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Kirsten Gillibrand went from immigration hawk to wanting to abolish ICE



Senator Kirsten Gillibrand from New York, who recently announced an exploratory committee for a 2020 run, has dramatically shifted her views on immigration and deportation in the last ten years of her career.

When she first ran for the House of Representatives in 2006, Gillibrand said securing the US-Mexico border was a “national security priority.” A year later, she said the borders had to be closed in order to “right size” immigration, according to CNN. And in 2008, a mailer sent from her office touted her efforts to expedite deportations “by expanding detention capacity and increasing the number of Federal District Court judges.”

Gillibrand has taken back some of her previous positions, saying she’s ashamed of her opinions back then.

“I came from a district that was 98% white. We have immigrants, but not a lot of immigrants. And I hadn’t really spent the time to hear those kind of stories about what’s it like to worry that your dad could be taken away at any moment,” she told CBS in 2018. “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”

Read more: New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand announces she’s running for president in 2020

On Wednesday, Gillibrand was once again forced to reckon with her past positions, especially now that she’s set to run in a crowded field of Democrats, many of them progressive left-wing politicians who have supported the idea of abolishing the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agency.

“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 told Rachel Maddow on Wednesday after the MSNBC host pushed her on her past views on immigration. “And so, looking back, I just really regretted that I didn’t look beyond my district.”

On Tuesday, shortly after she announced her bid for the presidency, the Republican National Committee issued a statement labeling her an opportunist for her shifts on immigration and ICE.

“If you looked up ‘political opportunism’ in the dictionary, Kirsten Gillibrand’s photo would be next to it,” wrote RNC Spokesman Michael Ahrens in a statement. “From jumping on the ‘abolish ICE’ bandwagon to turning on the Clintons, Gillibrand always goes where the political wind blows. Democrats know it, which is why she’s barely registering in the polls.”

Meredith Kelly, communications director for Gillibrand’s exploratory committee, told CNN that Gillibrand has “been a steadfast and compassionate advocate for immigrants” since she joined the US Senate.

Among other controversial measures regarding immigration, Gillibrand co-sponsored the SAVE Act, a House bill that would have made it easier to deport undocumented immigrants and would’ve required companies to verify the status of their workers. She also opposed giving drivers licenses to undocumented immigrants.

CNN also reported that she frequently voted for or supported legislation that would’ve increased border fencing and technology. Back then, her votes frequently aligned with Republicans and other moderate Democrats. Her views on immigration back then, CNN reported, earned her a B rating from the conservative, anti-immigration group Numbers USA.

Gillibrand’s ascension to the Senate meant she was now representing a large and diverse population — in 2014, New York was among the top five states home to undocumented immigrants.

Her election caused backlash from New York-based immigration activists. She began meeting with immigration groups and, according to CNN, began softening her position.

Rep. Nydia Velazquez, a New York Democrat and former chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, told CNN that while she is not endorsing a candidate yet, she considers Gillibrand a friend and witnessed the “meaningful evolution of her thinking on immigration” over a decade ago.

“Very shortly after becoming senator, she reached out to me directly and we had multiple conversations where she listened, learned, and demonstrated genuine compassion for what families across New York have experienced from our broken immigration system. Since then, she’s been a fighter and a tireless ally on these issues who I deeply value,” Velazquez told CNN.

In the last 10 years, Gillibrand has co-sponsored the DREAM act, slammed Trump’s immigration policies and visited detention facilities in the southern border.

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