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Nevada Republicans court Latino vote

Cristina Silva

Nevada Republicans are courting Latino voters, but they aren't softening their anti-illegal immigration rhetoric.

In recent months, U.S. Sen. Dean Heller and U.S. Rep. Joe Heck have met with members of a Las Vegas Hispanic group only to affirm their opposition to immigration reform policies supported by many Latino voters.

Heller and Heck both told the Hispanics in Politics group that they oppose the DREAM Act, which seeks to create a path toward citizenship for some illegal immigrants who complete college or join the military.

Heller and Heck also said they want to overhaul the 14th Amendment so that some children of illegal immigrants will no longer be granted automatic citizenship at birth.

"What I said was I think we need to visit the area of birthright citizenship," Heck said Wednesday during his meeting with the group. He noted that most developed countries require one or both parents to be citizens.

Some Hispanics are applauding Heller and Heck's straight talk. Latinos voters are an increasingly important demographic after Nevada's Hispanic population grew to 26.5 percent in 2010, according to census data. Latino voters represented 9 percent of the electorate in 2010.

"Democrats have been engaging the community for a longer time with a sustained effort, and Republicans now are realizing they have to do that," said Jennifer Sevilla Korn, executive director of the Hispanic Leadership Network, a national conservative group. "Just because you're a Republican or a conservative, you can't be afraid to go into the community just because there might be some disagreement."

But critics argue that merely meeting Latinos on their own turf won't win voters. Many Hispanics won't vote for someone who wants to deport their cousin or uncle, they said.

"The Republican playbook has determined that taking a tough stance on immigration is not going to hurt them," said Andres Ramirez, a Democratic consultant. "They are trying to show there is a conservative movement of Latinos who want to work with Republicans. But they are certainly not adding new people to their fold."

Fernando Romero, president of Hispanics in Politics, said Heller and Heck's visits to the group marked the first time Republican candidates embraced tough immigration policies in front of its largely Democratic membership.

"Normally, they are less aggressive," Romero said.

Some Hispanics are concerned that the group is being used by Republicans who want to seem friendly toward that community. But Romero said he appreciated that the candidates didn't try to pretend they were pro-immigration reform when their records indicate otherwise.

"I certainly take my hat off to them for doing that and for giving us credit for not being stupid," he said.

But honesty won't be enough to sway voters, Romero said.

"Someone is giving them wrong advice: `Face them and by the mere fact that you addressed the group, they will give you a vote or two,'" Romero said.

Heck's spokesman said he isn't new to the Hispanic community. He has previously advertised on Spanish-language television and met with the Latin Chamber of Commerce in Las Vegas.

His likely general election opponent, Assembly Speaker John Oceguera, has Hispanic ancestry.

Heller has promised to meet with some Hispanic leaders to draft immigration reform legislation.

His likely general election rival, U.S. Rep. Shelley Berkley, represents the congressional district with the state's largest Hispanic population. She has met regularly with Hispanic groups and advocated for the DREAM Act.

The Associated Press