John L. Smith On Citizenship Outreach

Nevada Public Radio contributor returned to his alma mater, Western High School, for a citizen workshop sponsored by Mi Familia Vota and the Culinary Union.

The monthly workshop provides information and assistance for legally registered immigrants who want to begin the process towards becoming an American citizen. 

On citizenship workshop:

It is a largely volunteer process. There’s a lot of rallying the troops, of gathering people, of communicating into neighborhoods to folks who qualify, who want to try to get full citizenship. They have to have legal status to start with but it is really an interesting process. There are dozens of volunteers. A dozen attorneys turned out for this workshop.

It was really interesting to watch. As we know, immigration is such a controversial issue generally, whether it’s in Washington or down the street. And yet, when you watch these folks get together you see… the outreach is really impressive.

On volunteer training by Mi Familia Vota:

This group basically starts its process of recruiting at the high school level. You’ve got people who are getting trained, whether it’s Western High School, Rancho, or some of the other schools with a large Latino population. You’ve got that level of groundwork being laid.

Support comes from

But also, there are people from the Asian community stepping up, because of course, there are a lot of folks from Asian countries who come to Las Vegas, who have a legal status, who want citizenship. But they’re easily confused by it because the process is complex. And at some level, if you’re a working person, it can be costly.

On the process:

You have to have five years of legal status in the U.S., or three years of legal status if you’re married to a U.S. citizen in order to get to first base in the process. You have to have an established moral standard. You can’t have felonies on a record. A lot of arrests for things. You have to qualify in that regard.

And then there’s the paperwork process, that has to be carried out. A lot of backgrounding. A lot of vetting… Then that application proceeds to the officials who review it. You don’t get citizenship at the end of the workshop, but the ball gets rolling.

On the reaction:

There was a tremendous effort in order to enable this and you would think – this is where I am focused – you would think a lot of folks, a lot of American citizens, a lot of U.S. born citizens would be cheering this. There were no cheers. There were no protests against it but there were no cheers.

But you would think that if you really believe in legal immigration that there would be a lot of money donated to this idea.

On returning to Western High School:

The school has, of course, expanded over the years and changed and has programs, a community college building on campus. The campus footprint is a lot larger than it was in ’78 when I graduated. But the other thing that was interesting to me was, Western is representative of a new Las Vegas. A Las Vegas that has a lot of immigrant culture.

Some things have changed there but it was also interesting to see the Saturday practices on the sports field and the volleyball tournament going on… It was a very vibrant campus on Saturday.

Opioid Addiction:

I’ve been studying this issue for quite awhile. A lot of folks are looking around the country and seeing this scandalous rate of opioid addiction and overdose death and it is also leading to litigation. I’m hearing there’s a major litigation that is being planned. It’s going to have a Las Vegas dateline and it's going to be of national interest.

Taxis pushing back on Uber and Lyft:

Just when you think the dinosaurs are going away, they use their political clout. It is an interesting time for the Nevada Taxicab Authority because this is a group that just a year or so ago received a very poor accounting and has really gone out of its way to change some of the leadership and really move it forward.

Also, to study some of the key issues that are going on in the cab business when it comes to whether its long hauling or taxicab inspection… with the current political climate where you’ve got an Uber, a ride-sharing company, not necessarily doing inspections on those private drivers’ cars.

Lem Banker:

Lem is such a great guy. He’s a great storyteller. Goes back to the Damon Runyon era of Las Vegas. His dad ran a candy store, you used to call a candy store a bookmaking shop back in New Jersey. Lem was a star basketball player in school when guys gambled on ball games.

He had been a bookmaker for awhile and guy with a keen sense of the numbers back a generation ago and he still makes his bets every day. And to visit with Lem and to have a cup of coffee with Lem at his house is a real treat because he’s got great stories.

He was a great friend of the late Sonny Liston. The troubled heavyweight. He knew all the Murder Incorporated guys and of course the local sheriff as well. He’s had a great run and he’s enjoying himself in his later years.



John L. Smith, contributor

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