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November 24, 2014

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Immigration-reform supporters push forward, even as budget battle pushes issue to back burner

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Karoun Demirjian

Astrid Silva, an activist with PLAN and a Nevada immigrant with deferred action status, chants pro-immigration slogans at a demonstration at the Longworth House Office Building in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, July 31, 2013.

Local Faces of Immigration

Dreamer Blanca Gamez speaks during a news conference calling for immigration reform at the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada (PLAN) offices in downtown Las Vegas Monday, Jan. 28, 2013. Launch slideshow »

Immigration Reform Demonstration

Martin Martinez, who is fighting for a petition for residency in the United States, stands with a large group of protesters in front of a local ICE office demanding action on immigration reform, Wednesday April 10, 2013. Launch slideshow »

The dry-erase board in the conference room of Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada’s downtown Las Vegas office has numbers scrawled all over it.

There is “218” for the number of representatives in the U.S. House needed to pass a bill, and “26” for the number of GOP House members that have supported an immigration-reform plan that includes a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million people living in the country without authorization. There are also the dates of upcoming rallies and events, Oct. 5 and Oct. 8.

On Saturday, immigration-reform proponents in Nevada will join at least 40 other states in a “national day of dignity and respect.” On Tuesday, a rally and concert in Washington, D.C., are scheduled with corresponding actions around the country, including Las Vegas.

Also stuck to the dry-erase board in the PLAN conference room is a poster with pictures of Nevada’s four House delegation members glued to it. During a strategy meeting Wednesday, Rep. Joe Heck’s picture was being particularly troublesome, peeling away from the poster board at the edges.

Astrid Silva, immigration reform advocate and recipient of deferred action for childhood arrivals, pushed against the photo with her palm. “Joe just won’t stick,” Silva huffed.

The people gathered laughed at the scene, but it was symbolic of the immigration movement’s tenuous momentum on Capitol Hill. A few months ago, immigration was atop most federal lawmakers’ agenda, but a budget standoff and looming debt-ceiling showdown have stolen the spotlight for lawmakers and the public.

The PLAN activists waste no time with pessimism. Instead, they’re putting their heads down and pushing forward with singular focus. They have been emboldened by volunteer ranks that continue to grow and signs from some legislators that they will not let the issue die.

House Democrats, including Nevada Reps. Steven Horsford and Dina Titus, introduced an immigration-reform bill Wednesday that relies heavily on a framework established in a Senate bill passed in June.

The 26 Republican House members who have endorsed a pathway to citizenship include Heck and Rep. Mark Amodei, who told the Las Vegas Sun they still hope to get a reform package passed in the coming months.

Just like they will not let his picture escape from their poster, Silva and the other local reform proponents will make sure Heck and other legislators keep their word. Volunteers from PLAN were organizing a trip to the congressman’s Henderson office today to share stories from immigrants in the community.

“People are starting to pressure (Congress) more and more,” Silva said. “Some people say the movement has plateaued. I think if anything, people are starting to come out more. Every event we have, we see more interest and participation. … I don’t think the pressure is on the end of this calendar year; the pressure is on every single day. Eleven hundred people are deported every single day in the country. These are people with families … people who would probably qualify for (legal residency under reform).”

On Wednesday, four new volunteers turned out at the PLAN office. Andrea Gonzalez, 22, had steered clear of joining any group or activity until she received her work permit under deferred action in March.

“I do regret not volunteering sooner,” she said. “I was so scared before of doing anything, because I didn’t want to get deported. I was never involved in sports or clubs in high school because I was so scared.”

Gonzalez has her driver’s license and is a semester away from a degree in business administration from College of Southern Nevada. She next plans to move on to UNLV. Now she wants the same relief for her parents, who, in 2006, brought her and her two brothers to the United States from El Salvador.

As part of the day of action, there will be volunteer training and a screening of a film about immigrant life in the United States at 3 p.m. at the Culinary Union offices, 1630 S. Commerce St. At noon, there will be a prayer vigil at Hermandad Mexicana, 2915 W. Charleston. Also, Mi Familia Vota will conduct a day-laborer appreciation event at 7 p.m. at Star Nursery, 8725 S. Eastern Ave.

Events are planned for Tuesday, too, but a schedule has not yet been released.

Capitol Hill pundits predict the Democratic bill in the House will never come to a vote, and midterm elections could further complicate the political math as November 2014 creeps closer. For advocates on the ground, the only option is to keep pressing.

“I try not to get caught up in Beltway journalism and pontificating, the sportscaster-type debates,” said Laura Martin, PLAN’s communications director. “I never thought health care reform would pass, especially as quickly as it did. There have been a lot of miracles that have happened on Christmas in the capital. I hope it doesn’t take that long, but I just know that we have to keep pressure on our members of Congress and make them make a choice. What’s more important to you? Doing what your leadership says, or doing what your constituents want?”

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