Some can’t vote, but immigrant activists make voices heard on Latino Lobby Day

Jannelle Calderon
Jannelle Calderon
Behind the BarBehind the BarLegislature

Erika Marquez, as a DACA recipient, is not a U.S. citizen and cannot vote. But she called it “absolutely empowering” to be able to speak up to state lawmakers last week for Latino Lobby Day. 

Many of those visiting the Legislative Building had to take time off work and either ride in charter buses from Southern Nevada or fly in to participate in the two-day trip to Carson City. Marquez, an immigrant justice organizer with the progressive nonprofit Make the Road Nevada, said the nine-and-a-half hour bus ride was worth it as she was able to get to know members of other organizations. 

“Their stories are very impactful. Not only do I want to make sure that they are heard, but to be able to do something for them,” she said. “How can I go ahead and find the resources for them? How can I go ahead and get them connected to the right people? Being able to uplift them, most importantly.”

On Tuesday afternoon, “sí se puede” (it can be done) chants echoed in the Legislature’s hallways as dozens of Make the Road Nevada volunteers and immigrant issues lobbyists flooded committee meetings to advocate for bills. 

Some of them also met with lawmakers one-on-one to discuss measures including AB246, which increases language access in elections and voting-related information; SB92, which would legitimize street food vendors as small businesses; SB419, which would expand Medicaid to undocumented people, and AB226, which would allow DACA recipients to be eligible for in-state tuition after living in Nevada for a year. 

Marquez said she first came across Make the Road Nevada when looking for assistance to pay the nearly $500 fee to renew her DACA status. In 2018, she started out as a volunteer, and she became an organizer last August, on the 31st anniversary of the day she crossed the Mexico-U.S. border with her mom at 3 years old, she said. 

“I remember everything … I remember hearing people scream ‘La migra’ [‘ICE’] and having to hide,” Marquez recalled. “We were in a porta-potty for what, to me, seemed like hours. Three men, my mom and myself.” 

Although Marquez did not legally arrive in the U.S., she argues that immigrants like herself deserve basic human rights, including a quality education and health care, especially because they contribute to the economy and pay taxes. 

Marquez said that she relates to many of the issues lawmakers are attempting to address this session — from not being able to attend college despite earning a full-ride scholarship because she could not provide a Social Security number, to standing up for a street food vendor against a police officer as a second-grader.

“I told the police officer ‘Why are you stopping [the food vendor]? He's just trying to provide for his family. Why don't you stop that drug dealer that's in the corner?’” she recalled. “The police officer giggled and told the elotero (street corn vendor) ‘You're lucky she was here, go home. I don't want to see you again.’ So he had a second chance to not get detained.”

During a press conference that was held inside on Wednesday because of intermittent flurries, Sen. Fabian Doñate (D-Las Vegas) told the visitors that “we will make sure that our community is prioritized in different areas this session.”

Robert Garcia, an economic justice organizer with Make the Road, said part of the job is encouraging members to get involved and use their voice, and policy theme days such as Latino Lobby Day is one way to do that. 

“It's one thing to send the testimonies, email them or participate in public comment,” he said. “But standing in front of senators and Assembly people and saying ‘This is our situation,’ and them saying ‘I see you, I hear you. I'm working on this issue.’ That's what we want at the end of the day — for people to see that their voice makes a difference.”

Editor’s Note: This story appears in Behind the Bar, The Nevada Independent’s newsletter dedicated to comprehensive coverage of the 2023 legislative session. Sign up for the newsletter here.


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