LAS VEGAS (AP) — Republican U.S. Sen. Dean Heller took a hard stance against immigration reform that would grant illegal immigrants amnesty Friday, telling a Hispanic group in Las Vegas that he does not support the DREAM Act or birthright citizenship for some children.
Heller’s appearance at a monthly Hispanics in Politics meeting was intended to be an olive branch toward the Hispanic community after he cancelled a meeting with the Las Vegas Latin Chamber of Commerce in October, prompting accusations from some Hispanic leaders that Heller was shunning the Latino community.
But the meeting quickly evolved into a debate on immigration, with Heller repeating his opposition to illegal immigration several times, even as Hispanic leaders warned him that the stance could alienate some Latino voters. Heller also reiterated his support for an overhaul of the 14th Amendment, saying the children of illegal immigrants should only receive birthright citizenship if at least one parent is a citizen.
“I don’t believe we should be giving benefits to non-United States citizens over United States citizens,” he said.
Hispanics represent nearly a third of all Nevadans. Heller is running for re-election against Democratic Rep. Shelley Berkley, who represents many of Nevada’s Hispanic neighborhoods. She has endorsed the DREAM Act, which would legalize some young illegal immigrants if they attend college or serve in the military.
Heller stuck mostly to a stump speech on strengthening the shaken economy during the one-hour meeting. He called for more job creation, slammed President Barack Obama’s economic stimulus plans, defended the so-called Balanced Budget Amendment and pledged his support for the nation’s troops.
The speech also strove to highlight shared values between the GOP and many Hispanic cultures, with Heller stressing that family, education and faith are top priorities for both groups. He said he looks forward to Latino businesses in Nevada thriving under a smaller government and lower taxes.
“The Hispanic community has been let down by politicians who have taken you for granted, promised you the world and delivered nothing,” he said.
But Heller’s conservative position on immigration was a sticking point with some Democratic activists at the meeting, who peppered him with questions about his opposition to the DREAM Act.
Heller said the nation’s immigration laws were intimidating, unfairly requiring too many families to spend thousands of dollars on lawyers to help them navigate the system more quickly. But he offered no ideas on what improvements are needed, instead vowing to eventually come up with a solution with the help of some Hispanics leaders in Las Vegas.
He also rallied for border security, calling crime and drug trafficking a concern for all Americans, including Hispanics.
“If you think there is going to be a blanket amnesty of 10 to 15 million people,” Heller told the crowd, “I don’t think most of the people in the room agree with that.”
He said he supports requiring health care insurance providers to extend coverage to patients with pre-existing conditions, but said Obama’s health care law, which does just that, has to go.
Otto Merida, of the Latin Chamber of Commerce, said Heller’s pro-business stance may have won some votes, but his anti-immigration positions likely lost him many more.
“Many of the things he is against are important to the Hispanic community,” Merida said.