• Press Release

2020 Presidential Campaigns Pressed on Immigration and Asylum Platforms During Amnesty International USA Forum in Nevada

February 21, 2020

Las Vegas, NV – On Thursday, February 20th, Amnesty International USA (AIUSA), in partnership with the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada (PLAN) and 15 national and Nevada-based co-sponsoring organizations, held a presidential candidate forum on immigration and asylum issues in Las Vegas, Nevada. BuzzFeed News’ Hamed Aleaziz, along with refugees, Dreamers, and other people affected by our immigration system, pressed Minnesota State Senator Melisa Franzen (for Amy Klobuchar), Faiz Shakir, National Campaign Manager (for Bernie Sanders), Congressman Joaquin Castro (for Elizabeth Warren), Tom Steyer, and Nevada State Senator Yvanna Cancela (for Joe Biden) on their policy platforms ahead of Saturday’s caucus. AIUSA had extended invitations to all current Republican and Democratic candidates.

The forum offered an in-depth discussion on issues that are top of mind for people both in Nevada and across the country. One in five Nevadans are immigrants themselves, and one in six are native-born U.S. citizens with at least one immigrant parent.

“As a state with a significant non-white population, Nevada was the ideal setting for presidential campaigns to explain how they intend to make human rights and a humane immigration and asylum policies a priority,” said Joanne Lin, National Director, Advocacy and Government Affairs, Amnesty International USA. “What the American president does on asylum and immigration will have dramatic, far-reaching consequences affecting every country in the world and every single state in the U.S.”

The forum was live-streamed on both AIUSA and BuzzFeed News’ platforms. The recording is available here and photos from the event can be found here. Read BuzzFeed News’ reporting on the forum here.


 Minnesota State Senator Melisa Franzen, representing Amy Klobuchar:

  • On the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency:
    • “It certainly needs to be revamped and restructured, and it’s something that is very toxic in our communities.”
    • “To make sure that it actually is having the function of keeping our people safe, not just terrorizing our communities, and that’s what it’s become.”
    • “On her first 100 days, she would work on restoring all that humanity and making sure that we stopped the detention of children in cages and in private detention.”
    • “People who are a threat to our communities and who are real criminals [should be treated] differently than someone who’s trying to do better for their family.”
  • On asylum and refugees:
    • “International law allows us to be able to seek asylum in this country and that is something that right now is being violated.”
    • “People are getting turned back with legitimate cases. And we know that has happened because there’s abuse. They’re not guaranteed a lawyer. We don’t have as many people to be able to represent 60,000 people coming. There’s a crisis that needs to be addressed.”

Faiz Shakir, National Campaign Manager for Bernie Sanders:

  • On the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency:
    • Bernie Sanders would institute “a broad wholescale full sweep moratorium” on deportations, “acknowledging that there’s going to be cases that may need to be dealt with differently.”
    • “Bernie Sanders would look at revamping current immigration policies to increase the number of refugee visas and break up ICE as part of a system that is based on fear and racism.”
    • “Our plan is breaking up components of what currently exists at ICE and CBP and returning them to their original functions.” “You have a nation of laws, you have to maintain enforcement of laws, but you don’t have an agency roaming around just purely for the purpose of terrorizing and deportation.”
  • On asylum and refugees:
    • “As a nation, we can invest and take care of refugees who come across, making sure they have basic nutrition, and then, having a system that works efficiently, more judges, more counsel, and then of course, understanding the vast majority of people coming here are not security threats.”
    • “We end the Remain in Mexico policy. We start there. It’s born out of racism. It’s not an effort to actually take care of refugees.”
    • “You can have decent facilities based on what’s in the budget, so children aren’t locked up in cages and separated from their families.”
    • Bernie Sanders would “increase the number of refugees into the United States, changing the entire immigration visa system” that is “based off discrimination.”

