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Nevada's Immigrant Communities Respond To The Election


AP Photo/Jae C. Hong

Supporters of President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris wave flags in Las Vegas, Saturday, Nov. 7, 2020. Biden defeated President Donald Trump to become the 46th president of the United States on Saturday, positioning himself to lead a nation gripped by the historic pandemic and a confluence of economic and social turmoil.

Joe Biden won the presidential election – in Nevada, his lead over President Donald Trump continues to grow as more ballots get counted.

Throughout the campaign, he promised voters he would undo Trumpism and bring decency back to politics. He’s also expected to restore DACA, the Obama-era policy that allows undocumented immigrants who were brought here as children to get protected status.

"It's been very challenging the past four years with the Trump administration," said Lalo Montoya, a DACA recipient and the political director for Make the Road Nevada, a non-profit organization focused on mobilizing Latino communities to vote.

Montoya said before the election he was preparing to possibly leave the country if President Trump was re-elected and he was able to terminate the DACA program. 

Now, that has changed. He said when the announcement was made that the Associated Press had called the election for Joe Biden his 11-year-old daughter texted him saying, "You can stay now daddy. I'm so happy you can stay."

Montoya also said he bought a couch for his home.

"I had resisted buying a couch because I didn't know I was going to be in this country despite feeling and being American in every way except on paper," he said.

Now, that the immediate threat of deportation is gone. Montoya hopes for a new direction in immigration policy.

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"We do expect big changes because we have been fighting for these changes since I was in high school," he said.

Montoya was in high school when he learned of his undocumented status, but he had been living in the United States since he was 2 years old.

Now, he would like to see the DACA program extended so he doesn't have to reapply every year, which was a change instituted by the Trump administration before that it was every two years.

He would also like to see TPS, or temporary protected status programs for immigrants from certain countries be re-instituted, and he wants to see the children separated from their parents at the southern border during the administration's zero-tolerance policy returned to their families.

Beyond national immigration policy changes, Montoya would like to see investment in the Latino community in Nevada.

"I think moving forward, for us to see real change, we're going to have to invest in the Latinx community, ensure that they're engaged, that they're at the table when it comes to these important discussions around education and health," he said.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, almost 20 percent of Nevada’s population is foreign-born. Noah Montague works closely with people whose immigration status is in question. He is an immigration law expert at Washoe Legal Services.

He said many people he has worked with over the past four years are relieved to have a change in the White House.

Besides the concerns about DACA and other programs, Montague noticed an increase in calls, after President Trump was elected, from people who were not sure of their status.

He said they wanted to clear it up or move from permanent resident to citizen. 

Now, with a Biden administration on the horizon. Montague would like to see changes in how the immigration court system works. He said the rules laid out by the Trump administration tied the hands of the immigration court judges.

"The Attorney General has really come down with a lot of precedent decisions that make it challenging for immigration judges to act as an independent judiciary and really decide cases based on their own merit," he said.  

Montague said it was a running joke among immigration attorneys and experts that when they went to court they weren't just battling the immigration service but the judges as well.

In addition to the court cases, Montague said the immigration bureaucracy was so poorly run that addressing issues was difficult.

"Those errors and those challenges have really forced immigrants to come to practitioners because it seemed impossible to do things on your own anymore," he said.

Prince Saruhan is a naturalized citizen but he came to the United States illegally. It was a change in the law that allowed him and some of his family members to apply for citizenship.

While he is now a documented immigrant, Saruhan continues to be active in immigrant causes because other members of his family are undocumented. It is common in many immigrant families to have mixed-status.

Saruhan thinks it is disgusting how the DACA program has been working.

“It’s despicable how they’re doing this to people who grew up in America, who doesn’t need to prove they’re American, but somehow, we have this system,” he said.

Saruhan moved back to Reno to organize for Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign but now he's focused on getting more immigrants to vote and rebuilding what he believes are broken systems.

“I’m excited about working towards building up from the ruins that COVID-19 and the Trump presidency has left most of our systems in,” he said.


Prince Saruhan, naturalized citizen and Reno resident; Noah Montague, immigration law expert, Washoe Legal Services; Lalo Montoya, political director, Make the Road Nevada

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