Updated September 15, 2020 - 7:46 pm
California Sen. and Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris was in Las Vegas on Tuesday evening for a conversation with Latino leaders, advocates and workers focused on the effects of COVID-19 on working Latino families.
Harris was joined at Rafael Rivera Community Center in the east valley by five Las Vegas residents: Councilwoman Olivia Diaz; Eddie Ramos, who works in the engineering department at Caesars Palace and is a member of the local carpenters union; Astrid Silva, an immigrant rights activist and the executive director of Dream Big Nevada; Regina Simmons, a Mexican immigrant and owner of vegan Mexican restaurant Tacotarian; and Dulce Valencia, a “Dreamer” and activist who attends UNLV as a theater studies major.
Las Vegas and the Latino community have been hit especially hard by COVID-19 and the economic fallout from the pandemic. According to Nevada Biden for President, Latinos account for 1 in 4 local coronavirus cases, a greater share than that of any other racial or ethnic group in the Las Vegas Valley. In June 2020, unemployment for Latino workers hit 14.5%, and during the second quarter, Nevada’s Latino unemployment rate hit 30%.
At the event, Harris quickly took President Donald Trump to task for his response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We have a president in Donald Trump who has misled the American people, who has deceived the American people about the seriousness of the virus,” she said. “He knew it was airborne clearly when he was briefed on it in January.”
She then criticized Trump for holding a large, indoor, in-person rally on Sunday in Henderson, before also noting the president is seeking to end the Affordable Health Care Act and its protection for pre-existing conditions.
Harris said the 6 million American survivors of COVID-19 may have lung scarring or other long-term health issues that may qualify as these pre-existing conditions, saying those people may lose access to affordable health care if Trump gets his way.
Diaz discussed the hardship faced by the heavily Latino Ward 3 population. At one point, she grew tearful talking about receiving calls from residents who cannot pay rent or buy food for their families — who are “at the end of their rope.”
“For us Latinos, it’s about dignity and being able to provide for our families,” Diaz said. “And it’s been really, really tough because not everybody was included in the stimulus package. Not everybody got unemployment even though they worked hard every single day up to the shutdown.”
Diaz said residents, partners and local governments are ready to work to help themselves but need leadership at the head of the federal government.
Benefits, path to citizenship
Harris said she and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden would, if elected, extend unemployment benefits, offer free COVID-19 treatment and testing services to all regardless of immigration status, and expand paid family leave, sick leave and affordable child care for workers.
A pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants is a “day one priority” for Biden, she added.
Responding to concerns from Valencia, who is worried about job and graduate school prospects after graduation, Harris noted that Biden plans to make community college tuition free, as well as four-year public university education for households making less than $125,000 per year.
Valencia said many of her friends have had to take out loans to get through school and unemployment because of COVID-19, to which Harris responded that anyone who is making less than $125,000 at their first job out of college will also have student loans forgiven in a Biden administration.
Harris ended the 45-minute discussion by saying there are clear differences between Biden and Trump on most issues, and she urged Nevada voters to vote as early as possible.
She said Trump is trying to sow fear and distrust in many communities but particularly among immigrants, as well as trying to put up obstacles to keep people from voting.
“Because he knows that when people vote, things change,” Harris said. “And so let that be a reminder to us about the power of our vote. It’s so powerful that some people will put in place all these obstacles to prevent us from voting. So my last point is don’t ever let anybody take your power from you.”
The visit is Harris’ first since accepting the nomination as former Vice President Joe Biden’s running mate. Biden has not visited Nevada since February.
In anticipation of Harris’ visit, former Attorney General Adam Laxalt, a co-chairman of Trump’s re-election campaign, criticized Harris.
“The selection of Sen. Harris is more consequentially poor for Biden in Nevada than anywhere else,” Laxalt said. “Nevada has the closest look at the fleeing Californians who can’t live there anymore. This very close swing state does not want Nevada to have rolling blackouts, increased crime and homelessness, massive taxes, virtually no Second Amendment, decriminalization of pedophilia and sanctuary cities that Harris and California represent.”