 Congressman Joaquin Castro, representing Elizabeth Warren, said:

  • On the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency:
    • “Number one, that ICE and CBP should be reformed from top to bottom…and that any agents who were discovered to have…engaged in misconduct should be relieved of duty. They should be gone, that where you have to, you should clean house.”
    • “There would still be enforcement. You’re still going to enforce U.S. law, but it wouldn’t come from an agency that has been fairly rogue, especially during the Trump administration.”
    • “[Elizabeth Warren] won’t be shy about using her executive authority to do positive things.”
  • On asylum and refugees:
    • “Because the president has dropped the cap, [Elizabeth Warren] would bring the cap to 175,000 refugees in her first year.”
    • “On the asylum side, she would repeal all of these harmful policies that President Trump has put into place and, yes, allow people, then, to petition here in the United States.”
    • On first priorities as President: “Bring back all the deported veterans who should be back home in the United States, and stop deporting our veterans who served our country so well…make sure there aren’t kids in cages anymore…. repeal MPP, repeal metering.”

 Tom Steyer said:

  • On the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency:
    • “I believe there is a relevant reason for [ICE] to exist. I just don’t think that there’s a reason for it to exist in its current form.”
    • “I would end the relationship between ICE and local law enforcement where [ICE] basically uses local law enforcement as an extension of ICE, and therefore, extend it and have much bigger power.”
    • “What [ICE] is doing are crimes against humanity in terms of torturing kids and holding people improperly and being as cruel as possible to try to deter people from coming to the United States and seeking asylum. So what I would do is I would end every single part of that cruelty.”
    • On prosecuting criminal activity within ICE: “This is the whole point about our criminal justice system. You can’t have people within the system breaking the law without oversight and control and prosecution when they break the law.”
    • “I will stop all deportations, except for someone who’s been convicted of a serious violent crime. So I will end deportations. I believe amnesty is what I’m searching for for the 12 million people who are here. I’m also for decriminalizing the border. ”
  • On asylum and refugees:
    • “I have a commitment in life to treating people decently and this immigration system has turned out to be a system of torture, breaking international law in a way that is entirely un-American.”
    • “I’d end the Muslim ban. I mean for goodness sakes.”

 Nevada State Senator Yvanna Cancela, representing Joe Biden, said:

  • On the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE):
    • “[Joe Biden] does not advocate for abolishing ICE. In fact, he advocates for radically reforming the way that ICE operates and making sure that it has direct oversight from the Senate and the President and that it is run like a professional agency.”
    • “The Vice President in his proposal speaks directly to the fact that no one should go to work, no one should go to their place of worship and feel fear. And what we know is ICE is using those spaces today for raids and to create fear in our communities.”
  • On asylum and refugees:
    • Joe Biden recently conveyed that “he understood that it took too long to get it right on immigration under the Obama administration.”
    • “It is in [Joe Biden’s] proposal to end the use of private detention facilities as it relates to immigration,…and he speaks directly to making sure that families stay together through the immigration process so that if a family arrives at the border, they would not be detained in a private facility and would be able to remain together as they go through the asylum process.”
    • “In his proposal, [Joe Biden] specifically speaks to the need to increase access to asylum for vulnerable communities and specifically denotes the need to increase access to the LGBTQIA community. That’s important.”
    • “There’s work that we have to do to ensure that temporary immigration programs, whether it’s TPS or DACA, are not used as band-aid solutions to fix a system that has relied on a fractured process that prevents people from ever truly accessing citizenship.”
    • “[Joe Biden] has committed to ensuring that TPS holders are able to have a pathway to citizenship. And he’s also committed to working and making sure that we finally get a comprehensive immigration package through the Congress, through the house and the Senate because it’s long overdue.”

Participating organizations included: Amnesty International USA and Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, along with Make the Road Nevada, U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, USAHello, Northern Nevada International Center, Institute for Progressive Nevada, Refugee Congress, Arriba Las Vegas Workers Center, African Diaspora of Las Vegas, Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada, ACLU of Nevada, Mi Familia Vota, Asian Community Development Council, New Hope Foundation International, Oxfam America, and United We Dream.