weather icon Mostly Cloudy

Roberson leads charge for amendment banning sanctuary cities

CARSON CITY — Nevada will continue to be ground zero in the immigration debate, potentially for the next two election cycles.

Nevada voters may get to choose in the 2018 election whether to amend the state constitution to ban sanctuary cities. Senate Minority Leader Michael Roberson is leading the charge and announced last week the creation of Prevent Sanctuary Cities, a political action committee to pursue a ballot question that would prevent Nevada from allowing sanctuary cities.

Critics say the move is a political calculation and hurtful to the immigrant community. Roberson says it’s a matter of public safety and is needed to prevent future laws from tying the hands of law enforcement.

If successful in 2018, the issue would be on the ballot again in 2020, when President Donald Trump is up for re-election.

Roberson, R-Henderson, vigorously opposed Senate Bill 223, which would have prevented state and local law enforcement from conducting immigration enforcement operations.

He blasted the legislation and introduced a counterpunch: Senate Bill 333, which would have prevented cities and counties from banning cooperation with the federal government on immigration matters.

Both bills have died. Still, the debate will extend beyond the statehouse after the Legislature adjourns on June 5.

In an interview in his Senate office, Roberson doesn’t mince words about his Democratic colleagues in the Legislature and the legislation they pushed.

“Certainly many of them sponsored or tried to push through a bill that would have made Nevada a sanctuary state,” Roberson said.

“They have been pushing all session an aggressive, pro-felon, pro-criminal agenda,” he added.

Even now, he doesn’t rule out a last-minute effort from Democratic lawmakers.

“It doesn’t mean they won’t try to slip something through in the next 30 days,” he said. “I’m concerned they’re going to try again before the end of the session. I’m even more concerned that they will try again next session and so I want to put this to the people because I know the voters of Nevada feel very differently than these politicians in Carson City.”

Sanctuary cities

Currently, Nevada has no sanctuary cities. Nor does state law define what, exactly, a sanctuary city is.

Roberson said his goal is to prevent laws that hamstring local law enforcement. Specifically, he doesn’t want to see laws put in place that prevent local police from notifying federal immigration authorities or homeland security officials when a suspect has been arrested for a crime and is undocumented.

‘The scenario I’m talking about is when local law enforcement has already detained someone for committing a crime or being a suspect in a crime or a suspect in a terrorist activity,” Roberson said.

Simply put, “a sanctuary city or a sanctuary state is when the politicians instruct law enforcement not to do their job,” he said.

“What we want to do is make sure that local law enforcement is able to work with federal law enforcement and remove dangerous criminal aliens from our community,” Roberson said. “It’s as simple as that.”

Immigrant advocates and experts say that the “sanctuary cities” term is open to interpretation.

“The term ‘sanctuary’ has been manipulated and used in these types of cases to scare people and to make it seem as if all criminals are just being let loose in the streets to run rampant, and that’s not what it is,” said Astrid Silva, an immigration reform advocate from Las Vegas who spoke at the Democratic National Convention last year.

Michael Kagan, an immigration law professor at UNLV’s Boyd School of Law, said: “I think what’s going on here is that the label, the symbol ‘sanctuary cities’ is attractive to both left and right.”

“In order for Senator Roberson to ban sanctuary cities, he first has to define what he wants to ban,” he said.

Effort draws critics

Sen. Yvanna Cancela, D-Las Vegas, had sponsored SB223. In a statement, she called Roberson’s latest effort harmful and partisan.

“This is a harmful initiative that puts families at risk in the hopes of partisan political benefit,” she said. “It’s shameless and the community will see it as an affront to their very safety in Nevada.”

Silva also said Roberson’s effort is harmful to Nevada.

“To me, I think it’s disgusting,” she said. “It’s not what Nevada is and I just find it really disappointing that Senator Roberson, instead of working for a solution, is using this to get himself ahead in politics instead of caring about what’s happening.”

It’s important that immigrants in the community can contact the police to report a crime or take their kids to school without fear, she said.

“I think that our community works best when they are working with the police,” she said.

In a statement, Geoconda Arguello-Kline, secretary-treasurer for the Culinary Union, said: “This attack on immigrant families is shameful. We commend our elected officials who have declared their support for sanctuary cities, and we demand that those who have not yet pledged support of immigrants who are under attack do the same.”

Nevada State Democratic Party spokesman Stewart Boss called Roberson’s effort “shameless political maneuvering.”

“Senator Roberson is so desperate to avoid a repeat in 2018 of his humiliating primary loss to Danny Tarkanian that he is now going overboard to demonize and target undocumented immigrants,” Boss said.

Laura Martin, a spokeswoman for PLAN, said the effort is an attempt for Roberson to get attention.

