Wednesday, Oct. 6, 2021 | 2 a.m.
Addressing this week’s National Immigrant Integration Conference in Las Vegas, Rulon Pete spoke about changing demographics.
After all, most of everyone else’s ancestors were once immigrants at one point, said Pete, the executive director of the Las Vegas Indian Center and a member of the Las Vegas Paiute tribe.
“When you hear the word immigrant, a lot of times it has changed a bit, but at the same time, we’re here together. We need to grow together; we need to help each other out,” he told hundreds of attendees during the conference at Westgate that runs through today.
Native American voices need to be heard because “we’re not going to sit back anymore. We’re here to fight, we’re here to be with you," he said.
The four-day conference is focusing on immigration policy, a timely discussion as the Democratic-majority Congress is pushing for immigration reform through reconciliation of President Biden’s $3.5 trillion Build Back Better Act. The plan calls for a pathway to citizenship for millions, including young immigrants living in the country illegally who were brought to the U.S. as children, those with the governmental designation of temporary protected status, and essential workers like farmers. Through budget reconciliation, it would've been shielded from the Republican filibuster.
The move on immigration reform was blocked by the nonpartisan Senate parliamentarian, but the fight is not over, U.S. Rep. Linda Sanchez, D-Calif., told the crowd.
The Southern California congresswoman earlier this year proposed the U.S. Citizenship Act, touted as the most progressive attempt at immigration reform in decades, which also would provide a path to citizenship for millions.
“As we have seen, sadly,” she said, “our immigration system has limited and, in many cases, prevented immigrants from realizing their full potential with their God-given talents.”
There is, however, still hope to push immigration reform through reconciliation, and Democrats are researching “novel” ways to make it happen, she said, noting that legislators will use “every tool and procedure at our disposal.”
“We are not giving up,” said Sanchez, noting that there are multiple plans in place to “find some mechanism to provide relief.”
It’s a challenging push, though.
“I wish I had a better update from Washington, D.C.,” she said. “We are not content with the status quo, and we cannot allow the minority party in the Senate to dictate what is and what is not possible,” she said about Republicans who are against the current proposals.
Gov. Steve Sisolak spoke about Nevada’s diversity, where he said one in five residents are immigrants or refugees, and make up about a third of business owners, and about 30% of the workforce, most in industries hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, he said.
And recently, the U.S. State Department said it would resettle 150 Afghan refugees to Nevada, with about 100 expected to go to northern areas including Reno and Sparks and about 50 to the Las Vegas area.
“Home means Nevada for more than 600,000 immigrants and refugees,” he said. He noted that the issue hits home, being married to the daughter of Chinese immigrants, Kathy Sisolak.
He supports a pathway to citizenship for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, immigrants with Temporary Protected Status and essential workers.
“This conference being (held in) one of the most diverse cities of the country ... should help inspire all of you to continue your work and strive for equitable and just economy recovery for everyone in every community, and to call on Congress to give our undocumented immigrants a long overdue pathway to citizenship,” Sisolak said.
The Biden administration has set a goal of taking in 125,000 refugees and their families to the U.S. next year.
As president, Donald Trump capped the number of refugees at 15,000, the lowest since the 1980 Refugee Act took effect. President Joe Biden faced criticism when he only raised the cap to 62,500 after taking office.
Despite recent evacuations from Afghanistan, the U.S. will fall short of that number by the Sept. 30 end of the fiscal year, officials said.
Biden appeared through a recorded video, speaking about the “contributions, sacrifices and dreams” of immigrants in mixed-status families, touting a proposed $345 million infusion to accelerate backlogs for asylum seekers and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
Pete said the fight for immigrants is a “chance for us to grow.” But for him, it’s also a chance to reflect on his ancestors. “I am the seed of the people,” he said, pausing to cry. “I am the seed of the people they tried to destroy.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.