Cortez Masto is warning President Biden to be ready for the end of Title 42 NPR's Steve Inskeep talks to Democratic Senator Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada about her immigration reform proposal, and her role as the Senate's first Latina.

How Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, from swing state Nevada, views immigration

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We go next to the intersection of immigration and politics. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada has proposals on immigration, which she is just barely in a position to make. Just before she came on the line yesterday, I looked up her margin of reelection among the almost 1 million votes cast in Nevada in 2022.

I knew it was close, but I'd forgotten how close. Like, 8,000 votes or something, wasn't it?

CATHERINE CORTEZ MASTO: It was - 7,928, to be precise.

INSKEEP: Not that anybody was counting.

CORTEZ MASTO: (Laughter).

INSKEEP: Exactly. So fewer than 8,000 votes, a very hard reelection campaign. How did immigration factor into it?

CORTEZ MASTO: You know, it was part of the conversation for voters in Nevada and rightfully so - 1 in 5 Nevadans is an immigrant.

INSKEEP: Cortez Masto represents a state that is divided. There's one really big metro area, Las Vegas, two blue counties and a lot of rural red ones. When you listen, you hear a lawmaker trying to balance different interests. The Democrat wants to cut off the flow of people arriving in this country illegally. But she also wants to make it easier for people already here to gain legal status. Some Republicans talk of stopping immigrants from committing crimes, but Cortez Masto talks of stopping crimes against immigrants.

CORTEZ MASTO: For too long, we've had these arbitrary barriers set up that have kept our immigrants from being able to adjust their status. And it has allowed fraudsters to take advantage of vulnerable families.

INSKEEP: You're talking about someone who says, I can help you adjust your status and then takes their money and disappears.

CORTEZ MASTO: I know too many families that literally were taken advantage of, which has implicated their ability to actually get on track for permanent residency.

INSKEEP: When you use that phrase, adjust their status, do you run across some Nevada voters who say, wait a minute; that's soft-pedaling it; they are here illegally?

CORTEZ MASTO: You know, there are conversations that I have like that with Nevadans. But when I explain it to them - because I think there's a lot of emotion and misinformation intentionally that's been put out there, particularly from the previous president, who called them all criminals. So to me, it's about showing up and having these conversations and explaining what's going on because I can guarantee you in my state, whether you're in northern Nevada or southern Nevada, there is support for these families, both by Democrats, Republicans and our independents when they understand what we're talking about because a lot of these families they know. The families are already in the community. They're working quite often two jobs. They're going through school. They want to have a future. But it's limited because they can't get that permanent path to a residency.

INSKEEP: You, among some other Democratic lawmakers, have opposed lifting Title 42, the pandemic-era restriction that has made it easier for the United States to remove people who cross the border illegally. Do you think that you're representing the majority view in Nevada, regardless of whether people have an immigrant background or not?

CORTEZ MASTO: People, rightfully so, are watching what's happening at the border and saying, well, it's too chaotic. Title 42 - and the concerns that I had very open with the administration. And I thought they were wrong, told them that to repeal 42 without a plan - because I knew there would be a large surge at the border - we have to put funding into the border there where we have more funding for immigration judges. We have more funding for that orderly process that needs to go through. We have to make sure we're addressing the needs for inspection.

INSKEEP: It's tempting for me to think that when you say the immigration system is broken, you mean there should be an orderly way for people to get in. I think that we could question some other lawmakers who would say the immigration system is broken because it needs to more successfully keep people out. Is that really the divide here?

CORTEZ MASTO: I hope not because I suspect that's what some of the right wing are saying. Just keep everybody out. Shut the borders. Nobody comes in. But that's not all of my colleagues that I am talking to, including some Republicans because listen, Steve. Here's a few solutions. We've got to modernize, I think, our ports of entry to address the drug trafficking. I think that's common amongst both Democrats and Republicans that we'd want to do that. And then the way that our country handles our asylum just - it doesn't work. And I've heard that from both of my colleagues, both Republicans and Democrats, that we've got to fix the asylum process. And what my concern and what I saw in the past is there has been leadership that has stopped us from moving forward.

INSKEEP: It appears that Title 42 is going to expire regardless in May. And the administration has reportedly been talking about other measures that they can use, harsh measures in some cases, to deter people from crossing - things like family detention, for example. Would you favor harsher measures in place of Title 42 to keep down the flow?

CORTEZ MASTO: No. And I've said this to the administration, as well, with respect to family detention. It was wrong under Trump, and it's wrong now. There was a proposal for a transit ban. To me, again, wrong proposal. That's a piecemeal solution to a broken immigration system. So there's things that they are doing that are too harsh, that are not helping us solve this problem when in actuality, we could come together and figure out the right way to do this.

INSKEEP: Senator Catherine Cortez Masto. Thanks so much.

CORTEZ MASTO: Thank you.

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