisle as well as the White House to ensure that this policy is changed.”
“America is a country of laws, but also a big heart. Our policies should reflect those values,” Hardy said.
The Democrat, who lost to Hardy in 2014 and hopes to defeat him this year in a rematch, described the family separation policy as “inhumane” in a tweet Monday, asking “What does it say about those who do nothing in the face of Trump’s policies?”
“Immigration policy in the U.S. has always been about family reunification and should remain a common value we can all agree on,” Horsford added.
THIRD CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT
A spokesman for Tarkanian said he was out of the state Monday and could not be reached.
Tarkanian, who was challenging Heller in the Republican Senate primary before being asked by Trump to switch to the congressional race, has been a stalwart supporter of the Trump agenda.
Tarkanian’s Democratic opponent joined the myriad voices on social media condemning the practice of separating families at the border, tweeting “We are better than this.”
“It is unconscionable that the government is separating families at the border, in some cases ripping babies away from their mothers,” Lee added in a separate statement. “Congress should immediately pass a bill to end this cruel practice and get to work on reforming our broken immigration system. The time is now.”
FIRST CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT
REP. DINA TITUS
Titus is cosponsor of the House legislation to end the separation of families at the border.
In a statement released Wednesday, she criticized Republicans for a “complete inability to lead on the issue of immigration.” Her statement referenced DACA recipients, DREAMers and “children and families being ripped apart.”
Bentley, the Republican challenging Titus, could not be reached Monday.
SECOND CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT
Clint Koble, the Democratic challenger to Rep. Mark Amodei in Nevada’s second congressional district issued a statement Monday “calling on President Trump to immediately cease this internment of innocent children.,”
“I also call on Congressman Amodei to stand up and object to this traumatic treatment. Where is Mark?” Koble asked.
REP. MARK AMODEI
“It’s because of issues just like this that I signed the discharge petition months ago,” the Republican incumbent said in a brief statement issued by his office. “The fact that 216 members of the House forced leadership to deal with immigration reform means that we have a head start on the issue and we’re in a position, after 35 years of inaction, to start voting this week.”