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Advocates stage mock election in Capitol for immigration reform

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WASHINGTON – An Arizona man joined dozens of advocates who “cast ballots” Thursday in what was billed as a mock election for immigration reform outside the Capitol office of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor.

“We wanted to let our congressmen know that now is the time for comprehension reform,” said Thomas Castellanos, a Phoenix resident who joined dozens who dropped pro-reform fliers into a bright red “ballot box” held by a volunteer.

The ballots were delivered to Cantor’s office after the orderly event. Advocates did not try to enter Cantor’s office during the event, and staffers for the Virginia Republican largely ignored the line of people in business attire stretching down the high-ceilinged corridor.

Staffers came and went with little more than a glance at the advocates, most of whom dispersed quickly after casting their “ballots.”

The event was organized by the National Council of La Raza, which said more than 30 states were represented Thursday.

Laura Vazquez, a senior immigration legislative analyst for La Raza, said Latino voters are trying to “send a strong message to Majority Leader Cantor to let him know that we want him to lead on immigration.”

“We need a majority leader that is going to move immigration reform forward this year,” she said.

Calls to Cantor’s office seeking comment were not returned Thursday.

The Senate passed a comprehensive immigration reform bill last year that included tougher border security, a revamped visa system and a pathway to citizenship for certain immigrants now here illegally.

But that bill stalled in the House, where Speaker John Boehner said lawmakers would not be rushed into acting but would instead take a “step-by-step, commonsense approach” to immigration reform.

House Republicans in February unveiled a six-point reform plan that included many elements of the Senate’s single, massive bill. But their plan specifically excluded a pathway to citizenship for immigrants who are here illegally.

House leaders almost immediately backed off the six-point plan, however, with Boehner saying reform would be difficult this year because Republicans in the House do not trust President Barack Obama to enforce any reform law they pass.

Boehner said at a news conference in February that Obama is “running around the country telling everyone he is going to keep acting on his own.”

But participants at Thursday’s event said they can no longer wait and that it is time for the House to act.

“(We) want to see a permanent solution this year,” Vazquez said.

Castellanos said he came to the Washington event because Valle del Sol, the health-services provider where he is chief financial officer, has both documented and undocumented people among the thousands of Arizonans it serves.

Castellanos said of the undocumented families that “in many cases they do not come forward because of the documentation issue.” That is why he feels it is important to keep pressing Congress for reform.

“(Valle del Sol has) always been for the rights of the less fortunate,” said Castellanos, who said it is time for the House to act on immigration reform.