Immigration reform supporters rally

Immigration reform advocates gathered Thursday to applaud a judge's decision to block the most controversial sections of an Arizona immigration law.

They also reminded candidates running for office in Nevada: Hispanic voters have plenty of political muscle and plan to flex it come November.

"We have instructed our congregation to be careful who they vote for," the Rev. Joel Menchaca said during a morning news conference at his church, Amistad Cristiana on Stewart Avenue at Ninth Street. "We must search for the better candidates" -- those who support comprehensive immigration reform with a path to citizenship.

Menchaca joined representatives from several liberal advocacy groups in pledging to mobilize Hispanic voters to support such candidates.

"We will be voting this November and we will not support laws similar" to Arizona's, said Alicia Estrada, Nevada state director of Democracia Ahora.

A U.S. District judge delayed the most contentious provisions of Arizona's new law Wednesday, including the section that required officers to check a person's immigration status while enforcing other laws. The law was set to take effect Thursday.

Ana Angeles, a U.S. citizen, moved to Southern Nevada from Arizona two weeks ago to get away from the racially charged atmosphere the law's passage created, she said.

"A law that infringes on anyone's human rights is unjust," Angeles said Thursday at the church. "This law is racist in nature."

Angeles said family members who remained in Arizona were celebrating the judge's decision but were still worried about what the future might hold. She encouraged Nevadans to support candidates who would fight the creation of any such laws here.

"Let them hear your voice," she said. "It's very hard to live in fear."

If Hispanics come out in force and vote as a bloc this November, they could potentially be even more influential than they were during the 2008 elections, said David Damore, a political science professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

"There was some disillusionment (among Hispanic voters) until this happened in Arizona," Damore said. "This galvanized them."

Nevada Hispanics made up about 15 percent of the electorate in 2008 and overwhelmingly supported Barack Obama for president. They could potentially have a greater impact this year because overall turnout will be lower, Damore said.

But the immigration issue also could galvanize voters who view comprehensive immigration reform with a path to citizenship as "amnesty," and who would turn out to support candidates who have pledged a tougher approach, Damore said.

"It cuts both ways," he said.

And many immigration reform advocates have expressed frustration with Democrats, foremost among them U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, for failing to move comprehensive immigration reform forward this year.

Meanwhile, Democrats blame Republicans for stalling reform.

"You hear from Republican senators who talk a lot about border security but block any legislation that would be fair to taxpayers and tough on lawbreakers," Jon Summers, a spokesman for Reid, said Thursday. "Senator Reid has been working hard for some time to pass comprehensive immigration reform that secures our borders and requires 12 million people to get right with the law."

Republican Sharron Angle, Reid's opponent in this year's U.S. Senate race, issued a statement Wednesday calling the judge's ruling in Arizona "an absolute outrage."

"Harry Reid and the Democrats in Washington have failed to secure America's borders, refused to enforce federal laws, and neglected to address one of the most serious problems facing our country," Angle said in the statement.

Nevada Republican gubernatorial candidate Brian Sandoval angered Hispanic voters earlier this year when he came out in support of the Arizona law. He still supports the law for Arizona, Mary-Sarah Kinner, a spokeswoman for Sandoval, said Thursday.

But Sandoval would "sit down with law enforcement groups and other stakeholders to see what might work here" before supporting the creation of a similar law in Nevada, Kinner said.

Sandoval also ruffled feathers with his reported response to a question about his support for the law from a Spanish-language television station.

Univision's local news director, Adriana Arevalo, wrote in a recent opinion piece for El Tiempo newspaper that, when asked how he would feel if his children were stopped in the street and asked for their papers, Sandoval replied, "My children don't look Hispanic."

In a statement Thursday, Sandoval said he doesn't remember saying that, "and it is most certainly not how I feel."

"If I did say those words, it was wrong and I sincerely regret it," he said. "I am proud of my heritage and my family."

If elected, Sandoval would be the first Hispanic governor of Nevada.

His opponent, Clark County Commissioner Rory Reid, a Democrat, has been opposed to the Arizona law and to bringing a similar law to Nevada all along, said Mike Trask, a Reid spokesman.

Rory Reid believes "that kind of law would not be good for Nevada," Trask said. "What's needed is comprehensive immigration reform at the federal level."

Contact reporter Lynnette Curtis at lcurtis@review