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November 22, 2014

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Q&A: Immigration activist Leo Murrieta on stalled push for reform

Immigration reform took a backseat role during the Syrian crisis and the government shutdown, but now legislators want to push the issue into the spotlight again.

Nevada’s legislative delegation may play a prominent role in making that happen.

“How about we do immigration?” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Wednesday night. “I look forward to the next venture, making sure we get immigration done.”

The Senate passed a comprehensive immigration reform bill last June by a vote of 68 to 32. The House has been considering a series of its own measures, Rep. Mark Amodei, R-Nev., and Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev., have also said they want to introduce bills addressing pathways to citizenship for immigrants without legal authorization to be here.

But it’s unclear if Congress can join together to pass a bill that President Barack Obama will sign into law.

Leo Murrieta, national field director for Mi Familia Vota, has been traveling the country to advocate for passage an immigration reform bill. The 27-year-old has spoken to members of Congress throughout the United States.

The Sun chatted with Murrieta last week to hear his thoughts about what the legislation and the chances that it will pass.

This Congress has ‘til the end of the year 2014 to finish its business. Is there any way this gets done? I know it might sound like all the time in the world, but at the pace that Congress is moving, you’re lucky if they do anything. What’re your hopes?

We’re not done. The August (Congressional) recess didn’t knock us off our game. Syria didn’t knock us off our game. The (government) shutdown didn’t knock us off our game.

This is not a losing battle. The majority of Americans believe that this is the right thing to do.

This is a winning issue and although there’s a lot of gridlock in Washington, we passed a Senate bill with 68 votes.

What is the compromise we are going to see?

Citizenship is the answer. We are not looking to relegate an entire generation of people to second-class status...We’re looking for an earned path to citizenship that will keep our families together and will protect workers’ rights from being exploited. ...These are things we cannot compromise on.

We have over 25, 26 Republicans who came out for support of immigration reform and citizenship. Where we are now, this is the last leg of the race. We’re looking for the people who said ‘yes’ before to say ‘yes’ now.

You travel all around as field director. What’re you seeing on the ground? Is there some disenchantment?

You would think that people are demoralized and we have lost momentum .. but now more than ever people are amped up and ready to go. Momentum is building. We’re not going to take no for an answer.

I don’t want to be the one to try to throw cold water on this, but this came up when George Bush was president in 2006, 2007, didn’t go anywhere. It was a campaign issue and Obama said this is important, didn’t go anywhere, so why is this time different?

In 2006, everyone took to the streets. We marched. We did vigils. We did pickets. But we didn’t have the political strength we have now. Latinos weren’t the decisive vote in those elections in 2006 and they weren’t gigantic numbers in 2008. ...Last year we were almost 10 percent of the national electorate. The Latino vote last year was a referendum on Congress.

There are people out there who will say, ok, this is amnesty, this is actually rewarding someone who broke the law and therefore it shouldn’t be done; kick them all out; make them self-deport. How do you address those concerns?

Their concerns are valid but they’re misplaced. We’re not asking for amnesty; we’re asking for an earned path to citizenship. We’re asking for folks to get in the back of the line but for that line to get fixed.

We’re asking folks to learn English, pay back taxes, pass a background check, and prove that they want to be here. That’s what we’re asking for. Nobody is asking for a free ride or a free lunch.

Why can’t we just give them a legal status? From your viewpoint, as somebody who actually has attained citizenship, why is citizenship important?

Jan. 23 in 2010 at about 2:30 in the afternoon, that’s when my life changed. That is the exact moment when I became an American citizen. I looked at the clock and it was 2:30, and I registered to vote. It was the most incredible experience. Then five months later, being able to vote for the first time, I voted in the primaries.

And then this past year I got to vote for President the first time. I voted with my mother. I was a hot mess… it was an amazing experience, and that’s what I want for everyone who is willing to work hard, get in the back of the line, and pass a background check.

In the House of Representatives, where there hasn’t yet been a vote on immigration reform, how do you get Speaker John Boehner to bring up a bill with a pathway to citizenship?

Nobody said this was going to be easy. We have enough Republican votes to pass this bill. We have enough Republican votes for citizenship. That’s all we want. Take it to conference. We will make this happen.

You have Democrats and conservative Republicans coming out in support of it. This is big, and the momentum behind it is too big to fail.

To hear the full interview, listen to this archive of the Neon Eden podcast produced in partnership between the Sun and KUNV 91.5.

Sun reporter Tovin Lapan contributed to this report.

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