Thursday, June 27, 2013 | 5:44 p.m.
After the Senate voted Thursday afternoon to pass a sweeping immigration reform bill, the mood among immigration reform advocates in Las Vegas was one of tempered enthusiasm.
Another, likely much tougher, battle lies ahead for immigration reform in the GOP-led House of Representatives.
At the offices of the nonprofit immigrant legal services organization Hermandad Mexicana, volunteers from a coalition of organizations including the AFL-CIO Nevada, Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, Dream Big Vegas, Mi Familia Vota and others took a break from making phone calls and organizing letter-writing campaigns to watch the vote on C-SPAN.
With each “aye,” the volunteers counted 1, 2, 3 … 7, 8 until the final vote was in, 68 to 32. The group applauded loudly and cheered when Sen. Dean Heller, R–Nev., registered his vote in favor of the bill, and at the end when the final tally was announced. After a few speeches and pats on the back, it was back to work, making phone calls and passing out postcards for immigration reform supporters to sign and send to their representative.
“We definitely applaud this bipartisan bill, and the reality is that we wouldn’t have gotten this passed without the work of all these groups working together,” said Mi Familia Vota coordinator Marisol Montoya. “I’m really excited to see this pass through the Senate, but the fight is still in us. We’ll have to fight through the House because we will have more difficulties there. It gives us hope that both Sen. Reid and Sen. Heller voted for this bill.”
Local National Council of La Raza representative Fernando Romero said the path through the House will be rough, but he expressed optimism that the Republican members of Nevada’s house delegation, Mark Amodei and Joe Heck, would vote for the bill.
“I think all of our congressmen will vote in favor of it,” Romero said. “I spoke to Congressman Heck before on the issue. He told me he is open to it and does support it. He has yet to come out publicly and endorse it, but nevertheless, he’s mentioned to me that he does. I have not spoken to Congressman Amodei, but I’m assuming he will, as well. I know there is a long road ahead; we have 435 individuals now instead of 100.”
Many of those in attendance were pleased that Heller, after proposing amendments to the bill, including one that included Nevada on a border security committee, came out in support of the legislation. They are hoping for the same from Heck and Amodei, but many GOP members in the House of Representatives already have expressed their unwillingness to provide a path to citizenship for immigrants residing in the country illegally.
Many Republican lawmakers, especially in the House, fear a backlash from voters.
Dale Floyd, 68, a North Las Vegas resident, said he voted for Heller in the last election but would never do so again after Thursday’s vote. Floyd, a computer engineer who said he has been unemployed for 10 years, sees the bill as a series of measures designed to help special interest groups and big businesses.
“The corporations right now are trying to get cheap labor from oversees so that they can control them,” Floyd said. “They tell them to do something, and if they don’t do it, they can ship them out. So people like me who are qualified can’t even get an interview.”
Floyd agreed that a solution was needed but advocated for a piece-by-piece approach starting with border security.
“I have nothing against the people coming here,” he said. “If I lived in Mexico, I’d be looking for a better life for myself. I don’t blame them for coming here. I blame them for breaking our laws. Either we enforce the laws or we don’t. We can’t take in all the desperate people in the world. If I felt confident that we could stop the flow, we would enforce our laws and control our borders, I wouldn’t have any problems with a path to citizenship.”
Back at Hermandad Mexicana, the advocates who had been working furiously to push lawmakers to support the bill were ready to run with the momentum.
State Sen. Ruben Kihuen said the merits of the bill speak for themselves, and like Heller, he believed other Republican politicians who previously resisted reform efforts would get on board. The Senate legislation helps keep families together, will stimulate the economy, reduce the budget deficit and increase border security, Kihuen said. He pointed to a recent Congressional Budget Office report that predicted the bill would reduce the federal deficit by $300 billion by 2033.
“The hardest obstacle is yet to come in trying to get the bill through the House of Representatives,” Kihuen said. “Heller educated himself on the issue. He stepped away from the (Republican National Committee) talking points, and he started talking to families. He met with 30 to 40 Hispanic leaders recently. … He became educated on the issue, his opinions evolved, and he eventually led on the issue. Now, we have to do the same thing with Heck and Amodei.”