Immigration officials have entered into an agreement with Las Vegas police that will allow specially trained officers at the Clark County Detention Center to identify immigration violators and initiate deportation proceedings against them.
The agreement is expected to substantially increase deportations of local undocumented immigrants who are jailed, officials with the U.S. Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement said Monday.
The so-called 287 (g) partnership between ICE and the Metropolitan Police Department empowers local officers to do some forms of immigration policing.
After a person has been arrested and taken to jail, officers will "take it one step further to ascertain" that person's legal status and deportability, said Steven Branch, field office director for ICE detention and removal operations in Nevada. "Officers will step in and do what (ICE) agents are currently doing."
Branch wouldn't specify how officers would determine immigration status. But he emphasized that the agreement will affect only those who have already been arrested on other charges.
Sheriff Doug Gillespie declined to comment on Monday, but told the Review-Journal late last year that a 287 (g) partnership would be limited to the jail and would not affect a long-standing department policy that prevents local police on the street from asking potential immigration violators about their legal status.
"I want to make it very clear that this won't change my position about police officers at Metro stopping people or going into businesses strictly because what is looked upon as illegal status," Gillespie said at the time. "We'll be dealing with these people after they're arrested and booked into the Clark County Detention Center."
A department spokesman on Monday confirmed that police finalized the partnership with ICE earlier this month, but said the program hasn't yet begun and details are still being finalized.
Designated jail officials must complete four weeks of training before participating in the program. Details of what the training will entail were not available Monday.
Those who complete the training will then gain access to a federal database of known immigration violators that will tell them whether an inmate has been deported before or if the citizenship status of that inmate is in question, said Las Vegas Police spokesman Ramon Denby.
If an inmate is flagged on the software program, that information will be passed along to ICE officials, he said. Information on how people will be selected to be checked against the database was not available Monday. Denby said more details about how the program will work will be released in the coming weeks.
Jail officials will be authorized to put immigration detainers on certain inmates determined to be legally deportable, allowing ICE to step in upon resolution of criminal cases, said Virginia Kice, an ICE spokeswoman.
The police department applied for the partnership last year. ICE officials say enforcement efforts are more effective in areas with such agreements.
Kristen Telfer, president of Americans4America, a local anti-illegal-immigration group, applauded the partnership.
"If criminals who are illegal aliens know they'll be checked once they get to CCDC and deported, maybe that will be a deterrent," she said.
But Telfer was not convinced police would investigate the immigration status of inmates, even under the agreement, because local police don't believe it is their job to enforce immigration laws, she said.
Leticia Saucedo, co-director of the Immigration Law Clinic at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, said she's concerned that the partnership will push members of the immigrant community "further into the shadows."
"They won't want to come forward with information about crime because they'll be afraid of being arrested and deported," she said. "This is going to make people more afraid of the police."
But Denby said he doesn't think the partnership will harm relations between police and the immigrant community.
"We're not a fly-by-night organization," Denby said. "Before we run one individual, we're going to make sure we have the proper checks and balances in place."
Vicenta Montoya, a local immigration attorney, said she's comfortable with the partnership because it may be a way to "find those people who slip through the cracks and, many times, are not good people and should be put into immigration proceedings."
"My only concern would have been if police were asking people about immigration status on the street," she said.
But Fernando Romero, president of Hispanics in Politics, said he's worried that it won't be just "gang-bangers and drug dealers" who get caught up in the new program, but also "the guy who's been here 20 years, paid taxes, has kids in school" and gets arrested for simply forgetting to pay a speeding ticket.
"Our reservation is about people who live by the rules and whose only sin is they never got documentation," he said.
Nationally, 62 local and state police groups have immigration partnerships, according to ICE.
Review-Journal writer Antonio Planas contributed to this report. Contact reporter Lynnette Curtis at email@example.com or 702-383-0285.