Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand said Sunday that her previous controversial stances on immigration “certainly weren’t empathetic and they were not kind.”
Gillibrand, who announced last week that she was entering the 2020 presidential race, has come under fire for her previous positions since her announcement.
While serving as a representative from New York, Gillibrand opposed “amnesty for illegal immigrants” and voted to increase funding for US Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to work with local law enforcement on deportations. As a senator, her positions on the issue are more progressive and include calling for the abolition of the agency and for it to “reimagine” having a “very different mission.”
“(My positions) certainly weren’t empathetic and they were not kind and I did not think about suffering in other people’s lives,” GIllibrand told CNN’s Jake Tapper on “State of the Union.” “And one thing I did 10 years ago when I became senator and was going to represent 20 million people across our state, I recognized that a lot of places in my state were different and I needed to understand what those constituents needed too.”
The 2020 presidential hopeful told Tapper that in this effort, she visited Brooklyn and met with Democratic Rep. Nydia Velázquez.
“And I listened and I realized that things I had said were wrong. I was not caring about others. I was not fighting for other people’s kids the same way I was fighting for my own and I was wrong to feel that way,” she said. “And so I just said I’m not going to stand by and do nothing for families that are suffering in my state and in my communities.”
A review by CNN’s KFile found that when Gillibrand was running for the House in 2006, she attacked her opponent from the right on immigration and 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 a 2008 mailer sent from her congressional office, Gillibrand touted her efforts to expedite “the removal of illegal aliens by expanding detention capacity and increasing the number of Federal District Court judges.”
Gillibrand has previously called aspects of her record in the House from 2007 through early 2009 something she is “embarrassed” and “ashamed” of, and she’s said her change on the issue has come from understanding the perspective of undocumented immigrants living in fear of the deportation of a family member.
CNN’s Andrew Kaczynski contributed to this report.