Friday, Nov. 10, 2017 | 2 a.m.
Standing on the front steps of the federal courthouse in downtown Las Vegas, Assemblyman Edgar Flores said that the only differential between recipients of temporary deportation relief and U.S. citizens is a “piece of paper.”
That’s because recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and Temporary Protected Status in Las Vegas contribute as much as their counterparts, as they are teachers, casino employees, and workers who “make sure this state is as vibrant as it is,” he said.
On Thursday afternoon, in front of the Lloyd D. George Courthouse — two months after President Donald Trump’s administration announced the end of the DACA program, and three days after it announced that TPS protection for Nicaraguans would lapse in 2019 — Flores, D-Las Vegas, joined about a dozen advocates to call on Congress to protect 1.1 million immigrants from possible deportation.
TPS is a safeguard program for immigrants from 10 designated countries where conditions can put in danger the return of its nationals, according to the Department of Homeland Security. DACA recipients are immigrants brought to the U.S. as children. Both programs allow recipients to legally reside and work here.
Referring to TPS recipients, Flores said that they're immigrants who abide by stringent legal standards and who pay expensive fees to be able to work and own homes. "There is a wall of people who are fighting for you and will continue to do so until your temporary status changes to something that is real," such as permanent residency and future citizenship.
Congress must take action, he said. “These individuals have proven how much of Americans they are — they have proven how much they want to contribute to this country. Let’s give them the opportunity to do it correctly.”
Erika Castro, a 28-year-old DACA recipient and an advocate the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, said that immigrants should not be treated as political pawns. "For the past 70 days since the rescission of DACA, we have been urging Congress to fix the problem they created."
"It's cruel to leave 1.2 million people, all Dreamers and TPS recipients, wondering what their future will look like in the coming months," Castro said.
Audrey Peral was brought to the U.S. a week after she was born, and she now has an American child. The 29-year-old has earned two associate's degrees, about to earn her bachelor's, and is planning on applying to graduate school, but she hasn't earned a legal status, she said. "I refuse to let my legal status get in the way of my future. My legal status will not define me, and I know that I am American and I know that one day I'll be to its entirety."
Peral called on the higher education institutions in the state to speak up in support of the undocumented community.
“We are no different than your children," Peral said. "I grew up with them. I played sports with them. I graduated high school with them. I go to school with them. We’re no different.”
Yesenia Vasquez, certified nursing assistant and member of the local chapter of the Service Employees International Union, spoke about her immigrant parents. Her father served in the Army. “No one benefits from removing people to troubled lands ... Their forceful removal would be devastating to employers and neighbors, and families.”
Michael Kagan, director of the Immigration Clinic at UNLV’s Boyd School of Law, said the Temporary Protected Status law was created and maintained in a spirit of bipartisanship.
Now, however, decisions regarding immigration policy have become strictly political, he said. The U.S. should "live up to the humanitarian values that are actually embodied in our immigration laws and have been endorsed by Congress historically."
The federal government hasn’t decided what it will do with Haiti nationals, whose designations are set to expire in January. For nationals from Honduras, which had its designation set to also expire in January, the protection has been extended at least six more months, DHS said this week.
Local advocates estimate that there are at least 6,300 immigrants with TPS designation in Nevada and about 13,000 DACA recipients.
Soon after the Trump administration announced the end of the DACA program, with a six-month delay to seek a possible legislative solution, the president expressed inclination to work with Congress to protect recipients.
Before that happens, Trump said to congressional leaders, his hard-line immigration priorities must be enacted, the Associated Press reported. "Trump's list of demands included overhauling the country's green-card system, a crackdown on unaccompanied minors entering the country, and building his promised wall along the southern border."
"Call your congressman; call your congresswoman; call your U.S. senator," said William McCurdy II, political director of SEIU and Nevada assemblyman. "Make sure they that know why they're in office; make sure they remember who it is that they represent."