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Female fasters rally for immigration reform outside Rep. Joe Heck’s office in Henderson

A half dozen female fasters who want Congress to act on comprehensive immigration reform on Monday protested in front of the Henderson office of U.S. Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev.

The small demonstration is part of a nationwide effort with women across the country pressuring the GOP, especially lawmakers in competitive districts, to update the law so that the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States might be able to legally live here and perhaps one day become U.S. citizens.

The protesters plan to hold an April demonstration in Washington. Emily Ross, one of the fasters and a spokeswoman for Immigration Reform for Nevada, said she hopes Heck could act as “a bridge” between Republicans like him who want immigration reform and Democrats, who are pushing for more comprehensive legislation.

“Both sides know it needs to happen,” Ross said of reform. “But they have totally different viewpoints.”

Vanessa Becerra-Bautista, another faster, said she talked this past week with Heck about immigration reform when they both attended an event to help homeless veterans.

“I told him my story,” she said, noting she wasn’t able to get college scholarships because she was undocumented and so worked two jobs.

Now 27, she said she is living legally here and is studying for her master’s degree.

“He listened to me,” she said but added she doesn’t know whether he will be an ally on immigration. “I don’t know. I kind of got mixed messages.”

The fasters were going without food for 24 hours. They were allowed to drink, however.

Heck spokesman Greg Lemon said the congressman “respects and appreciates input from his constituents on the issue of immigration reform.”

“As he has previously stated, he wants the House to move forward on advancing immigration reform legislation that will fix our broken immigration system,” Lemon added.

Heck represents the 3rd Congressional District in Southern Nevada, including Henderson and Boulder City. He is running for re-election to a third term.

His main Democratic opponent is Erin Bilbray, a political consultant backed by U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev. Bilbray supports comprehensive immigration reform.

Heck has said he favors immigration reform and has drafted some ideas after meeting with members of the Hispanic community. But many of his GOP colleagues in the House have blocked efforts to approve immigration reform, especially in an election year when the divisive issue becomes fodder for political opponents. The Senate has passed a comprehensive immigration bill.

Olamide Noah, a spokeswoman for the fasting campaign, said a 2013 poll by NBC News and The Wall Street Journal showed that female voters overwhelmingly support immigration reform.

Some 67 percent of women said they would favor immigration reform, and 31 percent opposed the idea, the April survey showed. Men also favored immigration reform, 60 percent to 38 percent.

When told that a pathway to citizenship would involve paying a fine, any back taxes, passing a security background check and taking other measures, men and women favored immigration reform at about the same level: 78 percent of women compared with 74 percent of men, according to the poll. The margin of error was about 4.5 percentage points.

“Nevada’s 3rd congressional district is a priority for this campaign because the women vote could determine the outcome in 2014,” Noah said.

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

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