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August 17, 2017

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Why Nevada has become a leader in immigration reform

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Steve Marcus

Dreamer Astrid Silva is embraced by President Obama after introducing him at Del Sol High School Friday, Nov. 21, 2014.

Astrid Silva

Astrid Silva stands in line, waiting for the commencement ceremony for the College of Southern Nevada at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas Monday, May 23, 2011. Launch slideshow »

Immigration Activists

Pro-immigration demonstrators stand outside of the Longworth House Office Building in Washington, D.C., chanting slogans and cheering on their fellow protesters being carted off after arrests, not shown, Thursday, July 31, 2013. Launch slideshow »

When President Barack Obama gave Astrid Silva a shout-out last month, he did more than put a face on his new immigration plan.

He helped thrust Silva, and her home state of Nevada, into the national spotlight on immigration reform.

She has since used her political fame to sell the president’s divisive executive action. Her latest push came before a Senate panel Wednesday, where she accused Obama’s critics of “attacking America and everything that has made this country strong.”

“When people challenge the president’s authority, they’re attacking me,” Silva said. “They’re attacking my mom.”

Astrid is one of several Nevada players who are behind a movement that is intensifying attention on the state's unique immigration landscape. And what happens in Nevada could impact the national conversation about changes in policy.

"Nevada, particularly Las Vegas, has become a bellwether on immigration reform and the Latino vote," said Kevin Appleby of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which advocates for immigration reform.

Here are three reasons why Nevada is becoming a leader in immigration reform:

Astrid Silva's 15 minutes of fame

Nevada's paragraph on immigration reform will forever have a sentence on Silva, the 26-year-old undocumented student who avoided deportation under Obama's 2012 executive action. When Obama expanded the program this year, he shared Silva's story on national television. (Silva's parents will benefit from the new program.)

“She’s become a symbol for a demographic, and I think that’s powerful for people,” said UNLV law professor Fatma Marouf, who specializes in immigration law and policy. “It’s a way to relate on a personal level, and that has a huge impact on how people react to the issue.”

Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., has cited Silva as his inspiration for pushing for immigration reform in Congress. But a Senate-passed bill is stalled in the House of Representatives. So, in the final days of a Democratic-controlled Senate, Reid invited Silva to Washington to share her story in the hopes of pressuring Republicans to act.

"This is the first time we've been thrown into the discussion," Silva said Wednesday.

The state’s young advocates

Nevada’s 20-somethings are a driving force behind the immigration debate. The state's most vocal advocates are young people with undocumented parents.

Pew estimates that Nevada has the largest share — nearly 18 percent — of U.S.-born children in grade school who had a parent living in the country illegally. Obama has deported more people than any other president, and many of those ousted have been adults with children living in the country legally, said Sylvia Manzano, an analyst with polling firm Latino Decisions.

“We don’t want to give short shrift to their elders, who have also been working on this for a very long time. But this generation had a different burden because of the volume of deportations from President Obama’s administration,” Manzano said. “To be sure, the activists who you see as the face of this movement have been people who are younger.”

Nevada's political posturing

Nevada is going to be a major player in the 2016 elections: It's a swing state with a relatively high Latino population. Those voters, which comprised 16 percent of the state’s electorate in 2014, according to the Pew Research Center, could lead the way for deciding if Reid keeps his Senate seat in 2016 and who becomes our nation's next president.

Many saw Obama's most recent visit to Las Vegas as Reid's unofficial launch of immigration reform. But Reid could face a challenge from the state's popular Republican governor, Brian Sandoval, who is Latino.

That all means politicians from both sides will likely be courting Nevada's Latino voters, and immigration reform is a powerful way to do that.

"In this case, what happens in Las Vegas does not stay in Las Vegas," Appleby said. "It is an indicator of how Latinos will vote nationwide."

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