HENDERSON, Nev. (AP) — Former Vice President Joe Biden said Tuesday that the Trump administration's removal of protections from deportation for young immigrants and the separation of immigrant families at the U.S.-Mexico border are part of the "battle for the soul of the country" that spurred his White House bid.
Biden, making his first visit as a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate to heavily Latino Nevada, said President Donald Trump uses immigration "to demonize people."
"It isn't who we are. We're better than that," Biden said as he kicked off a rally in the Las Vegas suburb of Henderson in front of about 200 people.
But after his speech, as he posed for selfies and took pictures along the rope line, he brushed off the questions of a Latino teenager who asked Biden if, as president, he'd commit to ending U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's practice of issuing detainers for immigrants who are arrested or convicted of a crime while in the country illegally.
Biden told the teen that he'd change it but didn't offer specifics, instead moving away as he said, "Take a look at my website."
His campaign website doesn't list a policy on ICE detainers but instead calls for fixing a broken immigration system, securing the border and addressing "the root causes of migration" that lead people to leave their home countries.
Immigration is a key concern in Nevada, the third early state to cast votes for the Democratic presidential nominee. The Western state is considered the first test of a candidate's appeal before strong labor unions and a diverse population, including about 29 percent who are Latino.
Biden also met Tuesday in Las Vegas with immigration activists in a private roundtable, according to his campaign Instagram account.
Biden's midday speech at a painters and craft workers union hall drew plenty of applause at he called for rebuilding "the backbone of this country, the middle class," and strengthening unions.
"Folks, they've declared war on labor's house for a long time now. If I'm president of the United States, it will stop!" he said to loud cheers.
Although Biden launched his campaign with an explicit appeal to labor, he's not meeting during his Nevada visit with the 60,000-member strong Culinary Union. The union, which represents bartenders, housekeepers and other workers in the city's famed casinos, is one of the most powerful endorsements in Nevada Democratic politics.
Biden spoke at the union's meeting hall last year as he campaigned for Democratic candidates in the state.
Instead of bringing his presidential campaign message about middle-class workers before the Culinary Union, he held a fundraiser Tuesday night with MGM Resorts CEO Jim Murren — whose company sits on the other side of the negotiating table from Culinary.
The fundraiser at a high-end restaurant at a Las Vegas Strip luxury hotel comes on the heels of an announcement late last month that MGM Resorts, the state's largest private employer, expects to cut about 1,000 nonunion jobs by June.
D. Taylor, the former Culinary Union president and current president of the union's national affiliate Unite Here, sent a letter to Murren last month warning of a corporation's responsibility to keep good jobs in communities and cautioning that the union would "not stand by silently if the benefits of casinos and casino jobs are imperiled by the financial engineering" of investors.
The Culinary Union had no comment about Biden's fundraiser Tuesday.
Murren said at the fundraiser that his son worked briefly for Biden in the White House and noted the work his wife, Heather Murren, has done on cancer research — a cause Biden and his wife have taken on.
At the fundraiser, Biden said that four years with Trump in the White House would "go down as a historical aberration," but that eight years would "cause fundamental, systemic change in this country."
"Our alliances will crumble. Not a joke. There will be no NATO after eight years," Biden said as he started to raise his voice. "You cannot stand on the world stage and embrace autocrats and dictators, take their word publicly, publicly like with Putin, over our entire intelligence community."
He declared that "the rest of the world needs us badly."
Before he officially jumped into the 2020 race, Biden struggled to respond to a complaint from former Nevada politician Lucy Flores that he made her uncomfortable by touching her shoulders and kissing the back of her head before a 2014 campaign event. A few other women made similar claims, though none alleged sexual misconduct.
As Biden took the stage in Nevada Tuesday afternoon, a woman in the crowd joked about the allegations, yelling to the former vice president, "You can hug and kiss me anytime, Joe!" Biden laughed, paused, made the sign of the cross and said, "That's very nice. Thank you."
Biden addressed Flores' complaint in an interview with KLAS-TV in Las Vegas , saying that Flores was entitled to her personal space and he's trying to be more careful about that, not hugging people while posing for a selfie unless they ask.
"I was trying to be reassuring. The truth of the matter is, she's completely entitled. If I made her uncomfortable, it's my fault," he said.
This story has been corrected to show a woman shouted, "You can hug and kiss me anytime, Joe!" not "You could come and kiss me anytime!"