“It’s clear that I guess he feels the only way he can be relevant and keep his name on people’s minds is to sell out to Donald Trump,” she said.

Roberson disputes that the proposed ballot question is an anti-immigrant measure, saying it allows law enforcement to root out criminals who hurt people in immigrant communities.

“They can cast aspersions all they want,” he said. “It does not deter me and it does not bother me because frankly, I don’t care what they think.”

Next steps

The initial work will be behind the scenes after the session ends in June. Once the blackout period for fundraising ends, Roberson intends to start raising money for the PAC.

The goal is to get the legal language for the ballot written and vetted so that work to gather the necessary number of signatures can begin in September.

Roberson isn’t expecting the measure — or himself — to avoid criticism.

“They can say whatever they want, but they don’t know what my intentions are,” Roberson said. “I’m telling you what my intentions are. This is a serious problem and I got to tell you, this is in reaction to what they are trying to push this session.”

Contact Ben Botkin at bbotkin@reviewjournal.com or 775-461-0661. Follow @BenBotkin1 on Twitter.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Politics Videos
Kamala Harris campaigns in Las Vegas
Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris castigated President Donald Trump’s merit-based immigration plan, saying it was “short-sighted” and overlooked the cultural significance of family, during a campaign stop in Las Vegas. “We cannot allow people to start parsing and pointing fingers and creating hierarchies among immigrants,” Harris told Asian Pacific Islander leaders at a Chinatown restaurant, one of two appearances she made Thursday.
The Right Take New Education Funding Plan - VIDEO
On Monday, Senate Education Committee chair Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas, released a new education funding formula. For years, many Democrat politicians have criticized the current education funding formula, called the Nevada Plan. They claim it’s old and outdated. Their biggest beef is that it doesn’t allocate more money for students who are English Language Learners or live in poverty. The theory is that it’s harder to educate those students and so they need additional services, which costs additional money.
Kamala Harris campaigns in Nevada
California Senator Kamala Harris meets with One APIA Nevada, a nonprofit organization that advocates for policies empowering Asian Pacific Islander Nevadans. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Ben Carson talks housing (Audio only)
Ben Carson discusses housing with the Review-Journal editorial board on Thursday. (Audio only)
Ben Carson visits the RJ (Full Audio Only)
Ben Carson discusses housing with the Review-Journal editorial board on Thursday. (Audio only)
Former Vice President Joe Biden campaigns in Nevada
After campaigning at the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades District Council 16 in Henderson, former Vice President Joe Biden spoke with the Review-Journal.
Student serenades Mayor Carolyn Goodman at swearing in
Students from the school she founded, The Meadows School, serenaded Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman during a swearing in ceremony for her third and final term. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Al Gore Speaks At UNLV About Climate Change - Video
Former Vice President of the United States Al Gore talks to an audience at UNLV about the effects of Climate change and how to switch to renewable sources of energy.
Forum on Wages and Working People Highlights - VIDEO
Presidential candidates Elizabeth Warren, Beto O'Rourke, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, Julian Castro, and John Hickenlooper speak in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Nevada Politics Today Valerie Weber - VIDEO
Valerie Weber sits down with Victor Joecks to discuss her policies and why she is running for Ward 2 of the Las Vegas City Council.
Cory Booker speaks at UNLV
US Senator Cory Booker speaks at UNLV during a Young Democrats meet and greet on Thursday, April 18, 2019. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
May-Brown describes why some with disabilities need the subminimum wage - VIDEO
Eliminating the subminimum wage will end training and work opportunities for some members of the disabled community. Instead of doing something productive, they would be relegated to adult day care. That’s according to Tracy May-Brown, Opportunity Village’s director of advocacy, board and government relations.
Commission’s decision will delay Red Rock Canyon development
The Clark County Commission Wednesday rejected a developer’s request to approve a preliminary plan for 3,000 homes overlooking Red Rock Canyon before a federal agency grants permission for a roadway leading to the site.
Clark County commissioner calls on landlords to bring properties up to code
Clark County Commissioner Tick Segerblom has called on landlords in older parts of the valley to bring their properties up to code and keep them well-maintained or face the prospect of inspections, fines and citations. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Harry Reid speaks out against anti-Semitism
Unnerved by the rise in anti-Semitic hate speech and the general pervasiveness of bigotry, including in Nevada, former U.S. Sen. Harry Reid organized an educational forum at UNLV on Thursday as part of his call to unite people against it. (Shea Johnson/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
President Trump speaks to the Republican Jewish Coalition in Las Vegas
