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Nearly every Republican in the Senate voted last week in favor of a funding bill that would dismantle deportation relief programs championed by President Obama.


Sen. Dean Heller, however, didn't follow suit.

The U.S. senator from Nevada was the only Republican to vote against opening up debate on the legislation, which would roll back programs that would let up to 5 million people live and work in the country without fear of deportation. Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) voted against moving the bill forward, but for technical reasons.


Heller's stance is winning him cheers with immigrant rights groups back home.

The Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada has launched a small advertising campaign on Facebook, Twitter and in local Spanish-language newspapers, calling for Heller to "stay strong for immigrant families."

Laura Martin, the group's communications director, explained the rationale behind the campaign, which cost roughly $700. "We're actually running ads thanking him because we don't want him to get cold feet," she said. "Being the only Republican with a lot of Democrats, he must be getting a lot of pressure."


The bill, which is tied to funding for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), has failed to advance three times, and needs to win over a faction of Democrats to move forward.

That's unlikely. If Congress can't find a solution to the gridlock, DHS will run out of money on Feb. 27.


Many Republicans remain outraged at Obama for taking immigration into his own hands. Heller, for his part, is trying to lay low.

“I didn’t and don’t support the president’s executive order,” he said in a statement last week. But he said he won't vote for a bill that "complicates the process of finding a solution." His office did not respond to several requests for comment.


Heller made a U-turn on immigration policy several years ago, going from an opponent of the Dream Act, a bill that would create a path to citizenship for undocumented young people, to a reliable backer of immigration reform. The transformation seems to have stuck, even if he stopped short of saying he backed the president's unilateral decision to halt millions of deportations.


Although Heller might seem like the odd man out now, his moderate approach could catch the eye of Republican presidential hopefuls looking to attract Latino voters. He won in Nevada by a narrow margin in 2012, even as a Republican running in a district with strong Hispanic voter participation.

He didn't convince the majority of Latino voters — his opponent took 65 percent of that vote — but he did well enough to win the election. “Heller was more aggressive in trying to capture the Latino vote than Romney,” one Democratic strategist said at the time. “Heller spent more money and got started earlier on than the Romney campaign.”


Undocumented immigrants make up 10.2 percent of the labor force in Nevada, the highest share of any state, according to a 2014 report by the Pew Research Center.

Tod Story, executive director at the Nevada chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said the demographics in the state make it important to take issues like immigration reform into account when it comes to policy making.


"In Nevada, if you want to get elected to public office, you're going to have to be accommodating to minority communities," he said. "Certainly running on a xenophobic platform isn't going to get you anywhere."

Ted Hesson was formerly the immigration editor at Fusion, covering the issue from Washington, D.C. He also writes about drug laws and (occasionally) baseball. On the side: guitars, urban biking, and fiction.

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