Astrid Silva came to the United States aged four with her parents from Mexico in search of "the American dream." She's 23 now and fears being deported every day.
She is one reason Republicans are struggling to woo Latinos -- key voters in heavily Hispanic states like Nevada, Colorado and Arizona -- despite the economic downturn, experts say.
Ahead of Saturday's caucuses in Nevada, Republicans trumpeted how the economic crisis -- which has hit the western state worst than most -- has convinced Latinos to abandon President Barack Obama's Democrats.
But one expert said the reality is that, even if Republicans have made some progress in "outreach" into the Latino community, the majority of Hispanics will still vote Democrat come the November presidential elections.
"All the numbers show that they don't love Obama. But they like him a lot better than they do any of the Republican candidates here," said David Damore, associate professor of politics at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
"The most important issue for Latino voters is immigration and you've already had Mitt Romney come out and say he'd veto the DREAM Act... and that sort of ends the conversation really quickly," he told AFP.
That's where Silva comes in -- she was among a small group of young Latinos who staged a protest outside Republican frontrunner Romney's Las Vegas campaign headquarters to protest his stance on the DREAM Act.
The Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, which Obama supports, would allow 55,000 youngsters who came to the United States illegally to go to university after completing high school here.
Silva, whose mother was born in the Mexican state of Veracruz but who has lived in Las Vegas for 19 or her 23 years, is part of those undocumented masses left in limbo -- but who would be out if a president Romney vetoed the Act.
"At this moment I'm up for deportation at any moment. If they were to come right now and arrest us. At any moment it's a risk, but there would be a bigger risk if he were to veto it," she said.
"We came for the American dream," she said, explaining how her father is still fighting against deportation, and how she does "odd jobs" to cover the bills, while hoping that one day she will be able to graduate from college.
Speaking in the parking lot outside Romney's suburban campaign offices with the red desert mountains surrounding Las Vegas looming in the distance, she added: "Even if I did graduate ... I could never apply for a job."
Rival presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich has sharply criticized Romney's plan for illegal immigrations to go back to their countries of origin voluntarily and re-apply for legal entry -- a move which could break up families here.
Republicans did "recognize that there are human beings involved," Gingrich told the select group of 40 or so Latinos at a Vegas restaurant.
But he said a key part of the immigration problem was the complexity of getting visas.
"In many places it's easier to come here illegally than it is to go to the State Dept to try to get a visa," he said, saying if elected he would launch a guest worker program.
"I would have American Express, Visa or Mastercard run it, because they know how to run card programs with minimum fraud, and the federal government's just a failure," he said.
One member of his audience was physician Annette Teijeiro, who is herself running for a state Senate seat as a Republican. She said more Latinos are realizing that the Republican Party is more for them.
In the past, "Hispanics were somewhat misled... as to what party was representing them the best... Now as they get their wake up call (they are) starting to realize that the Republican Party has more solutions."
The Nevada State Democratic Party does not agree, said communications director Zach Hudson.
"When Nevada Latinos go to the polls this November they will have a clear choice between President Obama's commitment to creating jobs and passing comprehensive immigration reform and the DREAM Act," he said.
The alternative was "a Republican like Mitt Romney who continues to insult the Hispanic community by not only saying he'd veto the DREAM Act as President, but actually derides it as a 'handout.'"
Latinos constitute 26 percent of Nevada's population and will comprise 15 percent of its registered voters in November, according to immigration reform group America's Voice.
"If the past two election cycles... are any guide, the Latino vote and the issue of immigration reform will once again prove decisive in the 2012 general election," it said.
Four years ago 76 percent of Nevada's Latino voters backed Obama, helping him regain the swing state from the Republicans, who had taken it in 2000 and 2004.
"Mitt Romney has already seared his image as an anti-immigrant candidate into the minds of Latino voters," said America's Voice.
"Romney's vow to veto the DREAM Act and his continued calls for self-deportation of undocumented immigrants are reverberating in the Latino community -- and will continue through November."
© AFP 2013