At a roundtable event with Southern Nevada media Friday, Catherine Cortez Masto came down strong against the Trump Administration, its “zero tolerance” immigration policy and deportation practices along the southern border. But the senator fell short of calling for the outright abolishment of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
“We have to look at the big umbrella,” said Cortez Masto.
She pointed to work the Department of Homeland Security does under ICE related to human trafficking, child pornographers and intellectual property. That work, the senator said, is important and funding is currently being siphoned away from that to fund prison-like detention centers that hold non-criminal asylum seekers.
“They’re treated like prisoners,” said Cortez Masto, who visited a Texas detention center in June. “It was no different. Colored uniforms. Personal belongings taken from them. Told when they could eat, what they can watch, when they can watch. When it came to news about children being separated, officers changed the channels. They’re told when they can go into concrete yard — fencing all around, razor wire all around. It’s a prison.”
Cortez Masto said the United States needs to “be doing everything it can” to reunify parents with their children. She said claims from the administration that paperwork authorizing separation had been signed by parents was either an outright lie or done under false pretense. She echoed recent reports that English-language forms were provided to Spanish speakers without a translator or lawyer present.
“I can guarantee those parents thought they’d be reunited with those kids,” Cortez Masto said, adding that every person she talked to was “heartbroken and devastated” and immediately asked if she knew where their children were.
Cortez Masto expressed concerns about these children and their wellbeing. She referenced recent news about a Texas detention center that was giving children psychotropic drugs without first obtaining permission from their parents. (A judge ruled that was a violation of state welfare laws.)
The senator attempted to visit a children’s detention center in Texas in June but was turned away. She added that she’d still interested in visiting a center but doesn’t want a pre-approved, “sterilized” tour.
She recalled her attempted visit: “I was told afterward, ‘We’ll let you know which you can go to. Here are dates…’ I’m more interested in what they’re not showing me. Why can’t I just show up to any facility? Quite frankly I think it’s an outrage. These are taxpayers dollars.”
Cortez Masto acknowledged there might be privacy or security concerns, but added that the center refused to even sit down with her and talk about policies and procedures at the facility.
“They won’t even do that,” she said.
Speaking more broadly about immigration, Cortez Masto said she believes comprehensive immigration reform can still be passed, but criticized legislators for being too focused on the whims of a president whose word cannot be trusted.
“This is one of my biggest frustrations,” she said. “I believe in coequal government. I believe in rule of law. There’s a reason why we have checks and balances — for what’s happening today. I’ve sat and watched the legislators abdicate its role to the president.”
She continued on to say Congress and the House need to focus on legislation and let the president do what he will with it afterward.
Cortez Masto also touched on topics beyond immigration. She told reporters she hasn’t met with Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh yet and believes she won’t be able to until after he’s already met with the Senate Judiciary Committee. When asked about her concerns with the Trump nominee, she identified abortion rights, workers rights, net neutrality and LGBTQ discrimination.
She called the Affordable Care Act “imperfect” but something that needs to be built upon. She dismissed the idea of “Medicare for All,” saying the country isn’t ready for it and that it would be unfair to the sizable percentage of the population currently happy with their private health care plan. She did say she supports a public option as part of ACA.