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December 18, 2014

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Protesters in Las Vegas rally against new Arizona immigration law

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Residents hold hands and pray at an immigration reform vigil in 2010 in protest of Arizona’s new immigration law.

Immigration reform candlelight vigil

Gloria Flores, 48, and Rick Erlich, 60, attend an immigration reform vigil Wednesday night in protest of Arizona's new immigration law. Launch slideshow »

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A group of about 30 people attended a candlelight vigil Wednesday night in front of the Las Vegas field office of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to protest Arizona’s new immigration law.

A bill signed by Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer makes it a crime under state law to be in the U.S. illegally and requires police to question people about their immigrant status if they suspect they are here illegally. The bill goes into effect 90 days after the current legislative session ends in the next couple weeks.

Members of Reform Immigration for America and the Service Employees International Union participated in the vigil. Michael Flores, state director of Reform Immigration for America, led the vigil and said more people wanted to attend but were afraid.

At a press conference Monday, Flores said the Arizona law will deter illegal immigrants from seeking citizenship for fear that they might be deported.

“The Civil Rights movement didn’t happen overnight,” Flores said. “The reason why the Civil Rights movement and the tearing down of the Berlin Wall were so successful was because people sacrificed.”

Those in attendance Wednesday night wore T-shirts and held signs advocating immigration reform.

“America’s strength is in its diversity,” said Cheryl Bunch, 54, a resident of Las Vegas.

Earlier on Wednesday, Ira Mehlman, spokesman for Federation for American Immigration Reform and an advocate of the Arizona law, said the measure is controversial because it is carrying out duties the federal government has failed to do.

He said Arizona’s action “ought to provide some emphasis for the federal government to do its job.”

Illegal immigrants who agree to work for lower wages and enroll their children in public schools affect the lives of U.S. citizens, he said. Most of the people protesting the bill want amnesty, Mehlman said.

At the rally, Victor Espinoza, 50, said the bill targets anyone who is not white. “This is a racist law and we need to fight,” Espinoza said. “This is a time for unity; we must work together, because we have a common enemy.”

Fernando Romero said no one should have to walk around with a passport and birth certificate in their pocket everyday. “This is ludicrous and we shouldn’t allow this to happen,” he said.

SEIU President Al Martinez said the bill is unjust and will tear families apart.

Flores said Reform Immigration for America is asking for the passage of the Comprehensive Immigration Reform for America’s Security and Prosperity Act, which would place stricter sanctions on employers who hire illegal immigrants and encourage illegal immigrants to register for citizenship.

Gov. Jim Gibbons sent a letter to President Barack Obama on Monday asking for the enforcement of federal immigration laws because illegal immigrants are crossing the border and committing violent crimes.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid responded, saying Republicans have blocked attempts by Democrats to reform immigration.

But Mehlman said other states, such as California and Texas, might implement an immigration law similar to Arizona’s. “Other states will take a look at it, but not one size fits all,” Mehlman said.

Mehlman said half of the U.S.’s illegal immigrants enter the country through Arizona.

“Phoenix is the kidnapping capital of the U.S.,” he said. “It’s no question that an open border attracted criminal activity.”

Flores said on Monday that Nevada politicians and candidates who are in favor of the law should rethink their positions.

“We’re putting a call out to all of these elected officials that if you do pursue this legislation, you will not be elected or re-elected,” Flores said.

Reform Immigration for America has scheduled a march for Saturday in Las Vegas to protest the Arizona law. It will begin at 4:30 p.m. at the Commercial Center, 953 E. Sahara Ave., and end at the Lloyd D. George Federal Courthouse.

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