Ocasio-Cortez: Trump's immigration policies about 'ethnicity and racism'

Policies 'not about immigration,' she says

By Devan Cole, CNN
CNN Video

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.)

(CNN) - Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on Saturday called for a "9/11-style" commission to investigate the Trump administration's child separation policy, arguing that it's "what's going to be required in order to reunify as many children with their parents as possible."

"In the 9/11 commission they had -- they were charged with investigating and making sure they dug up every nook and cranny of what happened and how it happened in our system, and I think that that kind of study is what's going to be required in order to reunify as many children with their parents as possible," Ocasio-Cortez said during a town hall held in her district in Queens, New York. Two House lawmakers have proposed bills that would launch studies to examine the humanitarian crisis at the southern border. Ocasio-Cortez is not currently a co-sponsor of either bill.

The Trump administration's "zero tolerance" policy on the southern border, announced in April 2018, led to the separation of thousands of families, and sparked a national outcry. Children were sent to detention centers run by the Department of Health and Human Services, and some were eventually placed in foster care.

Earlier this month, a House report on the policy, which ended in June 2018, revealed previously unknown details, including that at least 18 infants and toddlers under two years old were separated from their parents and "kept apart for 20 days to half a year." Some children were kept in Border Patrol facilities longer than the allowed 72 hours, the House report found.

The 9/11 Commission Ocasio-Cortez was referring to -- officially called the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States -- was created in 2002 to provide a "complete account of the circumstances surrounding the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks." The 570-page report included 41 recommendations for reforming US security agencies to fight terrorism.

Her comments on the situation at the US-Mexico border come as the New Yorker finds herself in the midst of two high-profile clashes: one with Trump, who last Sunday implied in series of tweets that she and the three other congresswomen were not natural-born American citizens and should "go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came," and another with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi after Ocasio-Cortez and the other progressive freshman lawmakers recently opposed a House border aid bill.

Last week, Rep. Yvette Clarke, a New York Democrat, introduced a bill to create "a 9/11-style Commission to investigate the treatment of migrant families and children," her office said in a statement. The House is set to vote this week on a separate bill introduced in April by Rep. Veronica Escobar, a Texas Democrat, that, among other things, would similarly create an "independent commission modeled after the 9/11 Commission to examine the handling of migrant families and children," according to her office.

On Sunday, Liz Harrington, a spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee, said Ocasio-Cortez's "divisive rhetoric never ends" and implied that she was "downplaying 9/11" through her comments.

"If the Democrats truly cared about addressing the crisis on the border, they would fix the loopholes in our immigration laws," Harrington said.

 

'Ethnicity and racism'

 

Ocasio-Cortez also slammed President Donald Trump's policies on immigration at the town hall in her latest argument against the President's handling of the situation, saying that his signature agenda is really about "ethnicity and racism."

"All you need to do is hear what the President did this week to know this is not about immigration at all. Because once you start telling American citizens to quote 'go back to your own countries,' this tells you that this President's policies are not about immigration, it's about ethnicity and racism," she said in reference to Trump's tweeted racist attacks at her and three other minority congresswomen known as "The Squad."

The group of Democrats -- Reps. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts -- have been outspoken about Trump's immigration policies in the past. On Tuesday, the House voted to condemn the racist language the President used in his attacks, and Pelosi came to the defense of the congresswomen of color.

Ocasio-Cortez's Saturday remarks come several days after the administration put in place a regulation that bars most Central American migrants from seeking asylum in the US. The administration also recently floated the possibility of admitting zero refugees next year, according to sources familiar with a meeting in which the idea was discussed by officials from a number of agencies.

Trump's tirade against Ocaso-Cortez and the others on Sunday coincided with the beginning of US Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids targeting undocumented immigrants in major US cities for arrest and deportion. Though an official from the agency said earlier this week that there has not been "any surge of arrests or activity or round-ups" in the operation.

During the town hall on Saturday, Ocasio-Cortez, referring to Trump's tweets, said his "biggest mistake was that he said the quiet part aloud -- that was his biggest mistake."

"Because we know that he's been thinking this the entire time. But he's been keeping it in here. And this week, it went out here. When he started telling American citizens -- where are we going to go? We're going to stay right here, that's where we're going to go. We're not going anywhere," she said.

Republican businesswoman Scherie Murray recently announced that she would challenge the New York Democrat for her congressional seat in 2020. Murray's campaign against Ocasio-Cortez -- who, in her calls to combat climate change and raise the minimum wage, has become a national face of democratic socialism -- could be an uphill battle in the Queens district she's seeking to represent, which is a Democratic stronghold.

 

A 'more open-ended conversation' with Pelosi

 

Ocasio-Cortez said during the town hall that immigration would be among the topics of discussion next week during a one-on-one meeting she's set to have with Pelosi.

The meeting is "to have a more open-ended conversation and see what we can do to come together on strategy," Ocasio-Cortez said.

At one point during the event, she defended her opposition to the House border aid bill, which pitted her and other progressive House Democrats against Pelosi, arguing the legislation "wasn't humanitarian."

"I'll be very honest, I got heat from my own party for that -- for making that point. But if we really want to pass a humanitarian bill then let's make a humanitarian bill and if it's not a humanitarian bill then don't call it a humanitarian bill. It's a border militarization bill," she said.

CNN's Kevin Bohn, Geneva Sands, Priscilla Alvarez, Kylie Atwood, Caroline Kelly, Clare Foran and Ashley Killough contributed to this report.

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