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Reid calling for comprehensive immigration reform this year

Rally draws thousands to urge changes in federal law

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

Activists gather outside the Lloyd George Federal Building in a protest for immigration reform Saturday, April 10, 2010.

Updated Saturday, April 10, 2010 | 7:26 p.m.

Immigration Reform Rally

Members and supporters of Laborers' International Union North America carry flags of different nations at a rally for immigration reform Saturday, April 10, 2010 outside the Lloyd George Federal Building. Launch slideshow »

Lloyd D. George Federal Courthouse

Thousands of people rallied in downtown Las Vegas Saturday afternoon to demand immediate reform of federal immigration laws.

The crowd was likely smaller than the 10,000 people organizers said were in attendance but was large enough to spill over the steps of the Lloyd D. George Federal Courthouse and surround the stage set up in the middle of Las Vegas Boulevard.

Much of the three-hour event was a build-up to a speech by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who was introduced by U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., the author of an immigration-reform bill.

Democratic U.S. Reps. Shelley Berkley and Dina Titus of Nevada and state Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford also attended the rally.

“We are going to pass comprehensive immigration reform,” Reid told the crowd. “We need to do this this year. We can’t let excuses like a Supreme Court nomination get in the way.”

Reid promised the legislation would include provisions to secure both the north and south borders, revisions to a guest worker program, and provisions to deal with illegal immigrants already in the country.

“There are no excuses. This is something America needs,” Reid said. “We’re going to do immigration reform just like we did health care reform.”

Some people in attendance expressed frustration that reform has not happened more quickly, despite promising remarks from President Barack Obama during the presidential campaign.

“Our vote must be respected in Washington, D.C.,” Gutierrez said, noting that Hispanics helped elect Obama.

“There are more people going to be deported and divided this year than in the last year of George Bush,” Gutierrez said. “That’s not why I went out to vote. I want to bring about comprehensive immigration reform, and it is time for the House and Senate to act and act immediately.”

The chairman of Reform for America, the organizer of the rally, said he, too, wanted action from Congress and the president.

“Immigrants are workers, taxpayers and citizens, and we want immigration reform and we want it now. We call upon our president to keep his promise,” he said.

In addition to the politicians, organized labor played a major part of the rally, with more than a half-dozen labor leaders speaking.

“We’re here because our immigration system is broken and we’ve got to fix it and we can’t wait,” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said.

Mirella Villagrana, 21, of Las Vegas, said she came to the rally to support immigration reform as a way to show appreciation for her parents, who were immigrants.

“We had opportunities because they brought us here. Now we want to give them a better opportunity,” she said. Her parents were able to get legal residency 15 years after they came to the United States, but they were the “lucky ones,” she said.

“Growing up watching our parents struggle, no one else should have to go through that,” she said.

Carlos Pereza, who came to Las Vegas from Los Angeles for the rally, immigrated to the United States from El Salvador and is now a naturalized citizen.

He said immigrants are just like other Americans.

“I crossed the border. That’s how it was. I cannot change that,” he said. “We came to America. We pay taxes. We buy houses and do all the those things. We even go to Starbucks and buy our lattes.”

His mother is a housekeeper, his stepfather a mechanic; his sisters are in college and his brother is a Marine on his third tour in Iraq, he said.

“That’s integration,” he said. “We speak English; yes, sometimes with an accent, but what else do we need to do for the ‘normal’ Americans to understand that we’re just like them?”

“We want the Senate and Congress to pass a bill about immigration reform and put it on Obama’s desk,” he said. “That’s all we want.”

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