In the past year, we’ve been documenting just how close to home the national conversation on immigration reform reaches. Whether it’s President Donald Trump’s attacks on refugee families who have become part of our community or local law enforcement agencies’ participation in Trump’s efforts to expand his anti-immigrant regime into our community, what Trump says about the U.S.-Mexico border doesn’t stay at the border.
The Nevada Legislature initially seemed poised bumbled, fumbled, and stumbled its way to killing AB 281 by letting it miss Tuesday’s legislative deadline. So what happened in Carson City, and why does this matter?
How did this come about?
In 2017, State Senator Yvanna Cancela (D-Las Vegas) introduced SB 223 to regulate state and local law enforcement agencies’ cooperation with federal immigration authorities and restrict their performing of actions that are meant to be carried out by federal immigration authorities. From the start, opponents of SB 223 (many of whom also happened to be supporters of President Donald Trump) resorted to demagoguery to stoke fears of a crime-ridden “sanctuary state”, and they ultimately succeeded in scaring Democratic leaders into shelving the bill.
In 2019, Assembly Member Edgar Flores (D-Las Vegas) and several more Assembly Democrats introduced AB 281 as a(n even) narrower version of what Cancela attempted to do in 2017. According to the LCB Digest, “this bill prohibits a state or local law enforcement agency, school police unit or campus police department from detaining a person on the basis of a hold request relating to immigration enforcement, except where there is an independent finding of probable cause.”
But unlike the original version of 2017’s SB 223, 2019’s AB 281 made clear it would not have affected municipal governments’ ability to participate in ICE’s 287(g) program that deputizes local law enforcement officers to perform federal immigration enforcement duties. Rather, this bill honed in on the detainers (or hold requests) that ICE often uses to have local police do its bidding without a formal 287(g) agreement on record. Or in other words, municipal authorities couldn’t just hold immigrants in jail because ICE is targeting them for deportation.
So what just happened this week?
When AB 281 came up for work session earlier this month, the Assembly Judiciary Committee passed the bill as-is with no amendments. Yet when the bill came up for a floor vote on April 16, Assembly Majority Leader Teresa Benitez-Thompson (D-Reno) placed it on the Chief Clerk’s Desk. If you’re wondering what that means, it’s basically when leaders decide to place a bill on hold.
So they held… And held, and held, all the way to this past Tuesday. And since Tuesday was the first house passage passage deadline (and AB 281 was never given an exemption), the bill died without a floor vote.
So now that we now what happened and how it happened, we’re left to ask why it happened.
Once more, with feeling: Let’s remember what matters, who matters, and why this all matters.
Let’s hop back to 2017 for a moment: Republicans stoked the fear of “crime” by screaming about the “danger” of “sanctuary cities”. Democratic leaders then responded in fear, as they pulled SB 223 because they feared losing law enforcement officials’ support and gaining a new round of Republican attack ads against them. Perhaps pulling SB 223 helped buoy their relationship with those law enforcement officials, but it did nothing to stop then U.S. Senator Dean Heller (R), then Gubernatorial candidate Adam Laxalt (R), President Donald Trump himself, and other Republican candidates from attacking Democrats on immigration the following year.
All those Republican attacks resulted in the election of U.S. Senator Jacky Rosen (D), Governor Steve Sisolak (D), and a bumper crop of Democrats up and down the ballot. That, in turn, resulted in wider Democratic majorities in the Legislature that empowered Edgar Flores to introduce AB 281, a very narrow bill that actually won the support of the very law enforcement officials who were skittish on 2017’s SB 223. And yet, all it took was for Adam Laxalt to reemerge with a PAC attack to scare Democratic leaders into abandoning AB 281 on the Chief Clerk’s Desk.
Now there’s speculation over whether Republicans successfully scared Democrats into abandoning the bill, or if Democrats were possibly playing “11-dimensional chess” by baiting Republicans into peak xenophobia by sounding all the “dog-whistle” alarms over a bill that was never really going anywhere. Whatever the case, it’s important to remember that these bills are not merely Carson City play-things, but rather legislation that affects real people and real communities. And as we like to say in these parts, real actions (or lack thereof) lead to real consequences.