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September 18, 2014

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Hundreds hit Vegas streets for immigration reform

Marchers hope Obama brings a pathway to legalization

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Sam Morris

Destiny Padilla gets a lift from her father Jose Padilla during an immigrant rights march up the Strip on Friday.

Immigration rally

Groups advocating immigrant and migrant rights march up the Strip on Friday. Launch slideshow »

About 300 people marched along Sahara Avenue and up the Strip this evening, a reprise of the nationwide May Day marches for immigration reform that began three years ago.

Once again, many of those in the crowd had a personal stake in the issue, being among the estimated 2 million families in the United States with at least one family member bereft of legal status in the country.

Like Arturo Gonzalez, who has lost a brother and sister to deportation over the years while helping build hundreds of homes across the valley as a cement worker. Even his children are divided as to immigration status, with some illegally in the country.

And once again, many of the people marching today worked for the valley's two main employers, casinos and construction. There were also a healthy number of college students.

They hoped the Obama administration would finally push through what has become known as comprehensive immigration reform, with strengthened enforcement but also a pathway to legalization for millions. They also clamored for a stop to the ripping apart of millions of families through deportation.

But this time, the thinning of the crowd by at least 100-fold when compared to 2006 showed that times have changed for the issue.

Back then, Spanish-language radio DJs with national audiences blustered about "this historic moment."

For many people who marched in 2006, the very act of going up the Strip was symbolic. A large crowd of mostly hourly workers, mostly Hispanic, had closed down part of one of the most moneyed streets on the planet, marching past the palaces many of them help operate.

Gene Moehring, chairman of UNLV's history department, called it "probably the largest political march down the Las Vegas Strip in history,"

Experts consulted by the Sun said the march may have been from 18,000 to 79,000 people, with a safe estimate being somewhere between 35,000 and 50,000.

Hugo Calderon, then 19, remembers that march as having "so much momentum." Now, the UNLV student said, "more people feel like it's a non-issue" -- in part because they believe having a Democrat in the White House and a Democrat-controlled Congress means reforming immigration laws is just a matter of time.

But the problem for Obama and the Congress right now, he said, are "the other issues": the economy, wars overseas, a possible pandemic.

Ivon Meneses brought her six children to the march. She is in her second year of being a single mom after her husband was forced to remain in Mexico for a decade before he can become a legal resident through his marriage to her, a citizen.

Meneses, a porter at the Wynn casino, said she hoped marchers like her would "touch somebody's heart" so that immigration laws could be changed and her children could see their father again.

Other differences from 2006: not a Mexican flag appeared in the march, and there was an attempt to reach out to people from non-Hispanic countries.

This was to show the cause as a broader, national issue, not us vs. them.

Hossein Mokhtar was there, an Iranian refugee who arrived to Las Vegas nine years ago.

He was also in the 2006 march. Now, he said, "more people are terrorized politically and economically" -- meaning, he explained, that they were worried about losing their jobs or getting in trouble for marching.

Also, he noted, the media seemed less interested in the issue now.

But Gonzalez, who was last in line as the march snaked west on Sahara, remained optimistic.

He noted how hard he and other immigrants he knows have worked in Las Vegas and elsewhere, and said legalizing their status could only help the economy.

"If they give us papers," he said, "We'll feel even more a part of the country, and spend even more on everything."

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