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September 1, 2014

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Coalition pressing Joe Heck for action on immigration reform, which he says he has taken

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Leila Navidi

U.S. Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev. speaks during a Town Hall at Windmill Library in Las Vegas on Tuesday, July 2, 2013.

Left-leaning political advocacy groups have been campaigning for Nevadans to give Republican Rep. Joe Heck a mouthful. The question is whether they’re wasting their time.

Members and volunteers of a coalition called the Cost of Inaction are walking the streets, talking to voters, running advertisements, sending press releases, holding prayer vigils outside Heck’s office, and generally doing everything and anything they can to get people to tell him to support an immigration bill.

They say Heck isn’t doing enough, but Heck says he’s done plenty in Congress when it comes to immigration.

House Resolution 15 would give people in the United States illegally a pathway to citizenship, expand border security measures and reform the nation’s visa system.

“We need everyone’s voice in Congressional District 3 to convince Joe Heck to take action,” Anthony DeAngelo, communications director at the Nevada AFL-CIO, said to a group of volunteer canvassers last weekend. “We’re asking him to take action so we can actually solve the problem.”

One of those volunteers was David Faris, a member of the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades. Faris walked around a Henderson neighborhood last weekend knocking on doors and talking to anyone who answered about immigration reform.

He told one woman that “it just takes five minutes to make one call and to tell him (Heck) you’re for immigration.”

DeAngelo said Heck hasn’t taken enough action to advocate for an issue that concerns his constituents.

Heck represents the southernmost part of Nevada in Congress. Polls show the 3rd Congressional District’s large Asian and Hispanic communities want to see an immigration reform pass through Congress.

But he hasn’t signed on to the Democrats’ immigration bill, spurring the canvassing campaign in which volunteers urge voters to call Heck and tell him to “support the common-sense immigration reform proposal” that Republicans and Democrats passed in the Senate and that Democrats introduced in the House.

Yet, for all the ruckus, Heck has consistently said he supports a pathway to citizenship and wants to see the nation’s immigration system overhauled.

“The pathway laid out in the Senate bill is a reasonable approach,” he said. “I’m not sure how much clearer I can be on where I am on immigration reform. I’ve met with the stakeholders across the board, whether they were activists, union, business. They know how I am trying to work the issue.”

He said he likely he won’t sign on to the Democrats’ House bill like immigration reform advocates want because it includes elements he does not support.

Instead, he said that a series of smaller bills addressing visas, border security, a pathway to citizenship and employment law would allow legislators to thoroughly and appropriately vet each aspect of what’s contained in the Democrats’ single, large bill.

“You can get to comprehensive reform without having a comprehensive bill,” he said.

To that end, Republican legislators have introduced four smaller bills related to immigration. Heck is working on another one that would allow people in the United States who were illegally brought to America as children to gain legal status, a new version of the so-called Dream Act that has languished in Congress for a dozen years.

Heck said House Republicans also are developing a bill that will give those in the country illegally a pathway to citizenship.

That proposal, he admits, will be the most controversial.

“It’ll be most likely the most difficult debate,” he said.

Heck’s statements of support are not sufficient in quieting critics, DeAngelo said.

“What we need is not just statements,” he said. “It’s action.”

DeAngelo and the AFL-CIO of Nevada are part of Cost of Inaction, a coalition that includes Mi Familia Vota, the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, the Service Employees International Union, Dream Big Vegas and other organizations.

Democrats have also called on Heck to sponsor the Democrats’ bill in the House.

Both Rep. Steven Horsford, D-Nev., and Erin Bilbray, who is running against Heck in 2014, have publicly called on Heck to sign the bill.

“Joe Heck can say what he likes, but the fact is that he opposes comprehensive immigration reform that has passed the U.S. Senate with bipartisan support,” Bilbray wrote in an email to supporters last week. “I’ve called on Joe Heck to sign on to the bill, but he refuses. Instead, Joe Heck continues to do nothing in a do-nothing Congress.”

Heck said the campaign is all about partisan politicking.

“The idea that Joe Heck is the obstacle to immigration reform is truly disingenuous because there’s probably no one working harder to bring this to fruition,” he said of himself.

Regardless of his position, it might make for good politics to maintain pressure on Heck, whose district in Henderson, Las Vegas and Boulder City is one that Democrats are eyeing in the 2014 election.

That’s Heck’s theory, even if he is the target.

“Obviously, Congressional District 3 is a very targeted race next year,” Heck said, “and they’re looking to define a narrative that they can use moving into the election cycle.”

He said he’s met with individuals involved in the Cost of Inaction group and has even consulted with some of them as he’s crafted his Dream Act proposal.

He’s called out his own Republican leaders in the House of Representatives, telling them they should bring up immigration bills for a vote before the year ends.

Bilbray says that’s not enough, but there’s only so much a Congressman can do to pass a bill.

Heck isn’t the chairman of a committee that considers immigration bills.

He’s not in a leadership position; Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, controls what gets brought up for a vote. And Boehner has said it’s unlikely that anything related to immigration will get done in 2013.

“My signing on to the (Democrats’) bill will not miraculously break the logjam and bring the bill to the floor (for a vote),” Heck said.

Instead, he said he’s pushing to bring Republican immigration bills up for votes “as soon as practicably possible.”

But nobody knows whether Congress can actually pass immigration legislation that President Barack Obama will sign into law.

Congress moves slowly, and the clock is ticking.

“This Congress goes until Dec. 31, 2014,” Heck said. “So, you know, are we moving at a pace at which I am comfortable? No, we’re not.”

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