Kirsten Gillibrand on Immigration

Democratic Senator (NY)


Treat people humanely at border; decriminalize to do so

Rep. Julian Castro: Repeal Section 1325 of the Immigration Nationality Act [which is the legal basis for criminalizing border crossings instead of treating them as a civil violation].

Gillibrand: I think when you talk about whether this should be a crime, you have to remember who we're talking about. When I was at the Texas border, I visited with women who had fled violence. A woman from El Salvador owned a small business, gangs came to her and said if you don't give us all your money, we're going to kill your family. Another woman was raped. This is who we're talking about -- and they're not criminals. It should be a civil violation and we should make sure that we treat people humanely.

Source: July Democratic Primary debate (second night in Detroit) , Jul 31, 2019

Give asylum-seekers lawyers and community support

First, I would fight for comprehensive immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship. Second, I would reform how we treat asylum-seekers at the border. I would have a community-based treatment center, where we're doing it within the communities, where asylum-seekers are given lawyers, where there's real immigration judges, not employees of the attorney general, but appointed for life, and have a community-based system. I would fund border security.
Source: June Democratic Primary debate (second night in Miami) , Jun 27, 2019

We need a humane asylum application process

Ms. Gillibrand called Mr. Trump's immigration policies -- including his separation of families and rejection of asylum seekers -- counterproductive. "We need to be able to fund the part of Homeland Security that's focused on antiterrorism, cross-border crime, anti-gun trafficking, anti-human trafficking and anti-drug trafficking," she said. "The funds that would normally go to fund those operations under ICE and under Homeland Security have been taken away, and they've been placed into other efforts, particularly for-profit prisons that are locking up mothers and children."

She called for a "humane" asylum application process, for immigration judges to be independent from the attorney general's office, and for "comprehensive immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship."

Source: New York Times on 2019-2020 Fox News Town Halls , Jun 2, 2019

For border security, but don't harm asylum seekers

I would fund the border security measures that are anti-terrorism, anti-human trafficking, anti-drug trafficking, and anti-gun trafficking and I would defund these for-profit prison systems that are harming children and harming families who are seeking our asylum. If someone is seeking asylum, I would assign them a lawyer. They don't need to be incarcerated. They can go into the community in the way we used to handle these cases under the Department of Justice.
Source: CBS Face the Nation 2019 interviews of presidential hopefuls , May 19, 2019

Split up functions of ICE

Supports comprehensive immigration reform--has suggested eliminating and reimagining ICE.

"The part of ICE that's gonna survive under Homeland Security is the cross border terrorism, human trafficking, gun trafficking, and drug trafficking," she said. She said the resulting organization should be fully funded under a new name, and the "enforcement and removal" functions of ICE would become responsibilities of the Justice Department.

Source: Axios.com "What you need to know about 2020" , May 7, 2019

2000s: opposed amnesty for undocumented immigrants

Key criticisms of Kirsten Gillibrand: Conservative track record: During her time as a member of the conservative Democrats Blue Dog Coalition when she represented New York's 20th district, Gillibrand had an 'A' rating from the NRA and opposed amnesty for undocumented immigrants.
Source: Axios.com on 2020 Democratic primary , Apr 22, 2019

Treat asylum seekers humanely; reform process

I have a very strong record on immigration and for my 10 years in the Senate, I've been fighting very hard for comprehensive immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship. I would not only work to pass comprehensive immigration reform but would change what we do at the border. I would make sure that people seeking asylum would have access to real immigration judges and lawyers. I would make sure that the process was humane and I would take the enforcement removal operations and I'd put it out of Homeland Security and put into the Department of Justice.

I would protect the DREAMers. I would make sure that DREAMers that came to this country would have a pathway to citizenship so they can finish their schooling. So [if] they're serving in the military, they can continue to serve. So they can start families and start businesses. It's really important that we recognize that immigration is a strength. I would make sure we pass comprehensive immigration reform in this country.

Source: CNN Town Hall: 2020 presidential hopefuls , Apr 9, 2019

Reunite families ripped apart at the border

U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand today released the following statement in response to President Trump's State of the Union address:

"President Trump has had years to bring this country together, but instead he has chosen to divide the country across every single line he can imagine. If President Trump wants to convince the country that he actually cares about bringing us together, then he can start by no longer using government workers as political pawns, reuniting the families that his Administration ripped apart at the border, and stopping with political wedge issues like telling women they can't make their own health decisions in consultation with their doctor."

Source: 2020 presidential hopefuls on 2019 State of the Union speech , Feb 6, 2019

In House, took hardline for border security, ICE funding

Running for the House in 2006, Gillibrand called securing the border "a national security priority." In a 2007 interview, Gillibrand said "you have to close the borders" as a first step to "right size" immigration. In an interview in May 2007, Gillibrand said the borders needed to be closed.

