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Dozens rally, saying now is the time for immigration reform

Immigration Reform Rally March 30, 2013

Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

Supporters applaud during a rally in support of immigration reform Saturday, March 30, 2013.

Immigration Reform Rally March 30, 2013

Sen. Ruben Kihuen speaks during a rally in support of immigration reform Saturday, March 30, 2013. Launch slideshow »

As Carla Hernandez prepared to enter her senior year at Desert Pines High School, she worried that her education would come to a halt when she graduated.

Hernandez, who entered the country illegally with her family when she was a small child, dreamed of being a nurse but couldn’t qualify for financial aid or scholarships for college because of her residency status.

Her family considered sending her to Mexico, a country Hernandez said she has no memory of, in order to further her education.

Now only a few months from graduation, Hernandez proudly states that she’ll be studying nursing at the College of Southern Nevada next year after receiving a work permit and Social Security card through the federal deferred action program.

“This is my home,” Hernandez told a crowd of more than 40 cheering supporters Saturday. “I’m on the pathway to completing my dream.”

Hernandez and others gathered Saturday at the downtown offices of the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada to rally support for immigration reform, which is expected to be a hot topic of national debate in the coming months.

The crowd crossed ethnic and generational lines, featuring about 15 students from Desert Pines High School, several Clark County School District teachers, political leaders and other community activists.

The group took to the streets around noon Saturday, waving signs and chanting “Now is the time” as they marched a few blocks down Las Vegas Boulevard to the front of the Lloyd George Federal Building.

The demonstration was one of many held across the country as part of a national day of action meant to raise awareness about immigration reform.

Within the next few weeks, comprehensive immigration legislation is expected to be introduced in the U.S. Senate that would secure the border, improve the immigration system and provide a pathway to citizenship for millions of immigrants living in the country after entering illegally.

Addressing Las Vegas activists Saturday, State Sen. Ruben Kihuen compared the immigration reform effort to the civil rights movement in the 1960s and the fight for marriage equality, which last week made its way to the United States Supreme Court.

“Immigration issues and Latino issues are everybody’s issues. They impact all of us,” Kihuen said. “There are millions of people all across America who come here and work hard ... contribute to our economy and deserve an opportunity.”

Kihuen urged the crowd to stay active by contacting their elected officials to urge them to support immigration reform. He also encouraged people to make their voices heard by showing up at legislative hearings in Carson City or at the Grant Sawyer building in Las Vegas.

“If Nevadans show up to the Legislature en masse, it will send a strong message that they care,” Kihuen said. “It shows that if (legislators) don’t support these issues, they’ll have to pay the consequences at election time.”

Astrid Silva, a deferred action recipient like Hernandez, spent the past week in Carson City working with Kihuen and other legislators advocating on issues that are important to young people, including testifying at hearings for several bills.

Silva, 24, said she was forced to make the eight-hour drive to Carson City to testify before the Legislature in 2011 because she didn’t have identification and couldn’t get on a plane. This time, with the help of deferred action, Silva was able to fly to the state’s capital.

“Our obstacles are starting to clear up,” she said. “ I can’t even imagine all of the things that are going to happen now.”

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