Nevada senator claims immigration impasse is because Democrats don’t want immigrants to work

Undocumented immigrants cannot work legally because his own party has blocked any path to legalization.

Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV)
Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV) at a January event with Vice President Mike Pence. (CREDIT: Heller's Facebook page)

Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV) is running for re-election this November in a state that is 28 percent Hispanic. But he does not believe immigration reform is possible because he thinks Democrats don’t want immigrants to work.

In an audio recording of a March 2 speech, obtained by Politico and released Friday, Heller claimed that no progress can be made on immigration reform for the roughly 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States. “Republicans want illegal immigrants to work but not vote. Democrats want them not to work, but to vote. Think about that for a minute,” he told the audience. “That’s why we can’t come together on a solution for this.”

This statement is demonstrably false.

The 2016 Democratic national platform makes clear that the party backs a path to citizenship for law-abiding undocumented immigrants precisely because of their importance as parents, community leaders, and professionals. “We are proud of our heritage as a nation of immigrants. We know that today’s immigrants are tomorrow’s teachers, doctors, lawyers, government leaders, soldiers, entrepreneurs, activists, PTA members, and pillars of our communities,” it says in its preamble. In the section on fixing the broken immigration system, it states that the status quo “tears families apart and keeps workers in the shadows,” and explicitly calls for a path to citizenship for those “contributing to their communities and our country.” It also promises an “an affirmative process for workers to report labor violations and to request deferred action.”

Indeed, these principals were the basis for the bipartisan 2013 comprehensive immigration reform bill that received 68 votes in the U.S. Senate — including Heller’s own. The bill never received a vote in the GOP-controlled House of Representatives and President Donald Trump opposed it as “amnesty.”

But every Senate Democrat voted for the bill, which would have allowed millions of undocumented immigrants an opportunity to work legally.

Nearly every Senate Democrat also voted last month for the bipartisan McCain-Coons proposal, which would have protected the right to work and established a path to citizenship for about 1.8 million undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children. President Trump’s administration is in the process of stripping that right from 800,000 of those who were granted temporary work authorization and deportation protection under the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) order. Heller, like most of the Senate GOP, voted no.

Heller also voted against the DREAM Act in 2010 — a similar measure to allow a path to citizenship and a right to work for childhood arrivals —  slamming it as a “an amnesty program, a back-door amnesty program for the 12 to 15 million people who are here illegally.”

The GOP platform includes language that would make it impossible for undocumented immigrants to work legally. “We support the right of the states to enact laws deterring illegal aliens from residing within their states,” it avers. In addition to opposing any “amnesty,” it says, “We insist upon workplace enforcement of verification systems so that more jobs can be available to all legal workers.”

Heller lost Hispanic voters 66 percent to 25 percent in his razor-thin 2012 win. Nationally, a similar percentage backed Hillary Clinton in 2016 over Donald Trump.

So while Heller may be correct that the congressional GOP wants to make sure that Latinx and other immigrants never get the right to vote, it is also his own caucus that wants to make sure that they can only work in the shadows, illegally.