She co-sponsored a bill expressing displeasure at states giving driver's licenses to undocumented immigrants and then co-sponsored a bill to prevent it. She voted in favor of an amendment to increase border fencing and technology by almost $90 million. She also voted in favor of an amendment to increase ICE funding by $9 million to work with local law enforcement to identify and remove undocumented immigrants who have committed crimes.

A page put up on her website for her 2008 re-election campaign boasted about her record, adding that the congresswoman believed that English should be the official language of the United States.

Source: CNN KFile, "Abolish ICE," on 2020 Democratic primary , Jan 31, 2019

Hadn't understood issues, changed views in Senate

In January 2009, Gillibrand was appointed to replace Clinton, who had been confirmed to be President Barack Obama's new secretary of state. Her appointment was met with backlash from New York-based immigration activists. Gillibrand sought to quell the concerns by meeting with immigration groups. Gillibrand moved in the Senate to support policies advocated by activists, including in March 2009, when she signed on as a co-sponsor of the DREAM Act.

Gillibrand was asked about her past positions in a 2018 interview with 60 Minutes, where she said, "I just didn't take the time to understand why these issues mattered because it wasn't right in front of me. And that was my fault. It was something that I'm embarrassed about and I'm ashamed of."

Source: CNN KFile, "Abolish ICE," on 2020 Democratic primary , Jan 31, 2019

Pathway to citizenship gets immigrants connected

It's really important that we give immigrants a pathway to citizenship through comprehensive immigration reform, so they can be part of all the blessings of America. When you create a pathway to citizenship you allow people to buy into their Social Security. You allow them to invest in our public schools. You allow them to invest in their future and pay taxes. All those things is why you need a pathway to citizenship. And so I really hope we can do that through comprehensive immigration reform.
Source: CNN 2019 "State of the Union" on 2020 Democratic primary , Jan 20, 2019

Pathway to citizenship for DREAMers

Q: Is Trump's offer of three years of protection for DACA recipients enough?

A: If you talk to any DACA recipient today, they're anxious. They're worried. They might be at school--they don't know if they can finish school. They might be getting married. Their lives are being upended and this President has no compassion. I don't think you should even consider this because it's three years. Why not a permanent pathway to citizenship so they actually could have certainty about their lives.

Source: CBS Face the Nation 2019 interviews: 2020 Democratic primary , Jan 20, 2019

2006: anti-illegal alien; 2019: diversity is our strength

Gillibrand apologized for holding "callous" views on immigration on "The Rachel Maddow Show." Maddow discussed what she called Gillibrand's "conservative bona fides" in unseating a GOP congressman in 2006. Gillibrand used the expression "illegal aliens," now a huge no-no for progressives, and called for making English the country's official language.

Maddow reminded Gillibrand she once said she was "embarrassed" by her previous positions on immigration. "Well, I don't think it was driven from my heart. I was callous to the suffering of families who want to be with their loved ones, people who want to be reunited with their families," Gillibrand said. "I recognize, as we all do, that immigration and diversity is our strength as a country. It's always driven our economy. It's the American story. So looking back, I really regretted that I didn't look beyond my district and talk about why this is an important part of the United States story and why it's an important part of our strength."

Source: Washington Free Beacon on 2020 presidential hopefuls , Jan 16, 2019

Reimagine ICE; support DREAMers

Source: PBS News hour on 2020 Presidential hopefuls , Jan 16, 2019

Blue Dog: opposed sanctuary cities & opposed amnesty

During her tenure in the House, Gillibrand was part of the Blue Dog Coalition, voting in favor of legislation that would withhold funds from sanctuary cities and opposing amnesty for undocumented immigrants.

For those just getting acquainted with Gillibrand in the Trump era, in which she has voted with the president's position less than 12% of the time (the lowest among her colleagues), her past views may come as a surprise.

On immigration, the New York Democrat explained her shift: "I came from a district that was 98% white," Gillibrand said. "We have immigrants, but not a lot of immigrants. And I just didn't take the time to understand why these issues mattered because it wasn't right in front of me. And that was my fault. It was something that I'm embarrassed about and I'm ashamed of."

Source: Washington Examiner on 2020 Presidential Hopefuls , Jan 15, 2019

Central American migrant caravan is seeking asylum

The candidates clashed on immigration, whether ICE should be abolished, and the massive migrant caravan moving slowly through Mexico. "People are calling it a caravan, I call it an invasion," Farley said. "We can't allow open borders."

"I do not support open borders, and neither do Democrats," Gillibrand countered. "What we have in this country is an immigration crisis. You have people in this caravan to seek asylum in this country. Immigration has always been a strength in this country. We are a country founded by immigrants. So we need to fix our broken immigration system. Separating children from their parents at the border is immoral, that's what this president has done."

"This is an act of terrorism," Farley responded. "It's got to stop. But my opponent, Senator Gillibrand, wants to abolish ICE, which since 9/11 is the group primarily responsible for stopping terror."

Source: ABC-7 Eyewitness News on 2018 New York Senatorial debate , Oct 25, 2018

Get rid of ICE; separate anti-terrorism from border control

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) recently joined a growing number of Democrats who say they should get rid the agency when they take back control of the House and the Senate after the midterms.

