The message from the audience was clear during Monday’s Congressional Ad-Hoc Hearing on Immigration in North Las Vegas: Stop breaking families apart.
“I’m the voice of hundreds of kids being affected by immigration laws,” said 20-year-old Bryan Rivera, whose mother, a victim of domestic violence, has been detained for having a prior deportation order. “My home has not felt like home in the last three weeks.”
Rivera testified during the hearing organized by Rep. Steve Horsford, D-Nev., Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., and Rep. Ruben Hinojosa, D-Texas, and held at North Las Vegas City Hall. The room has a capacity for 344 people and was almost full. The audience included state lawmakers, advocates and people who wanted their personal stories to be heard.
Testimony came from representatives with the American Civil Liberties Union, the local chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas’ Law Clinic. Bishop Joseph Pepe of the Catholic Diocese of Las Vegas and families affected by detainment and deportation also spoke.
The hearing was held to explore detention and immigration issues as well as to fuel a call for comprehensive immigration reform. The hearing was timely, given last week’s meeting that Hinojosa, chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and Gutierrez, among other Democratic leaders, had with President Barack Obama.
Gutierrez said he asked Obama to extend the same benefits offered to young undocumented immigrants, known as Dreamers, to their parents as well. But Obama said he had already done everything for them within his power.
However, the president did call for all U.S. deportation practices to be reviewed and for top immigration officials to find more humane ways to handle deportations.
“That is a victory of our community,” Gutierrez said.
On Wednesday, Gutierrez will meet with officials at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and he promised Rivera he would share his mother’s story.
“And your mom should come back to you,” he told Rivera.
In fiscal year 2012, there were 478,000 people detained in 200 facilities across the country at a cost of $2 billion, said Ruthie Epstein, a legislative policy analyst with the American Civil Liberties Union.
The average number of inmates on immigration holds at the Henderson Detention Center over the last seven days, was 175, according to a public records request by the Review-Journal. But that’s just one of the local facilities contracted by the federal government to detain those placed on immigration holds.
Horsford, whose mother came to the U.S. from Trinidad in 1970, said he hopes events like Monday’s hearing will lead to comprehensive immigration reform.
The broken immigration system needs to be fixed, he said. “We need to put pressure until we get a vote.”
Anna Ledesma, 24, who came to the U.S. from the Philippines in 1997, said she attended the event to advance the cause of comprehensive immigration reform.
Ledesma, who has no criminal record, was detained in August 2011 while vacationing in San Diego.
Reporter Yesenia Amaro can be reached at email@example.com or 702-383-0440.