Traffic tickets are a part of life. Apparently, they were a big part of Attorney General Adam Laxalt’s (R) life when he lived in the D.C. suburbs. And on one of them, Laxalt didn’t even pay it until late last month.
For Laxalt, these speeding tickets were no big deal. But for some Nevada immigrants, similar infractions can lead to far more serious consequences. Is there a double standard in place, one that worked in Laxalt’s favor thanks to his skin color, his citizenship status, and his family’s wealth?
What’s with Adam Laxalt’s need for speed when he was in D.C.?
From 1996 to 2006, Adam Laxalt collected a grand total of eight speeding tickets in Virginia and Maryland. One of those incidents, in August 1997, also violated the terms of his suspended license (due to his DUI arrest prior to 18th birthday). And in the case of his 2003 speeding violation in Easton, Maryland, Laxalt didn’t even pay the ticket until just last month.
Laxalt is fortunate that 1) he’s a U.S. citizen, and 2) that he was in the D.C. Beltway region when he ran into trouble with the traffic cops. Unlike Virginia, Maryland, and 35 other states that merely treat traffic violations as civil infractions, “moving violations” are considered misdemeanor offenses here in Nevada. If someone misses a payment on a speeding ticket, one risks jail time. And if an immigrant with undocumented status happens to get pulled over by a traffic cop, that immigrant may immediately be put at risk for arrest, transfer to ICE custody, and potentially even deportation.
“Next time I spoke to [family], I was on an ICE hold. They couldn’t get me out.”
– Alicia Moya, Las Vegas
For Las Vegas resident Alicia Moya, one traffic violation has changed the course of her life. “It was a regular morning, going to a meeting at work. When I saw the [police car] from the rearview mirror, I knew it was over,” Moya explained. “I knew what was going to happen.”
Despite the lack of a prior criminal record, Moya ran into grave danger over mere traffic tickets. Shortly thereafter, “Next time I spoke to [family], I was on an ICE hold. They couldn’t get me out.” And why not? According to Moya, “The bailiff told them, ‘You pay [her bail], and she goes to ICE custody.’”
And yet, Alicia Moya ultimately landed in ICE custody anyway, and was even moved to the Nevada Southern Detention Center in Pahrump, far from her girlfriend and her two children. According to Moya, “When I was at Henderson [Detention Center], they said, ‘Hey, roll up. You’re going home. I was like, ‘I know I’m not going home.’” Instead, in the middle of the night, Moya and several other detainees were transferred to Pahrump.
“By the way, I’ve seen ICE attorneys in immigration court hold bench warrants against people. […] This is a spiraling problem, and it’s very different from what the public is being told.”
– Michael Kagan, UNLV Immigration Law Clinic
If you remember our previous conversation with the UNLV Immigration Law Clinic’s Michael Kagan, he explained how much power the executive branch of the federal government has over the nation’s immigration system, as well as how federal immigration authorities tend not to take into account what a person has done with one’s life when they move to deport this person. I caught up again with Kagan at an event hosted by Arriba Las Vegas Worker’s Center today, and we shifted to the conversation on how Southern Nevada law enforcement agencies are cooperating with ICE.
“This is more about who they hold, and who they turn over to ICE. […] Las Vegas city jails do this more often than Metro Police, and they don’t even have 287(g),” Kagan explained. He continued, “I think there is a real gap between what they’re talking about [in terms] of who they’re targeting for deportation, and who’s actually in the system. People who have serious criminal records are a very small minority in the deportation process. Very few of the people ICE detains are charged with an aggravated felony.”
Kagan then added, “By the way, I’ve seen ICE attorneys in immigration court hold bench warrants against people. The fact that people didn’t pay a traffic ticket has been used as an argument why they shouldn’t be let out of ICE detention, or why an immigration bond should be set higher.” He continued, “This is a spiraling problem, and it’s very different from what the public is being told.”
“What about people who’ve not committed serious offenses? What if they were just arrested for a traffic ticket? Do you support deporting them?”
– Michael Kagan
Throughout the course of this election cycle, Adam Laxalt, U.S. Senator Dean Heller (R), and other Nevada Republicans have been railing against “sanctuary cities” and the threat they pose to “law-abiding citizens” (as in, the threat that only truly exists in their campaign commercials). And despite the lack of factual content in these attacks, some Democrats, such as Rep. Jacky Rosen (D-Henderson), have responded by expressing support for ICE (in her case, a vote for a House Republican resolution endorsing the conduct of the Trump-era ICE) as they change the subject to a more politically expedient topic.
For Michael Kagan, “One of the things that’s so frustrating about the sanctuary rhetoric is they don’t talk about what’s actually in the law.” For example, Kagan noted, “California’s law has a really long list of violent criminal offenses. If someone has committed one of these offenses, [local law enforcement agencies] can cooperate with ICE.” Or in other words, California immigrants who have actually committed serious criminal offenses are still being turned over to federal authorities.
Whereas here in Southern Nevada, local authorities tend to give ICE far more free reign in selecting immigrants to be turned over to federal custody. Kagan then asked, “What about people who’ve not committed serious offenses? What if they were just arrested for a traffic ticket? Do you support deporting them?”
“That’s the worst thing you can do, to have to tell your kids that you’re in jail. And then going home and seeing your son worrying about whether or not you’re coming back, it sucks.”
– Alicia Moya
As Alicia Moya recalled, “It was only a driver’s license I needed to get out of this. I never had to worry about my life.” Moya then explained, “Being a single mom, being the breadwinner, it’s just hard to put the ticket first and pay for that [over more pressing family needs]. I just can’t.”
“You never think it’s going to happen to you at all. It’s hard to tell your kids, ‘Hey, I’m in jail.’ They ask, ‘What did you do?’ I say, ‘Nothing. The cop just stopped me. You know how you don’t like how mom drives.’”
Moya then shared, “That’s the worst thing you can do, to have to tell your kids that you’re in jail. And then going home and seeing your son worrying about whether or not you’re coming back, it sucks.” She added, “You totally just disappear and become a number. I was three numbers. [At ICE,] I was never Alicia Moya.”
So has Adam Laxalt benefitted from a double standard?
Immigrant rights activists speak out on Adam Laxalt's traffic tickets and disparities in the criminal justice syste… https://t.co/iaqnvydikh
— Andrew Davey (@atdleft) September 14, 2018
During the Arriba Las Vegas Worker’s Center event, they contrasted the story of Alicia Moya and other local immigrants who have had their lives upended by otherwise minor traffic infractions with Adam Laxalt’s eight traffic violations, his 15 year failure to pay one of his tickets, and the possibility that he could have had his license suspended while he was living in Virginia. Fortunately for Laxalt, he’s been able to climb the political ladder and become a top law enforcement official himself despite his shoddy driving record.
Many Nevada immigrants are not that fortunate. For them, just one traffic ticket can place them on the highway to real danger.