Nevadans don't embrace Arizona's immigration law

Editor's note: This report originally appeared in Friday's edition of El Tiempo, a Spanish-language newspaper published by Stephens Media.

Las Vegas activists and students blame voters and unkept promises for the Arizona immigration law that the U.S. Supreme Court rejected in part on Monday.

Astrid Silva, leader of the Dreamers of Nevada, said Arizona's immigration law, SB1070, "could have been avoided if the people of Arizona had voted for the candidates that supported our community. It is a perfect example of what our voice signifies."

In an interview with El Tiempo, Silva said there is much concern because, like the slogan states, "We are all Arizona."

She suggested "a similar law would not be favorable to Nevada, because we live from tourism, and the final message is that we vote for the candidates that support us."

Esmeralda Villeda, a student who has been active in defending undocumented students in Nevada, said the court's decision allows the community to take a step forward even though it upheld that part of the law that affects people by "how we look."

In its ruling, the Supreme Court upheld a requirement that police check the immigration status of people they suspect are in the country illegally.

Villeda's father and an aunt live in Arizona.

"Even though they are documented, they also prefer to stay home to avoid any confrontation with police because of their Hispanic appearance," she said.

Nelson Santiago, spokesman for Nevada Hispanics, a conservative Hispanic group, said he always has been against Arizona's immigration law.

"This would not be happening if President Obama had kept his promise of passing immigration reform," Santiago said. "This is the reason why there are these types of state laws."

He noted that "this law was born out of the absence of immigration reform."

Santiago said when Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano was governor of Arizona she recognized that immigration was a serious problem in her state and requested help.

"Then Governor Jan Brewer followed, and the problem continued, and she asked for help but was ignored. The people were upset because of this, and many ranchers asked their legislators for a state immigration law."

Santiago pointed out that President Barack Obama had a majority of Democrats in both houses of Congress during the first two years of his term and still there was no reform.

Nevertheless, he said, "I never liked the SB1070 law, because I don't agree with criminalizing undocumented immigrants. I reject that people are pursued because of their skin color or because they speak Spanish."

Santiago criticized Obama for not being a strong leader in the advancement of immigration reform.

He said Democrats, like Republicans, have not done enough to pass reform.

"We need to move the immigration topic away from politics; and if Mitt Romney promises immigration reform now, then the people should demand that he fulfill his promise until he does it, just like it's being done with Obama."

Santiago said the United States needs to secure its borders and other illegal immigrant issues can be negotiated.

He said immigration reform is urgent and asked for it to be depoliticized. "It's not easy and with politics it's worse."

Michael Flores, a Dream Act supporter and immigration reform activist, said the Supreme Court's ruling is an important step, because the justices rejected three sections of the Arizona law.

He said the final step is for Congress to reform federal laws.

He said when Arizona's governor signed SB1070 two years ago, the Hispanic community was afraid, including those in Nevada. The presence of Border Patrol agents at Las Vegas bus stations made many families stay in their homes.

Commenting on the Supreme Court's decision, Nevada state Sen. Ruben Kihuen noted the most controversial part of Arizona's law remained.

"What the court guaranteed can be replicated in other states with politicians that support this law, like Mitt Romney, Marco Rubio and Dean Heller, who have said that this is a model for the rest of the country, and that's not right."

Kihuen said similar proposals have been considered by the Nevada Legislature but have not passed.

Kihuen emphasized that his work as a legislator is to find more employment options, improve the educational system, and help insure those without health insurance.

For Dane S. Claussen, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Nevada, the court's decision allows other states to promote similar laws that authorize police to pursue immigrants simply on racial profiling.

"They will say that they want to help the federal government resolve the immigration problem through agreements with local police and state governments applying laws such as SB1070 and the 287-G," Claussen said.

"This is sad because the Constitution says that immigration should be handled by the federal government. It is a bad precedent."

This story was translated from Spanish by Maite Salazar.


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