A lack of understanding within both parties on issues surrounding immigration and concerns that they could affect lawmakers’ political futures played a decisive role in the fate of some bills during the Legislature, a key proponent of the measures argued in an exclusive interview.
Democratic Assemblyman Edgar Flores said that although Democrats controlled both chambers and the governor’s mansion in the session that ended earlier this month, there wasn’t always agreement, especially on immigration issues and among the diverse members of his own party. His bill to prohibit law enforcement from detaining people for immigration issues if there wasn’t a finding of probable cause for another crime died, and a bill that initially required detailed reporting on the collaboration between local police and federal immigration authorities ended up being significantly amended.
In a Spanish interview with The Nevada Independent during the last week of the session, Flores offered his perspective on bills that didn’t move forward and what it was like to work with a historic female-majority Legislature that was dominated by his party.
Here are excerpts from the interview, which has been translated and edited from its original Spanish version.
Question (Q): In this session you worked on bills regarding immigration issues. Democrats are in control of both houses and there is a Democratic governor for the first time in 20 years. Shouldn’t it have been easier during this session for the Democratic Party to move forward with immigration bills?
Answer (A): That was exactly my perception before the session began. I said, ‘I will enter a world where we have Democrats in the Senate, the Assembly and the governor's mansion,’ and since we have that control I thought maybe immigration issues were going to be a little easier to deal with.
There is such a lack of education within both parties, and at the federal level. This is a very complex issue because in a district of 65,000 to 69,000 people who choose a Democrat to represent them, within those communities, there are still individuals who don’t support different proposals that are pro-immigrant.
And then finally we have the constant fear as a party that if we work hard for the immigrant community somehow that individual or that party is going to be attacked and considered to be anti everything else, and that's a very ignorant argument, but unfortunately this is still happening — if you focus on helping a group, that means you're against the other one, and that's not what is really happening.
It may simply be that your life has begun in another country and now you identify 100 percent as an American and we have as much responsibility to care for that individual as for someone who was born here. The word immigrant doesn’t exclude those arguments.
It’s very important to keep reminding people of that. We see it, because there are bills that didn’t move forward … or that remained stalled in the Assembly or in the Senate due to a lack of information that exists within this building even around such a serious topic.
For example, my bill AB281 essentially said that police wouldn’t be able to use the fact that someone is an undocumented person to arrest him or her, and that eventually would lead them to prison, and then to be transferred to immigration detention centers in Henderson and Pahrump. That was all. The police were in favor of the proposal because it says that’s right, we must not arrest an individual because of the simple fact of being undocumented.
But the reason why that proposal wasn’t approved is because there was a lot of fear.
Q: What do you mean by “fear?”
A: That there is fear that the community … will misinterpret the intention of the work that began and what the proposal was going to do. I repeat — there are individuals, both Republicans and Democrats within their districts, that might not support immigrants. There is this idea that this bill means that you can’t arrest an immigrant, for example, an individual who is undocumented. That is completely false. The proposal has nothing to do with that topic.
But this lack of communication creates political fear internally within each district, and each district reacts differently, where people are afraid to get involved in these issues not because they don’t want to support these proposals, but because they fear that a lack of understanding, a lack of education, will harm that individual politically.
I think that the way we will be able to create bills so that the governor will sign them and that will be in favor of our immigrant communities — those are going to be the ones where a campaign is launched well before the start of the legislative session to educate the community and take time to teach your district what the proposal is about.
So that when the campaign begins, the community will be so well educated about that concept ... so you can comfortably say, I’m going to vote … And that education is very complicated and it takes a long time to accomplish. It requires a lot of resources.
Q: You finished a legislative session that was significant in several ways. One of them was having a Democratic majority in both houses and having a Democratic governor. What do you make of that?
A: We started out really, eternally grateful for the support of the community, because Nevada made it very clear that we are marching in a direction of having Democrats, with the fundamental arguments that everyone deserves the opportunity to have a seat at the table, that we don’t want to return to the old days in regards the treatment of women, our gay communities, or migrants.
What I take away from the session is that although we are Democrats, we have differences within our own party between those who identify more as liberals, others that aren’t, or that aren’t always in favor of certain arguments that in my opinion are very in favor of the immigrant community.
Q: Nevada distinguished itself this session for its female majority. What was it like to serve this session in that sense?
A: It was an honor to participate in the process in this historic moment. It wasn’t that there was a drastic change in the sense that there’s always the argument that women do things in this way and men that way. I don’t think that is the situation that we are confronting now. What I think is that for the first time, the work that women have been historically doing is being recognized.
It’s not something new. It’s always been done and now we have to recognize that women are in a position where always, historically, they have been fighting for certain rights, but that now they aren’t in the minority in the building when they are presenting this argument.
We’ve also seen many changes internally within the Legislature in respect to how we present arguments, how we work with each other. We have to recognize that in a world where typically it was the man that did everything his way, there are things … we have to change.
And finally, a reminder for everyone that the simple fact that there is a female majority doesn’t mean that in some way we’re going to minimize men, that we’re going to do only things for women, or something like that. That’s something I have heard. The fact that we have a majority of women simply means that we are going to recognize the place of the women that have been deserving it for so long, and that, within this context and this world, men have their voice as much as women but finally we recognize the contributions of women.