Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) took aim at Wells Fargo on Tuesday, accusing the banking giant of “financing the caging of children,” during a congressional hearing with chief executive Tim Sloan.
During Sloan’s appearance before the House Financial Services Committee, which is examining the company’s “pattern of consumer abuses,” Ocasio-Cortez pressed the CEO to explain why his company was financially supporting detention facilities where migrant children were held.
“Why was the bank involved in the caging of children and financing the caging of children to begin with?” she asked, referring to the separation of families at the U.S.-Mexico border under President Trump’s controversial immigration policy.
Sloan responded, “I don’t know how to answer that question, because we weren’t.”
Sloan acknowledged that Wells Fargo provided financing for two firms that run detention facilities used by the government, with one of those partnerships still active. However, he added, “I’m not familiar with the specific assertion that you are making, but we weren’t involved with that.”
Ocasio-Cortez responded: “These companies run private detention facilities run by ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement], which is involved in caging children but I’ll move on."
The exchange highlighted the divisiveness over the family separation policy, but also the dispute over the language used to describe the detention facilities. Government officials have previously requested the media not refer to them as “cages.” As recently as last week, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen got into a semantic back-and-forth with members of Congress about what constitutes a cage.
“Sir, we don’t use cages for children,” Nielsen said in response to a question during a Homeland Security Committee hearing. She used her arms to gesture that only a smaller enclosure would qualify as a cage. “Sir, they’re not cages.”
But she was pressed on the issue later in the hearing. “What is a chain-link fence, enclosed into a chamber on a concrete floor represent to you?” asked Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-N.J.) “Is that a cage?”
More than 2,700 children were separated from their parents last year as part of the Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy to deter migrant families from crossing the border. The separations stem from the administration’s decision to prosecute as many border-crossing offenses as possible. Since government lawyers can’t prosecute children along with their parents, the efforts led to a drastic rise in children being taken away from their families.
Facing an intense public backlash against the separations, including from lawmakers and advocates who said the policy was harming children, Trump rescinded the order in June. But the U.S. deported about 430 parents without their children, and at least 200 of them still remain separated.
Last week a federal judge ruled that all migrant families separated during the border crackdown should be included in a class-action lawsuit against the administration.