ICE utilizes new beds in Henderson

The newly expanded Henderson Detention Center is attracting scores of new residents.

Federal officials in recent weeks began moving some of their inmates into the facility, saying they needed more jail beds because of stepped-up immigration enforcement.

Previously, local inmates from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement were housed exclusively in the North Las Vegas Detention Center while they awaited appearances in immigration court.

ICE now is renting 80 beds in Henderson, according to Virginia Kice, an ICE spokeswoman.

"We're enthusiastic about the opportunity to work with the city of Henderson," she said. "They have a beautiful facility."

ICE pays $96.96 per inmate per day to rent the beds in Henderson, said police spokesman Todd Rasmussen. ICE is expected to eventually house up to 160 inmates there, he said.

North Las Vegas' jail has 150 beds for ICE inmates and charges $105.96 per inmate per day.

Changes in enforcement strategies of the Department of Homeland Security have increased the number of illegal immigrants being detained and deported.

The Metropolitan Police Department in Las Vegas in late 2008 became one of the more than 70 law enforcement agencies nationwide to have forged a partnership with ICE, which falls under Homeland Security's umbrella.

The local partnership, called "287(g)" after its corresponding section of the federal Immigration and Nationality Act, allows specially trained officers at the Clark County Detention Center to identify immigration violators and place "immigration detainers" on them. The detainers let officers hold deportable inmates after they otherwise would be released so immigration officials can take custody of them.

In July, ICE brought its Secure Communities program to jails in Clark County. The program entails checking the fingerprints of every individual arrested and booked into custody against both FBI criminal history records and immigration records.

If the fingerprints match someone who has had previous contact with ICE, the system automatically notifies the agency, which can decide whether to target the person for potential deportation based on previous criminal records.

"Any criminal aliens that come from those programs will roll into our custody eventually," said Thomas Feeley, a deputy field office director for ICE's detention and removal operations. "We had the need for additional bed space due to our efforts to target criminal aliens."

The county jail doesn't have space to hold illegal immigrants as they await appearance in immigration court.

Critics say the use of programs such as 287(g) harm relationships between police and immigrant communities and make people afraid to report crimes.

The programs also have contributed to the all-time high number of unresolved local cases at Las Vegas Immigration Court, say those familiar with the workings of the court.

The court's backlog of cases grew by more than 80 percent in 2010 -- the third highest increase in the nation, according to an analysis by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, TRAC, a nonprofit group at Syracuse University that tracks federal law enforcement activities.

The local court's backlog reached 2,226 cases in December. The backlog was 1,144 in 2009 and 1,028 in 2008.

The backlog mirrors a national trend.

Henderson began work on the expansion to its detention center in early 2010, and a grand opening was Feb. 9.

The expansion adds 250 beds to the existing facility, for a total of 540 beds. New health care facilities, recreation yards, inmate programs areas and office space were included in the expansion. Henderson also will revamp the older part of the detention center as part of the $29 million project. That renovation is scheduled for completion in July.

Contact reporter Lynnette Curtis at or 702-383-0285.