Biden, Nevada, and immigration: It’s complicated.

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Former Vice President Joe Biden speaks at Las Vegas campaign event in North Las Vegas, hosted by Mi Familia Vota January 11. (Photo: Jeniffer Solis)

Joe Biden’s campaign frames the former vice president as the Democrat with the best shot at beating Donald Trump.

His “Todos Con Biden Weekend of Action” in Southern Nevada was no different. 

At a campaign event with a crowd of more than 300 people at Rancho High School on Saturday, Nevada Rep. Dina Titus introduced Biden as a candidate who “represents a broad coalition.” 

“We need someone who can hit the ground running who doesn’t need on the job training who can bring international respect to this country,” Titus said.

Texas Rep. Filemon Vela, who endorsed Biden early on, described the candidate in his introduction at the event as someone with “stable and steady leadership.”

One question is if that message of electability will hold until Nevada.

The highly respected Des Moines Register poll released Friday has Biden at fourth place in Iowa, while the latest Monmouth University poll has Biden in second place in New Hampshire, leaving the former Vice President in a precarious position leading up to the Nevada caucus 41 days away.

But during the Q&A style event Saturday moderated by Héctor Sánchez Barba, the executive director and chief executive officer of Mi Familia Vota, Biden’s troubles in other early nominating states was absent, as he received a standing ovation and a warm reception. The 77-year-old former senator from Delaware holds a roughly 9 percentage point lead over his closest rival Sanders in the Real Clear Politics average of Nevada Democratic polls.

Biden spent much of the Latino-focused event discussing the economic contributions of immigrants, adding that he would reinstate protections for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients, commonly referred to as Dreamers. He also touted his plan to increase refugee admissions into the United States and stressing that, if elected, he was committed to preventing family separations.

Throughout his campaign Biden has tied himself to Barack Obama, but also had to reconcile Obama-era deportations, when some 3 million immigrants were deported, more than any other president in modern history.

Those tensions came to a head during Biden’s weekend events.

“There was one issue, Mister Vice President, where we strongly disagreed all the time during the last administration, and that was the issue of deportation. It’s an issue that has been devastating for communities, for families,” said Barba, who worked with the Obama administration on immigration policy as the leader of a Latino labor group. 

During Saturday’s event Biden distanced himself from Obama’s record by implying that he opposed Barack Obama’s deportation policy, but didn’t speak out because he was vice president at the time.

“You privately know where I was on that but I’m not going to get into that because I was vice president,” Biden replied to Barba.

Biden told the crowd that under his administration only immigrants who have committed a felony would be deported. 

Cecia Alvarado, the Nevada state director for Mi Familia Vota, criticized the “bad immigrant’ good immigrant narrative” in an interview after Biden’s remarks. Alvarado said with divisive rhetoric coming from the White House, Biden’s continuation of rhetoric tying immigrants to crime was problematic. 

“With everything we have been dealing with here with 287 (g) and the collaboration with the police and ICE we know that people fall into the deportation pipeline,” said Alvarado.

At an immigraion panel hosted by the Biden campaign the following day, those questions about the Obama-Biden immigration record continued.

Erica Castro, an organizing manager with the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada and a DACA recipient, confronted Biden campaign representatives on immigration, asking the campaign to address the family separations that took place under the last administration. 

“How can I trust a candidate that … is not talking about how he will use executive power to stop deportations and reverse a lot of deportations that are happening? How can we ensure that he is actually taking us into account?” Castro said. 

Vela reiterated that immigration advocates need to be “realistic about what we could accomplish in the first 100 days” of a Biden presidency. 

Immigration isn’t the only issue Biden faces with Latinos, who are the youngest major racial or ethnic group in the U.S. Nearly six-in-ten Hispanics are Millennials or younger, a demographic Biden has struggled to attract.

An Iowa State University poll found him earning the support of just 2 percent of caucus-goers younger than 34. A WBUR-FM poll of New Hampshire shows him earning the support of 0 percent of voters younger than 30.

Sanders, Biden’s top competitor in Nevada, has been polling strongly among Latinos. Recent polls by the Los Angeles Times and Latino Decisions all show Sanders as a top Democratic presidential candidate among Latino Democrats — particularly young Latinos

A Latino educators and students roundtable over the weekend gave a glimpse of the possible disconnect with the youth.

When told to ask questions, the group of teens participating in the event were silent, a packet of Biden’s plans and bumper stickers sitting on their desks.

The older adults in the room took hold of the conversation before Assemblyman Edgar Flores, who participated in the roundtable, reminded everyone they were there to listen to the teens’ concerns.

When the teens spoke they talked about what they want to be: architects, pilots, coders, business leaders. They talked about the future.

Biden campaign representatives focused on pragmatism and a return to normalcy, a vastly different message from his chief rivals for the youth vote, Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, who talk about “fundamental” and “structural” change.

Jeniffer Solis
Reporter | Jeniffer was born and raised in Las Vegas, Nevada where she attended the University of Nevada, Las Vegas before graduating in 2017 with a B.A in Journalism and Media Studies. While at UNLV she was a senior staff writer for the student newspaper, the UNLV Scarlet and Gray Free Press, and a news reporter for KUNV 91.5 FM, covering everything from the Route 91 shooting to UNLV housing. She has also contributed to the UNLV News Center and worked as a production engineer for several KUNV broadcasts before joining the Nevada Current. She’s an Aries.