By Ray Hagar, Nevada Newsmakers
The images were powerful and disturbing. Photos and video showing a U.S. Border agent on horseback, forceably grabbing a Haitian immigrant and calling into question the overall treatment of those trying to escape dangers of their home nations.
It sparked a rise in constituent calls to Nevada’s senior U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, she said on Nevada Newsmakers.
“I get emails and calls from constituents all the time,” Cortez Masto told host Sam Shad. “I want them to call. And yes, rightfully so, I am just as outraged by what we are seeing at the border with respect to the treatment of Haitians who are fleeing their country and coming to the United States because they feel they will be safe here.”
Cortez Masto asked the Department of Homeland Security to provide her with a plan of “how they are going to address what we are seeing with immigration on the border.”
Cortez Masto can call Homeland Security for help but she knows that ultimately, immigration reform and immigration law are jobs of Congress. And currently, it is failing miserably, she said.
“I’ll be the first to admit and I will tell you that we have a broken immigration system and it is Congress’ job to fix it,” she said. “And I’ve been working here to try to fix it but we need bipartisan support. We’ve got to stop playing politics with it.”
“Playing politics.” Cortez Masto repeated the phrase often when talking about the failure of Congress to pass immigration reform.
Some have suggested tackling immigration in a comprehensive way — a major bill that covers most of the various immigration issues. The U.S. Senate accomplished that in 2013, Cortez Masto recalled. The historic bill, however, died in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Since then, nothing. People figured comprehensive immigration reform was just too big of a bill. So Cortez Masto and other senators — both Democrat and Republican — tried the piecemeal approach. Again, no dice.
“I agree with you that we need reform. However, whether the process is piece-by-piece or comprehensive — and we’ve tried both — and both failed because partisan politics get in the way. And that to me is just outrageous.”
Any work done by rank-and-file senators and staff seems to get undone higher up in the power structure, Cortez Masto said.
“What I find here in Congress, unfortunately, is there is a small group of us who want to work in the bipartisan way, address immigration reform. But when you try to address it at the larger level, people start playing politics with it and use it for political gain, instead of trying to do the right thing here.”
Cortez Masto blamed both parties for the immigration logjam.
“Unfortunately what I have found is that it continues to be used for political gain by one party or the other to take power over who controls the Senate,” she said. “And that’s really, at the end of the day, unfortunate what is happening here.”
Cortez Masto’s office, despite the lack of Congressional reform, has been working with Nevada businesses to provide working immigrants with visas, she said.
“I have been working with our businesses now to try to make sure we can get those worker visas, so we can get those workers into Nevada and continue what they’ve already been doing,” she said.
Nevada, especially, needs immigrant workers to help the economy through the pandemic, Cortez Masto said.
“Listen, we are in the middle of a healthcare pandemic and you know who the workers are on the front line? They are some of our immigrants. They are DREAMers, TPS (Temporary Protected Status) workers. It’s on and on and on,” Cortez Masto said. “Farm workers have been at the forefront, helping us during this pandemic. The meat packing industry. So they are making incredible contributions and they add to our economic security and growth of this country. I don’t understand why you would want to continue to play politics with it.”
Cortez Masto blamed the Trump administration for scuttling the last, best push for comprehensive immigration reform.
“When I first got here under the previous administration, we worked a deal in a bipartisan way to pass a DREAM Act to put Dreamers on a pathway (to citizenship) with some TPS recipients,” she said.
“And we did a big compromise. We had Democrats and Republicans. Previous administrations said, ‘Listen, if you bring me an agreement, I’ll pass it.’ We did. We brought an agreement and on the cusp of passing it, the Trump administration backed down and said, ‘No, I don’t support it anymore. We don’t want you to support it’ and went around to the Republicans to get them not support the comprehensive bill we had been working on. So not all the Republicans supported it and we couldn’t pass it.
“And that’s the type of politics that I’m saying gets in the way of really addressing comprehensive reform,” Cortez Masto said. “Can it be done? Absolutely. We’ve seen it being done in 2013, a bipartisan bill to move it forward and there is an appetite to do the right thing. We just got to stop playing politics with it.
In late September, Democrats suffered another immigration setback when the Senate parliamentarian ruled Democrats could not include a pathway to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants as part of their budget bill.
That left Cortez Masto dismayed but not defeated.
“There are different strategies,” she said. “There are different proposals we’re putting forward. We haven’t given up. And so that’s part of the process we are working through right now.”