Nevada House candidate Erin Bilbray (D) is leaning hard on immigration reform, as she looks to defeat Rep. Joe Heck (R-Nev.).

Bilbray, the daughter of former Rep. James Bilbray (D-Nev.), describes her investment in immigration reform in personal terms, telling The Hill in an interview last week about an immigrant family she’s very close to — her daughter goes to school with theirs — and how the system has failed them.


The family’s eldest daughter only was able to go to college once President Obama’s Dream Act deferrals came through; her father was deported years ago.

“I see this every day, what real families are going through. ... These are really passionate issues, and I think that’s really the difference between me and Joe Heck. I’m out there with these families, and I see that this is not a Latino issue or an Asian-Pacific Islander issue, this is an issue that’s affecting all of us,” she said. “He’s not being responsible in taking care of these issues, and this has to be done.”

Bilbray says Heck, who has said he would have opposed the Senate-passed immigration plan but that he’s open to an amended version and supports a pathway to citizenship, hasn’t shown he cares enough about the problem. Heck has chided House leaders for not moving faster on immigration bills.

Immigration reform could be a powerful one in the swing district, where many Hispanic and Filipino immigrants live and about a quarter of the vote is nonwhite. Heck narrowly won his seat in 2010; won with a wider margin against a flawed opponent in 2012 despite heavy drag from the top of the ticket. He is the slight favorite in his second reelection, as the midterm electorate can be much more favorable to Republicans in Nevada.

Heck’s campaign pushed back against Bilbray’s attacks.

“This is a desperate candidate searching for relevance. The truth is, Joe Heck has been a leader on jobs and the economy and a voice of reason on immigration reform,” said Heck spokesman Ryan Erwin. “He has relentlessly fought for the people of Southern Nevada. Any suggestion otherwise is nothing more than an unimaginative campaign gimmick.”

The suburban Las Vegas district was an epicenter of the economic collapse: Nevada realtors had been overbuilding for years, and the casino industry took a huge hit as people’s disposable income disappeared.

Bilbray said that’s a big part of what motivated her to run. 

“I watched my neighbors across the street have their house foreclosed on. I watched my next-door neighbors have to short-sell. I’ve watched friends lose their jobs. Everybody is so worried. It’s so much worse in southern Nevada than it inside the Beltway. People are really scared; they don’t know how they’re going to pay for their kids to go to college. I’ve had friends that have come out of retirement because they can’t afford it anymore,” she said. 

“The biggest issue is jobs and the economy, and I don’t think there’s enough common-sense voice for the middle class here.”