Over the weekend, Las Vegas Metro Police’s lobbyist in Carson City suggested they will make changes to their protocol in handing over criminal defendants to ICE agents. This came on the heels of Las Vegas immigrant rights activists and a Clark County Commissioner calling on Metro to end their 287(g) agreement with ICE, and this came two years after Metro and their political allies killed legislation to codify in state law what Metro may be inching towards on its own now. Today, let’s take a closer look at this change and how it might make a difference in local law enforcement’s relationship with the local community.
A reminder of how this began and who’s been affected
In 2017, freshman State Senator Yvanna Cancela (D-Las Vegas) introduced SB 223 to regulate Nevada law enforcement agencies’ cooperation with federal immigration agents and restrict their performing of immigration enforcement actions. At the time both Metro Police and Republican legislators were bitterly opposed, even after Cancela agreed to amend the bill down from similar “sanctuary state” language that eventually became law in Illinois to something that would have simply codified into state law what various municipal law enforcement agencies claimed they were already doing in directing neighborhood beat officers not to ask about immigration status. Then on April 15, 2017, Democratic leaders allowed the bill to die due to lack of action (as it had never even been heard in committee).
Fast forward to February 7, 2019: After immigrant rights activists held a press conference with Clark County Commissioner Tick Segerblom (who had sponsored SB 223 alongside Cancela when he was in the Senate in 2017) to demand answers on Las Vegas Metro Police’s level of cooperation with ICE, Metro Police public information officers (PIO’s) were on hand to provide clarification along with their response to activists’ concerns about immigrants being handed over to ICE regardless of the nature of the crimes they’re accused of.
Las Vegas Metro Police PIO Jay Rivera reiterated that Metro officers do not ask civilians in the outside community about immigration status, but he did confirm the expansive practice of 287(g) within Las Vegas Detention Center. According to Rivera, “Anyone who was born outside the United States will automatically go through the additional step of checking fingerprints through the database. At that point, the ICE agents who are present will make the determination of what happens. At that point, it’s not Metro’s decision any more.” He then added, “It’s just a process we have where anyone born outside the United States will go through 287(g).”
So what’s potentially changing?
Last September, I listened to Alicia Moya explain how she ended up at the ICE-contracted Nevada Southern Detention Center in Pahrump after being arrested over traffic infractions. Then last Thursday, I listened to Jorge Franco share his story of being turned over to ICE after being arrested for a broken brake light, and I listened as Make the Road Nevada’s Lalo Montoya described how a friend’s spouse was turned over to ICE after being arrested for jaywalking. While Metro PIO Jay Rivera disputed Jorge Franco’s account of his arrest, Rivera did confirm that immigrants with undocumented status have been handed over to ICE after being arrested for similarly minor infractions.
Fast forward to today: The Nevada Independent’s Michelle Rindels spoke with Las Vegas Metro Police lobbyist Chuck Callaway, who expanded upon his testimony to the Assembly Judiciary Committee last Friday and confirmed Metro will change its policy on handing over defendants accused of lower-level offenses to ICE agents. According to Callaway, Metro will no longer notify ICE or place a “detainer” if a defendant with undocumented status is in Clark County Detention Center for a low-level traffic offense or misdemeanor charge and does not have a prior criminal record.
If Metro Police follows through on Callaway’s promise, this will align its operations in Clark County Detention Center closer to its protocol in the larger outside community, where officers are directed not to ask civilians about their immigration status. Interestingly enough, this is along the lines of what State Senator Yvanna Cancela intended with SB 223 in 2017 before the bill was dropped entirely.
So does this make Las Vegas a “sanctuary city”? (Or are we completely missing the point by obsessing over “the s word”?)
While speaking with The Indy, Callaway said that this change in protocol at Clark County Detention Center should not be seen as making Clark County or Las Vegas a “sanctuary” jurisdiction. In 2017, local officials plead their case to the Trump administration to remove Clark County from the federal government’s list of “sanctuary” jurisdictions and release $975,000 worth of federal grants being withheld by then Attorney General Jeff Sessions. And later in 2017, then State Senate Minority Leader Michael Roberson (R-Henderson) attempted a ballot initiative to ban “sanctuary cities” and recalls of three Democratic State Senators over their alleged “support for sanctuary cities”.
Though the “Prevent Sanctuary Cities” initiative and the three attempted recalls all failed to qualify last year, that didn’t stop Nevada Republicans from trying to make fear of immigrant communities the defining issue in last year’s election. Unfortunately for Nevada Republicans, they were ultimately outnumbered by more progressive-minded voters who were not interested in Trump-style anti-immigrant fear-mongering.
Nonetheless there remain many misconceptions about crime in immigrant communities, the legality of the federal government denying funds to municipalities based on their criminal justice policies, and whether “tough on crime” measures actually work in reducing crime levels. Even when it comes to the hot-button “sanctuary city” issue, there is no one official definition of a “sanctuary” jurisdiction and ICE continues to operate in municipalities that consider themselves “sanctuaries”.
There are, however, two key facts to keep in mind here: One is that there is no actual relationship between immigration and violent crime, and the other is that the fear of arrest and deportation tends to dissuade immigrants from reporting crime to law enforcement agencies. We can only wonder whether either of these facts weighed on Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo when he decided to let Chuck Callaway announce Metro Police’s new policy on exercising more discretion in turning criminal defendants over to ICE, and we can only hope that the actual facts on the ground ultimately outweigh the politics that’s become all too common in the White House.