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Staged immigration theater: Notified, protested, cited and reported

As political theater, a staged protest outside U.S. Rep. Joe Heck’s office went exactly as planned.

Five pro-immigration activists were cited for trespassing after giving police advance notice of their act of “civil disobedience” as part of a nationwide effort to boost pressure on Congress to pass immigration reform this year.

“Being arrested is a small price to pay compared to what immigrants across Nevada must give up while dealing with our broken immigration system,” Laura Martin, communications director for the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, said in a statement after she was cited. “Congressman Heck likes to say he is the hardest working member of Congress when it comes to immigration reform, now it’s time to prove it by demanding a vote and do everything within his power to make it happen. We’ve had enough of House inaction.”

Heck’s office cried foul over the protest, saying the congressman has met several times with the activists, including some who were cited. Heck wasn’t in his district office Wednesday when 30 to 40 protesters crowded into the building.

“Joe Heck will not be bullied into amnesty!” said a headline in a fundraising email Heck’s office put out later that day.

Heck blamed his Democratic congressional opponent, “Erin Bilbray and her liberal activist friends,” for the demonstration.

Despite the protesters’ complaints, Heck openly and frequently has expressed frustration at House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, for not bringing immigration bills to the floor for a vote.

Heck has said he supports reforming the system, which has allowed 11 million undocumented immigrants to live in the United States illegally. He has said he wants to shore up the borders, streamline the visa process and get rid of red tape so illegal immigrants can one day get right with the law and even seek U.S. citizenship after paying back taxes and penalties.

“Congressman Heck has continually expressed his support for enacting real solutions to fix our nation’s broken immigration system,” Heck spokesman Greg Lemon said. “He has pressed his own leadership to bring bills to the floor for debate and a vote. He is hopeful the House will take up this important issue this year.”

But being hopeful isn’t good enough for immigration activists, who have seen promises to reform the system — from Republicans and Democrats alike — die quiet deaths over the years.

Now, there’s a window of opportunity to act before President Barack Obama takes executive action on his own by Aug. 1, according to U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., who notes that the Senate he runs passed an omnibus immigration bill a year ago. Obama could halt or slow deportations, for example, after deporting more than 2 million illegal immigrants so far.

Wednesday’s protest was part of an effort to turn up the heat. Similar protests were held in more than two dozen other states, targeting Republicans like Heck.

The protests and plans to get cited were choreographed carefully, according to Chuck Callaway, director of the office of intergovernmental services at the Metropolitan Police Department.

Protest organizers reached out to Metro to tell police they planned to protest and “do a stand-in inside the office,” Callaway said, with the apparent goal to get thrown out and arrested.

Metro informed Heck’s office “to make sure that everything happened peacefully,” Callaway said.

Police told Heck’s staff they would have officers nearby and to call if the protesters refused to leave.

They refused. Police were called. And five activists were cited with misdemeanor trespassing.

Callaway said this is typical of organizations, including unions, who want a headline-worthy show of protest without harming anyone or causing any real trouble. “It’s a win-win,” he said.

“They were escorted out of the building without any kind of problems,” Callaway said.

— Laura Myers

UNTWEETING ON BERGDAHL

Faces were a bit red in the office of Rep. Mark Amodei, R-Nev., after a message was posted to the lawmaker’s Twitter account last weekend welcoming the return of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl but then deleted 15 hours later.

“Best news I’ve heard in a long time #standwithbowe,” the @MarkAmodeiNV2 site said at 7:19 p.m. May 31, linking to a USA Today story as news was breaking of the captured soldier’s release.

But the tweet was taken down at 10:19 am June 1 by someone using their iPhone. The discarded message was captured by Politwoops, a tool of the good-government Sunlight Foundation that tracks the deleted tweets of members of Congress.

Amodei was not the only lawmaker whose tweets got ahead of the full story, which included a controversial swap of five captured Taliban leaders for Bergdahl, questions whether the soldier had deserted his unit and charges the Obama administration kept Congress in the dark about the exchange that was sure not to go over well in many quarters.

Bloggers picked up on the deleted tweets. Melanie Killinger-Vowell of Colorado wrote that Amodei obviously “didn’t get the memo” about how Republicans “should be really, really mad at President Obama for rescuing Bowe Bergdahl.”

While insisting there was nothing conspiratorial about the deletion, Amodei’s staff admitted an unforced error. Spokesman Brian Baluta said he heard the initial Bergdahl news in passing and quickly dashed off the tweet without talking to Amodei. He said he deleted it when emerging details indicated the matter was more complicated.

“I took it down when the story became bigger than 140 characters,” Baluta said.

Amodei later told reporters he favored Bergdahl’s release, but the episode raised questions about Obama’s consistency on defense and foreign policy.

At least five other lawmakers or candidates deleted Bergdahl tweets, including a Democrat, Rep. Stephen Lynch of Massachusetts, according to the Washington Post.

Rep. Lee Terry, R-Neb., issued a press release calling Bergdahl a “national hero,” then removed it from his website.

— Steve Tetreault

LIQUOR RECEIPT OR NOT?

Police Capt. Shawn Anderson is becoming a fixture at Las Vegas City Council meetings, providing guidance to the council members struggling to improve Fremont Street by working with police.

One challenge the council has is how to balance a proposed ban on open liquor containers of glass and metal without denying someone the right to buy packaged liquor and take it to their room.

This weighty issue mandating plastic cups was discussed for far too long Wednesday before being sent back to the council’s recommending committee.

Mayor Carolyn Goodman was insistent that she wanted packaged liquor put in a sealed bag and have the receipt attached, like they do with prescriptions. And she wasn’t giving. “That would be a visual police can see from 10 feet away,” she said.

Treading carefully, Anderson said, “The placement inside the bag is easy for us to enforce. I’m not sure the receipt helps so much.”

Councilman Ricki Barlow said he was concerned about over-legislating with Goodman’s idea.

Councilman Bob Beers saw no need to attach the receipt, adding, “Anything we do beyond what they (police) need is going to complicate things.”

Councilman Bob Coffin noted their previous limit on permits for new package liquor stores already has landed them in federal court.

But Goodman wouldn’t yield. The bill was sent back for another amendment so that packaged liquor will be in a bag with a receipt stapled to it.

Meanwhile, attorney Allen Lichtenstein said the open container ban “isn’t going to resolve anything. You can put the bag in your pocket or a parcel. It’s so easy to get around that.”

The receipt issue will surface again June 16. Hold your breath.

— Jane Ann Morrison

GOOD GUY RETIRES

Bill Gang’s retirement as public information officer for the Nevada Supreme Court was marked Thursday by pizza, cake and a glowing commendation presented by Chief District Court Judge Jennifer Togliatti. She noted he was “a man of integrity” who was trusted by people and “who worked really hard.”

She reminded the audience he previously had been a Las Vegas Sun reporter for 18 years and had been fair in his reporting, without going into a story with preconceived notions. And she praised his “great humor and irreverent spirit.”

And it was all true. Unlike some commendations.

— Jane Ann Morrison

Contact Laura Myers at lmyers@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2919. Find her on Twitter: @lmyerslvrj. Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at stetreault@stephensmedia.com or 202-783-1760. Find him on Twitter: @STetreaultDC. Contact Jane Ann Morrison at jmorrison@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0275.

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