Thursday, Oct. 11, 2012 | 2 a.m.
Democrats and Republicans have spent a significant portion of this campaign season blaming the other side for the gridlock in Washington, D.C., over comprehensive immigration reform.
Regardless of who is to blame for past failures, the makeup of the next Congress and lawmakers’ willingness to compromise will be crucial if any progress is to be made on the issue. In Nevada, the closely contested 3rd and 4th Congressional District campaigns have drawn the interest of an immigration advocacy group as “races to watch.”
America’s Voice, a Washington-based lobbying group that supports “humane” comprehensive immigration reform, according to its website, pegged the two Nevada races, and 12 others, as key contests for the future of U.S. immigration policy.
The group opposes restrictionist policies and advocates for an approach that would legalize immigrants residing in the country illegally and provide a path to citizenship.
Immigration is not at the top of the list of issues for the general population, but it is in the top three for Hispanic voters, a crucial voting bloc in many swing states, including Nevada. A recent poll of the Silver State’s Hispanics voters showed they place immigration as the No. 2 issue right behind the economy.
In the 3rd Congressional District, incumbent Rep. Joe Heck, who won his first term by 1,078 votes, is up against Democratic State Assemblyman John Oceguera. In the new 4th District, Democratic state Sen. Steven Horsford is running against Republican Danny Tarkanian.
In September, America’s Voice listed its U.S. Senate races to watch, and included Nevada’s contest between Republican incumbent Dean Heller and Democratic U.S. Rep. Shelley Berkley.
In the 3rd District, which is 13 percent Hispanic, Democrats hold an edge in registered voters of roughly 3,000, while in the 4th District, 24 percent Hispanic, Democratic voters outnumber Republican voters by 34,000.
On Thursday, Vegas PBS will have debates featuring candidates in both races, offering voters a closer examination of the choices. The Sun sent a questionnaire with more than a dozen questions to each campaign to gauge the candidates’ current positions on immigration. Every candidate offered at least a general summary of their views on immigration reform, enforcement and the Dream Act. Republican candidates Heck and Tarkanian offered short synopses of their immigration positions, but declined to answer each specific question. Democratic candidates Oceguera and Horsford answered each of the queries individually. Click here to see all of the candidate's responses in their entirety.
CD4: Horsford vs. Tarkanian
Voters in the newly created 4th District, a geographically massive district stretching from North Las Vegas into north central Nevada, will find solid distinctions between the two candidates when it comes to immigration issues.
Horsford has backed comprehensive immigration reform, the Dream Act, and President Barack Obama’s deferred-action program.
“We have to come together with President Obama to create a comprehensive reform package that includes a fair pathway to citizenship, secures our borders, protects workers, and helps strengthen America’s economy,” Horsford wrote in his emailed response. “We can’t have a dialogue filled with anti-immigrant rhetoric. We need real solutions.”
At a July meeting with the Las Vegas civic engagement group Hispanics in Politics, Tarkanian accused Obama of using Hispanics as a “political tool” for re-election. Asked specifically about deferred action, Tarkanian said he did not support it because it “was not passed in Congress.”
In his response to the Sun questions, Tarkanian focused on border security.
“I am in favor of all preventative methods for strengthening our borders,” Tarkanian’s email stated. “This is a necessary and vital step for stopping the flow of illegal immigrants into our country.”
Tarkanian also elaborated on his statements on the Dream Act from the Hispanics in Politics meeting, during which he said he supported it for military service but not education.
“I believe that anyone who is willing to put on the uniform in service of our country deserves a path to citizenship,” Tarkanian wrote. “However, I do not support the idea that simply attending school here entitles individuals to that same option. Furthermore, I do not support illegal immigrants having access to taxpayer benefits. Our taxpayers are already burdened enough with having to fund those services for citizens of this country. They do not need to additionally support those who are here illegally.”
Tarkanian’s move to support the military portion of the Dream Act was one reason America’s Voice said in its report on the 2012 house races he had “tried to soften his position slightly on immigration in 2012.”
In April 2010, Tarkanian said he supported Arizona’s immigration enforcement law SB1070, three-fourths of which were struck down by the Supreme Court this year. At the time he also said that immigrants residing in the country illegally should be denied “taxpayer-funded education, health care or welfare” and would deport those who came to emergency rooms after they had been treated.
“Even mere talk of amnesty is irresponsible because it encourages illegal immigration,” Tarkanian said in 2010.
Hispanics overwhelmingly support the Dream Act, and in a district where a quarter of the eligible voters are Hispanic, Horsford has sought to highlight Tarkanian’s stance.
“My opponent has previously backed ‘self-deportation’ and has essentially supported making life so miserable for undocumented immigrants that they have no option but to leave our country,” Horsford said in his response. “That is neither a humane nor effective policy, and I believe we should secure our borders and pass fair immigration reform, not focus on making the day-to-day lives of undocumented immigrants unbearable. “
CD3: Heck vs. Oceguera
Just as the 3rd District offers two well delineated options, voters in the 4th District that forms a “U” around the southern portion of the valley will find two contrasting approaches to immigration policy.
Heck has stated his opposition to the current iteration of the Dream Act.
“The idea that young children who were brought to America illegally should be given access to opportunities in this country is a noble one,” Heck responded to the Sun questionnaire. “However, I believe that there are problems with the Dream Act as it is currently written that prohibit it from positively affecting its intended demographic.”
Heck went on to argue that the age cut-off of 35 was too high and higher standards of achievement than what are currently suggested should be set for anyone who might be granted legal residency for military service or educational attainment.
Heck outlined a four-point approach to immigration reform. The plan starts with border security, without details on how, exactly, to improve the current measures. Next, Heck said he would remove the work incentive by instituting a “comprehensive, reliable, mandatory e-verify system,” referring to the federal database employers can use to check the residency status of job applicants. Third, Heck suggests a modernized guest worker program. Lastly, the congressman said the system for obtaining visas and citizenship should be streamlined so that wait times would be reduced.
“There is a major need to overhaul our immigration system in this country,” Heck responded. “When people who wish to immigrate to our country have to wait for years to receive a visa and then, after receiving citizenship or permanent legal resident status, have to wait up to 10 years or more to bring their family to America, clearly we have a problem.”
Oceguera, on the other hand, is a supporter of the Dream Act and immediately supported Obama’s deferred-action program to halt the deportations of young immigrants.
“I support the Dream Act because it is consistent with a policy reflecting we’re a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants,” Oceguera responded in the Sun survey. “If someone wants to serve in our military or go to school and become part of our educated workforce, we should help find a way for them to stay here legally.”
Oceguera’s grandfather emigrated from Mexico, something the assemblyman said helped inform his position on immigration issues.
“We need to find a comprehensive solution to this challenge,” Oceguera wrote. “That includes practical steps like securing our border, cracking down on employers who hire undocumented workers, and being open to background checks to maintain our nation’s security.”
In April, Heck suggested a reconsideration of the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of citizenship to anyone born in the United States. “I think we need to visit the area of birthright citizenship,” he said at a meeting of Hispanics in Politics.
Oceguera affirmed his support for the amendment in the Sun questionnaire, but Heck declined to elaborate on his position in regards to birthright citizenship.
NumbersUSA, a group that seeks to lower immigration rates, grades politicians on immigration issues. Heck, as the only candidate in the two races that has held a federal office, is the only one graded on the website and received an A-minus.