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April 24, 2014

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Immigration advocates rally for system overhaul

Las Vegas rally one of 40 nationwide aiming for grassroots reform

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Mona Shield Payne / Special to the Sun

Gloria Hernandez dabs her eye while listening to speakers during a press conference launching the national Reform Immigration for America campaign Monday outside the Lloyd George Federal Building in Las Vegas.

Reform Immigration Rally

Rosa Acevedo, center, cheers with other supporters during a press conference launching the national Reform Immigration for America campaign Monday outside the Lloyd George Federal Building in Las Vegas. Launch slideshow »

Pew Study (.pdf)

Supporters of immigration reform gathered on the steps of the Lloyd George Federal Building on Monday for the Nevada launch of a national campaign to reform American immigration law.

The event was one of 40 being staged in 20 states across the country by Reform Immigration for America, a national umbrella organization pushing for grassroots immigration reform.

About 40 supporters cheered and waved signs and banners declaring “Si, se puede” ("Yes, it can be done") as community leaders and representatives from the labor and business communities delivered remarks.

The coalition is calling for a legislative overhaul to the current immigration system and for the creation of a new policy that provides a pathway to citizenship for some of the country’s estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants.

Peter Ashman, the Nevada chapter chairman of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, which is meeting in Las Vegas this week, said the current policy of “throwing more money on Homeland Security to remove undocumented workers is too costly, not workable and un-American.”

“This broken system, which has enforcement only as its approach, cripples our government’s ability to effectively and efficiently deal with the problem of undocumented workers and families,” he said. Ashman and others said they hope the campaign will encourage leaders to seek a common-sense solution that addresses economic, national security and human rights concerns.

“What we have now is not working and what we could have is a system that makes the country more secure while providing a pathway to citizenship for people who have come to this country looking for opportunity,” said Launce Rake, spokesman for Progressive Leadership Alliance Nevada, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that works for social and economic equality. “People who come here without documentation, they will pay a price for that, but what we do want to do is give them the opportunity to continue working and contributing to America.”

The launch of the campaign comes as the White House prepares to revisit immigration policy. On June 8, President Obama will meet with members of Congress to discuss immigration reform.

Participants today said they believe the political climate is ripe for at least introducing, and perhaps even passing, an immigration reform package this year. They cited the influx in Hispanic and immigrant voters in the 2008 presidential election and polls showing public support for reform as signs that a bill could be passed.

A Pew poll released in May found 63 percent of respondents supported providing undocumented immigrants living in the United States with an opportunity to gain legal citizenship.

Speakers also cited support from labor organizations, including the Culinary Union and the Service Employees International Union of America, as giving their cause a boost of political capital.

“This is a social issue, this is a workers issue, this is a human issue,” said Culinary Union Local 226 Las Vegas President Geoconda Arguello-Kline, whose organization represents 60,000 employees in Las Vegas. The international group represents workers from more than 80 countries.

“These immigrants are a big contribution to this country. They work every single day. They pay their rent, they buy food, they do jobs with people in this country, hard jobs,” Arguello-Kline said.

Several who took to the podium stressed that immigration is a bipartisan issue, and urged voters and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to come together to craft a reform package.

“What we need to do is put parties aside, put political philosophy and differences aside and really sit down and identify the issues that are out there and come up with common-sense solutions,” said Alex Garza, a businessman and member of the Latin Chamber of Commerce.

Garza said backlash from the political right, fueled largely by conservative talk radio, effectively killed the last effort to pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill in 2007. But Garza, a registered Republican, said he believes the GOP is at a crossroads and will choose to take more inclusive stances on issues such as immigration.

“It’s a good time to bridge the gap between the old Republican leadership and the new Republicans that are coming up — people who can be compassionate socially and still maintain the values and the morals and the fiscal discipline that the Republican Party encompasses,” he said.

More that 700 advocates of immigration reform, including 12 members of the Nevada Immigration Coalition, will gather in Washington, D.C., this weekend to lobby lawmakers on the issue and participate in a summit hosted by Reform Immigration for America.

Marco Rauda, Nevada state director of Democracia Ahora, who will be in Washington this weekend to lobby lawmakers, said the Nevadans have scheduled meetings with staffers for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), and Nevada Reps. Dean Heller (R), Shelley Berkley (D) and Dina Titus (D). He said they had also requested a meeting with staffers from the office of Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.).

“Personally, I would love to see a plan from the Congress or maybe a schedule or benchmark for when we’re going to see a bill,” Rauda said.

Andrew Stoddard, a spokesman from Titus' office, said the congresswoman supports comprehensive immigration reform and is working as a member of the Homeland Security Committee to invest in border security.

He said Titus feels the U.S. immigration system is "broken."

"We need to secure our borders, enforce current laws and find a solution for immigrants already in the U.S.," Stoddard said on behalf of Titus in a statement. "... President Obama has certainly said this is an issue that he’s focusing on, so there’s a chance of getting something done, but we’re going to see what happens on some of these other issues that are on the forefront right now."

Irene Zepeda, who represented the UNLV Student Organization of Latinos, will be traveling to Washington with the group. She said she hopes the weekend summit produces a clear, unified message to help spread the energy behind the immigration reform movement.

“Our government keeps telling us, ‘Wait another year,’ and ‘Next year will be your time.’ But we want them to know that now is the time,” she said. “As immigrants, we’re all ready for this to get passed. We’re ready and this is the year we’re going to get this passed.”

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