"I think we should get rid of ICE," she said. "We should separate out two missions and do the anti-terrorism mission, the national security mission, and then on the other side, make sure you're doing-- looking at immigration as a humanitarian issue. These are civil issues."

Source: Independent Journal Review on 2018 New York Senate race , Jul 31, 2018

2007 SAVE Act: beef up border; oppose sanctuary cities

In 2007, she cosponsored the SAVE Act, which significantly beefed up border patrols, required all employers to check the immigration status of their employees through a flawed computer database, established monetary rewards for anyone who helped catch an undocumented immigrant trying to obtain falsified documents, and turned local police into an arm of federal immigration enforcement. She supported financially penalizing sanctuary cities.
Source: Jacobin Magazine on 2018 New York Senate race , May 9, 2017

2010: moratorium on government immigration raids

After meeting with the New York Immigration Coalition, she announced her support for a moratorium on government raids, for clearing the backlog of entry applications for immigrant families and reducing the waiting time, and for a path to citizenship in the temporary worker program. "I did expand my views on immigration, mostly because I did not have a large immigrant community in my district," Gillibrand said in 2010.
Source: Jacobin Magazine on 2018 New York Senate race , May 9, 2017

Government IDs for illegals as part of comprehensive reform

Immigration reform was among the issues that drew sharp contrasts between Gillibrand and DioGuardi. DioGuardi said he supports legal immigration. "But it seems to me right now that I would not look to reform anything until we looked at the whole picture and until we shut down the borders," he said. "We cannot allow porous borders in America."

But Gillibrand said the time is ripe for comprehensive immigration reform. She defended her previous opposition to former Gov. Eliot Spitzer's plan to issue government IDs to undocumented immigrants, saying it's an issue best addressed on the federal level. "That is something I would certainly look into, and we want to make sure that folks have the ability to get an ID," Gillibrand said. "But it's best done in a comprehensive bill because these are all the issues that we need to actually address."

Source: WNYC News coverage of 2010 N. Y. Senate debate , Oct 15, 2010

Create a real path to earned citizenship

Immigration reform will not be easy, but it is essential that our country recognize the important role all immigrants play in our economic prosperity. Treating undocumented workers as political pawns is an affront to our national story and an assault on our economy.

Kirsten is committed to fixing America's broken immigration system--creating a real path to earned citizenship with strict accountability and providing fair labor rights to all workers. While upholding America's security and the rule of law, Kirsten is working to reform our immigration system to unite families and provide laborers needed by our farms and businesses.

Current law is unfairly punishing thousands of young people who have spent most of their lives in America. Kirsten has taken the lead to change this by co-sponsoring the DREAM Act to provide every child the opportunity to get a good education and earn their way to legal status.

Source: 2010 Senate campaign website, kirstengillibrand.com, "Home" , Aug 12, 2010

Opposed amnesty; opposed driver licenses; required English

As a congresswoman, Gillibrand had unfalteringly opposed immigration reform. But when numerous Hispanic groups suddenly threatened to run a primary against her, Gillibrand suddenly saw the merit in their polar-opposite positions and swiftly did a complet reversal.

According to the New York Times, Gillibrand had: "opposed any sort of amnesty for illegal immigrants, supported deputizing local law enforcement officers to enforce federal immigration laws, spoke out against allowing illegal immigrants to have driver's licenses and sought to make English the official language of the US. She sided in favor of requiring adult occupants of affordable housing to provide proof of residency." In other words, she was the pro-immigration lobby's worst nightmare.

But all of that change, too. Just days into her tenure, after meeting with Latino and Chinese political leaders, she suddenly dropped her opposition to paths to citizenship and her support for English as a second language.

Source: Take Back America, by Dick Morris, p.184-185 , Apr 13, 2010

Provide lawyers and evidence for children being deported.

Gillibrand co-sponsored S.2540/H.R.4646

This bill authorizes the Department of Justice (DOJ) to appoint or provide counsel at government expense to aliens in removal proceedings.

  • The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) shall provide an alien in removal proceedings with all relevant documents in its possession, unless the alien has knowingly waived the right to such documents.
  • DOJ may appoint or provide counsel to aliens in any INA proceeding.
  • DHS shall ensure that aliens have access to counsel inside all immigration detention and border facilities.
  • DOJ shall appoint counsel, at government expense if necessary, for an unaccompanied alien child or a particularly vulnerable individual.
  • DHS shall establish a pilot program to increase the court appearance rates of unaccompanied alien children and particularly vulnerable individuals by contracting with nongovernmental, community-based organizations to provide such aliens with case management services.
    Source: Fair Day in Court for Kids Act 16-S2540 on Feb 11, 2016

    Other candidates on Immigration: Kirsten Gillibrand on other issues:
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    External Links about Kirsten Gillibrand:

    2020 Withdrawn Democratic Candidates:
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    Mayor Bill de Blasio (D-NYC)
    Sen.Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY)
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    Page last updated: Dec 15, 2019