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In Nevada, the debate on immigration reform has consequences beyond the political. Facing a mixed bag of law and executive action, many live with the fear that their families will be divided by deportation. Gwen Ifill reports on personal stakes at the heart of the political fight.
The divide over immigration was a major theme of this year's congressional elections. But the issue is not just roiling politicians.
As our Gwen found on a weekend trip to Nevada, the president's policies and Republicans' opposition to reform has meant difficult splits within many families.
Far from Washington's politics, positioning and policy, here's what the immigration debate looks like, a Saturday afternoon gathering of friends and relatives at a family-owned restaurant little more than a mile from the Strip in Las Vegas.
Susana Flores, the owner, is a legal resident who tried unsuccessfully to teach me how to make tortillas.
Susana's sister, Rocina Sandoval, who works as a waitress, is not here legally. She could easily be deported.
ROCINA SANDOVAL, Nevada (through interpreter):
I would like some kind of documentation so I could work legally and help the family more.
Most of the family members have lived in Las Vegas for decades. Rocina's son, Juan Salazar, joined his parents here when he was just 7 years old. He is now covered by President Obama's 2012 executive action which protects so called dreamers, young people who arrived in this country illegally when they were children.
He runs a pool business with his father, Juan Sr., and attends a local community college. But good fortune has its limits, even for a dreamer.
JUAN SALAZAR, Nevada:
My parents do not qualify, because I'm not a born citizen and neither are my sisters. So my mom or my dad, they're not protected. So that's still that fear that they could come take your parents away any moment.
It's a mixed bag of legality that casts a shadow over entire families here in Nevada who are among the estimated 11 million unauthorized immigrants living in the U.S.
Republicans and Democrats in Washington agree that the nation's immigration system is broken. What they can't agree on is the correct way to fix it. The president has opted to expand the legal pool by executive fiat, a step that has infuriated Republicans. Most recently, he announced temporary protections for parents of U.S. citizens like Tere Dorame. She is also a waitress at the restaurant and has a 9-year-old U.S.-born son.
What difference would this make for you?
TERE DORAME, Nevada (through interpreter):
I will be able to have health insurance. And I will be able to work legally to provide for my son.
President Obama has been here to Del Sol High School in Las Vegas three times, once when he was running for president in 2008 campaign, and twice more in 2013 and 2014 to sign immigration action. That is no accident.
In a state where nearly a third of the population is Hispanic, nearly 20 percent of Nevada's students have parents who are undocumented.
ASTRID SILVA, Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada: President Barack Obama.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
One of them is Astrid Silva, who introduced the president here last time. Under the measure passed by the House last week, she would lose her recently granted legal status.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA:
Part of what makes America exceptional is that we welcome exceptional people like Astrid.
It makes us stronger.
Silva, who volunteers for PLAN, the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, supports the president's executive actions, but says even his approach falls short.
Congress has been definitely playing with our lives. Unfortunately, they don't see us as human. They see us as a number. They see us as — as how many people they can deport. And to us, it's our families, and that's what it should be to them.
There is a political tightrope at work here. Nevada's three congressional Republicans all voted against repealing the DREAM Act last week. But they also voted to prevent the president from extending protection to parents of citizens.
David Damore is a professor of political science at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
DAVID DAMORE, University of Nevada, Las Vegas: Immigration is the top issue for Latino voters. It is sort of a gateway issue. Certainly, they care about education, they care about health care, jobs, those other things.
But if you're a Republican and the first word out of your mouth is they want to deport you, what comes second, no one's listening to.
But this is not your typical red/blue divide. Niger Innis, for instance, runs CORE, a civil rights group that offers classes to help Las Vegas immigrants prepare for their citizenship exam.
What are two Cabinet-level positions?
Secretary of the commerce, secretary of defense, secretary of energy.
But as a self-described Tea Party Republican, he says the president is abusing his power.
NIGER INNIS, Executive Director, TheTeaParty.net:
This president had a real opportunity to really engage the country in a proper way on the question of immigration. You know, he had two years. His first two years in office, he had overwhelming majorities in the House and the Senate. He didn't move immigration reform.
These executive actions have largely poisoned the well, and I don't know that we're going to have real substantive immigration reform progress until there's a new president, unfortunately. And I don't say that with joy. I say that with regret.
About 11,000 people in Las Vegas qualify for the 2012 dreamer protection. But nearly 31,000 people would qualify for the expanded program, which is expected to go into effect in May.
Workshops have sprung up around the state to help immigrants used to living in the shadows learn how to manage the paperwork and to learn how to manage expectations.
We need something that we're going to be fully protected, because who knows what's going to happen? The president leaves, another president comes, and then they're just playing. It just feels like sometimes they're just playing with so many lives.
A cycle of lawmaking, veto threats and unilateral action that has become all too familiar in Washington and all too frustrating for those whose lives will be most directly affected.
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