Obama to honor Nevada labor leader's immigration reform efforts

As President Barack Obama turns up his drive for comprehensive immigration reform, the White House today plans to honor a Nevada labor leader and 10 others for their work on the issue.

Yvanna Cancela, the political director for Culinary Local 226, is the only labor organizer on the list of this year’s Cesar Chavez Champions of Change honorees. The award is named after the late Hispanic co-founder of the United Farm Workers, a populist labor leader and civil rights activist.

Cancela works for Nevada’s largest union, representing about 55,000 members in the hotel-casino industry. The union’s forces — who are about 50 percent Hispanic — are vital election-year boots on the ground for Democratic candidates and helped Obama win Nevada in 2012 for his re-election.

This year, Cancela is leading a statewide effort organizing supporters for immigration reform, including a path to U.S. citizenship for the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States.

“The union has been a champion of immigration reform for at least a decade and a half,” Cancela said in an interview from Washington, D.C. “It seems like Republicans are more likely to compromise than they have been for at least the last 20 years and that’s promising. But I think it’s going to be a fight for a comprehensive package.”

A bipartisan group of senators is expected to introduce a bill in April, and the House also is working on a version. One big question is how long it may take for undocumented immigrants to achieve U.S. citizenship if they go to the back of the line and with increased border security the GOP wants.

Cancela said she hopes for a path that’s as fast as possible, which means the sometimes costly and labyrinthine process for applying must be fixed.

“For the labor movement as a whole, this is a top priority,” Cancela said, adding that the Culinary is an example of the diversity of the U.S. workforce. “We represent workers from 84 different counties. And that’s just a small picture of what happens all over the country, and we should embrace that.”

As for Obama, on Monday he called on Congress to show “political courage” and deliver him a bill he can sign.

“Everyone knows what’s broken, and everyone knows how to fix it,” Obama said in Washington.

Today’s ceremony is scheduled to start at 7 a.m. PDT. It can be viewed live at www.whitehouse.gov/live.

Contact Laura Myers at lmyers@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2919. Follow @lmyerslvrj on Twitter.