Las Vegas Sun

October 21, 2017

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Nevada lawmakers ‘all over the map’ on immigration reform


Karoun Demirjian

Nevada’s full congressional delegation met in the Mike Mansfield Room of the U.S. Capitol to discuss Nevada policy for the first time in several years, Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2013.

Technically speaking, it isn’t time for the Nevada delegation to influence immigration reform.

No Silver Stater sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee, entering its second week of weighing amendments to the “Gang of Eight” proposal that has emerged as the primary vehicle for immigration reform. In the House, Nevada doesn’t have any members participating in the working group that announced its immigration framework last week.

But nonetheless, Nevada constituents are asking questions about what the congressional delegation is doing and where its members stand on the emerging proposals.

The answer is: all over the place.

Without a way for Nevada representatives to propose amendments, take votes and directly affect legislation yet, the delegation is engaging — and not engaging — in very different ways.

The differences are most stark in the House, where Nevada’s Democrats want the committee and working groups to pay attention to their priority issues, and Nevada Republicans are taking a step back, waiting to see how compromise bills fare before throwing themselves fully into that mix.

Nevada Reps. Steven Horsford and Dina Titus are lobbying to increase the visa fees employers would have to pay to sponsor H-1B visas, given to high-skilled temporary workers. The extra money would pay for scholarships and other investments in science, technology, engineering and math training, with the intent of educating more Americans to fill high-skilled jobs.

Horsford has been working on a similar proposal through his role as co-chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus’ immigration task force, lobbying not only members of the House — he expects to schedule a meeting with members of the House immigration working group this week — but members of the Senate Gang of Eight, as well.

Through Nevada Sen. Harry Reid, Horsford was able to bend the ears of the Gang of Eight's four Democrats — Sens. Charles Schumer, Dick Durbin, Bob Menendez and Michael Bennett — on increasing fees to benefit American students. Last week, the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously adopted an amendment to make that change to the Gang of Eight bill.

“It’s important to me to do everything that I can in working both the Senate and the House,” Horsford said. “I’m doing everything that I can to make sure the provisions we believe in are reflected in both bills.”

Nevada’s House Republicans are adopting a different philosophy.

Nevada Rep. Mark Amodei is a member of the House Judiciary Committee, which recently began considering a string of free-standing immigration and enforcement-related bills, despite the momentum behind a comprehensive approach to immigration lawmaking.

Nevada Rep. Joe Heck noted that he was “pleased” to see that a measure to speed up the processing of tourist visas he’d sponsored in the House was included in the Senate bill. But he doesn’t appear to be leaning in to push for the Senate's bill.

“We are watching those developments closely, hoping it is included in the final bill,” said Heck’s spokesman, Greg Lemon.

When it comes to the House process, Heck is holding his cards even closer to his chest.

“He is waiting to see what the House group comes up with when they put pen to paper,” Lemon said. “As he has stated all along, he is open to considering such proposals but will have to wait and see what the legislation actually looks like.”

The wait-and-see strategy, however, is beginning to frustrate constituents who want a speedy resolution on immigration reform. Last week, Hispanic activists targeted those frustrations at Nevada Sen. Dean Heller, calling on him to endorse the Gang of Eight's proposal and get more involved in the immigration process.

The official word from Heller’s office is that “he will continue to monitor” the Judiciary Committee’s review of the Gang of Eight bill, with a particular interest in how highly skilled workers will be handled in the final outcome.

Heller co-sponsored legislation this year with Orrin Hatch — a senior Republican on the Judiciary Committee — to increase the number of temporary visas and employment-based green cards for workers in the high-skilled fields.

Heller’s spokeswoman, Chandler Smith, added that he is “continuing to have conversations with Sen. (Marco) Rubio and other colleagues to adjust and improve the bill” and described Heller as “optimistic about this particular piece of legislation.”

Heller’s careful commentary on the Gang of Eight proposal may be frustrating proponents of comprehensive immigration reform, but the hands-off approach isn’t entirely limited to Nevada Republicans.

Though Reid has delivered several emphatic endorsements of the Gang of Eight's approach, even Reid has promised not to interfere with the Judiciary committee’s efforts “to refine and perfect the Gang of Eight’s reasonable proposal.”

Nonetheless, Reid continues to have daily behind-the-scenes discussions with Gang of Eight members; make public speeches in which he’s encouraged constituents to pressure their representatives into supporting the reform effort; and facilitate meetings to help stakeholders, friends and colleagues present their relevant causes.

In due time — perhaps as soon as June in the Senate — Nevada’s lawmakers will be able to make their positions more clear, as an actual vote nears. For now, though, to what extent they choose to rally for a cause or listen to the discussion is up to individual members.

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