Immigrants are not the enemy
Immigration activist Astrid Silva is well aware that Nevada is at the center of our national anguish over immigrant rights. She knows this on a very personal level, as a “Dreamer,” brought to the United States by her parents in search of a better life when she was only 4.
Astrid’s life story was recounted by President Obama on national television a few days before he traveled to Las Vegas to sign the Executive Order expanding the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, to allow millions of undocumented parents an opportunity to keep their families together as they become eligible for legal status, an excruciatingly slow process. When the national media clamored for on-camera interviews with the telegenic, articulate young woman, Astrid told them her family was “relieved to know these aren’t our last holidays together.”
Comprehensive immigration reform has been stalled for years despite widespread agreement that something must be done to resolve the status of more than 11 million workers who live in the shadows, paying their taxes and working long hours for low pay. But there isn’t much hope for passage, given Republican control of both houses of Congress and an increasingly stubborn refusal to act.
Much of the activity involving immigrant rights is happening in the states with Nevada at the epicenter. According to the Pew Research Center, Nevada has the highest percentage of undocumented immigrants in the country—7.2 percent. Nevada also has the largest percentage of school children with at least one undocumented parent, a whopping 17.7 percent.
Immigrants have won some victories in Nevada in recent years. Last session, there was bipartisan collaboration to direct $50 million to fund programs for English language learners for the first time in the state’s history. These programs, operated through “zoom schools,” are demonstrating excellent outcomes, enabling children to build the skills they need to succeed. But the state’s looming budget hole and the anti-immigrant rhetoric that is emerging with the “red wave” that swept through Nevada this election cycle have placed that funding in jeopardy.
The unexpected ascension of Republicans to majority status in both the Assembly and Senate has already led to talk of repealing a law passed in 2013, allowing undocumented workers to obtain Driver Authorization Cards so they can legally drive and buy insurance. Nevada was the 10th state to enact such a law, issuing more than 22,000 cards this year.
There has also been discussion of allowing undocumented immigrants to obtain a teaching license in Nevada, but that bill may not get very far in 2015 given the dissension in the Republican ranks between the moderates and the Tea Party types. We might get a new version of the useless “English Only” bill instead.
Nevada’s newly elected Attorney General, Adam Laxalt, wasted no time jumping on the anti-immigrant Republican bandwagon, signing onto a joint statement from the Republican Attorneys General Association attacking the Executive Order before he was even sworn in to office, signaling a new approach to these issues from Nevada’s top law enforcement office.
Astrid’s voice will be more important than ever in the coming year to illustrate the need to work collaboratively to solve immigration issues. She is set to testify this week in Washington, before the Senate Judiciary Committee about the impact of the executive action on immigrant families. Her national exposure represents all we have to lose by treating Dreamers and their families as disposable workers whom we’re happy to exploit to harvest our fruit, clean our hotel rooms, and work in the kitchen while denying them the opportunity to become citizens.
President Obama said it best when he asked: “Are we a nation that kicks out a striving, hopeful immigrant like Astrid? Or are we a nation that finds a way to welcome her in?”