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Democrats in Las Vegas cheer Elizabeth Warren’s bid to end private immigration prisons

2020 White House hopeful’s Senate office has been investigating private prison operators

Democratic presidential candidate and Sen. Elizabeth Warren holds a town hall with supporters at the East Las Vegas Community Center on Tuesday. (Niels Lesniewski/CQ Roll Call)
Democratic presidential candidate and Sen. Elizabeth Warren holds a town hall with supporters at the East Las Vegas Community Center on Tuesday. (Niels Lesniewski/CQ Roll Call)

EAST LAS VEGAS — Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s call to eliminate private immigration prisons drew raucous support Tuesday evening during a town hall in Las Vegas.

With 2020 Democratic presidential candidates campaigning across the country, the Massachusetts senator was the first of at least four making stops in Clark County over the July Fourth holiday.

A diverse crowd her campaign estimated at 600 came out to see Warren, many supporters with signs that reflect the diversity of the neighborhood. There were “Warren has a plan” signs printed in Spanish throughout the audience.

She covered a variety of economic and foreign policy topics, touting her proposed surtax on the investment assets of individuals in excess of $50 million, and in responding to a question highlighting support for ending endless war authorizations.

But it was immigration policy where the focus landed Tuesday, owed in part to the reports on conditions of migrants held in U.S. custody and in part to the audience itself.

“I’ve been to Homestead. I’ve been to the border down in Texas. We need to hold people accountable,” Warren said. “People work for us, and they need to reflect our values, and right now that’s not happening.”

That was an apparent reference to the reported secret Facebook group of current and former employees of the Border Patrol. Warren, like many other Democrats, was decrying the current treatment of the migrants being held.

Speaking with reporters after finishing the formal event but before snapping pictures with every person in attendance who stuck around for the photo line, Warren again stressed the role of for-profit prison operators in the current crisis.

“I think the first thing we do is where I started, and that is we should stop this business of for-profit prisons and for-profit detention centers. No one should be making money off locking people up,” Warren said.

Warren has long focused on the private companies operating Immigration and Customs Enforcement facilities, questioning the appearance of suicide nooses in cells that was reported by the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general in 2018. Two companies, CoreCivic and GEO Group were the focus of that query.

Since then, Warren has launched an investigation through her official Senate office into the process that the Trump administration has used in accrediting the private operators. A series of May 31 letters called the dependence of DHS and the Federal Bureau of Prisons on a private entity known as the American Correctional Association to handle safety approvals for prison facilities “a recipe for disaster.”

“The flaws in the ACA’s accreditation process are evident at facility after facility that, despite having received the ACA stamp of approval, allow inmates to live amid unsafe conditions, and are rife with violence, health and safety hazards, and other systemic problems,” Warren wrote to acting secretary of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan.

It was clear Tuesday that the concerns expressed about the private detention operators through official channels have translated to outright disgust on the campaign trail.

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