President Donald Trump spoke at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s National Leadership Meeting in Las Vegas and updated on Israeli relations. (Heidi Fang/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Trump says border wall will have 'hundreds of miles' built by end of next year
President Donald Trump spoke at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s National Leadership Meeting in Las Vegas and discussed the progress of the border wall and the current relations there. (Heidi Fang/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Protesters disrupt Trump's speech
Just as President Donald Trump started to make his opening remarks during his appearance at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s National Leadership Meeting, protesters disrupted his speech. (Heidi Fang/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Roerink On The Problems With Taking Water From Eastern Nevada - Video
The Southern Nevada Water Authority wants to take billions of gallons of water that doesn’t exist from Eastern Nevada via a pipeline that would cost ratepayers $15 billion. Doing so would devastate the wildlife and people who live there. That’s according to Kyle Roerink, executive director of the Great Basin Water Network, which opposes the pipeline.
Las Vegas Election Night Wrap-Up
The Review-Journal's Politics and Government Editor, Steve Sebelius, wraps up election night. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Olivia Diaz Speaks To Ward 3 Supporters After Primary Election - Video
Olivia Diaz speaks to her supporters at a election party after results started coming in for the Ward 3 primaries.
Oscar Goodman Speaks On Behalf Of Mayor At Primary Win (edited)
Oscar Goodman spoke Tuesday night on behalf of his wife, Carolyn, who won the mayoral primary election. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Oscar Goodman Speaks On Behalf Of Mayor At Primary Win (Full)
Oscar Goodman spoke Tuesday night on behalf of his wife Carolyn, who won the mayoral primary election. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Gun Debate Shows Limits Of Government - Video
On Monday, the Assembly and Senate Judiciary Committees held a joint hearing on Assembly Bill 291. It would ban bump stocks and allow local governments to pass additional restrictions on firearms.
Lucy Flores speaks out about Biden incident
Former Nevada assemblywoman, Lucy Flores, expresses her feelings about an incident with former Vice President Joe Biden in 2014. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @Vegas88s
Harry Reid takes the stand in injury lawsuit
Former U.S. Sen. Harry Reid took the stand on Thursday in the product liability lawsuit brought against the makers of a resistance exercise band that Reid blames for blinding him in one eye.
Jurors hear opening statements in Reid personal injury trial
Opening statements were made on Tuesday in the product liability lawsuit brought by Harry Reid against against the makers of a resistance exercise band that Reid blames for blinding him in one eye.
Mayor Goodman delivers Meals on Wheels
Mayor Carolyn Goodman delivers Meals on Wheels to seniors on March 26, 2019.
Las Vegas City Council Ward 1 race
Candidates for Las Vegas City Council Ward 1. (Shea Johnson/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Beto O’Rourke campaigns in Las Vegas
Democratic presidential candidate and former Texas congressman Beto O'Rourke addresses attendees during a campaign stop at Arandas Taqueria in Las Vegas on Sunday, March 24, 2019. (Chase Stevens/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Beto O'Rourke House Party in Las Vegas
Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke delivered a message of unity inside a Las Vegas living room Saturday night, outlining a mission to bridge the divide in a polarized America and rally behind “big defining ambitions that we have in common.” (Shea Johnson/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Presidential candidate Kirsten Gillibrand talks at Atomic Liquors
Democrat presidential candidate Kirsten Gillibrand talks to her supporters at Atomic Liquors.
Presidential candidate Gillibrand meets with UNLV Immigration Clinic student attorneys
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., meets with UNLV Immigration Clinic student attorneys at her first stop in Nevada as a candidate Thursday, March 21, 2019. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto promotes the Rebuild America’s Schools Act
U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., co-sponsor of the Rebuild America’s Schools Act, speaks at Hoggard Elementary School in Las Vegas to promote the bill that would provide $100 billion for infrastructure improvements at schools across the country. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Scholar Max Eden on how restorative justice decreases student achievement - VIDEO
Across the country, restorative justice is lowering test scores and increasing the number of students who feel unsafe at schools. That’s according to Max Eden, a senior fellow with the Manhattan Institute, who recently released a study discipline reform.
NV Dems Want To Gut Read By Three - Video
Nevada’s students have a major problem. They aren’t very good at reading. In 2017, just 31 percent of fourth graders were proficient at reading according to the National Assessment of Education Progress. The number proficient falls to 28 percent in eighth grade. Read by Three could change that. If a student can’t read at grade level by the end of third grade, he repeats the grade.
Presidential hopeful Tulsi Gabbard stumps in Las Vegas
Presidential hopeful U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, holds a meet and greet at the Asian Culture Center in downtown Las Vegas Monday, March 18, 2019. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Nye County pushes back against state gun bill
Gun store owner Robby Brentlinger and John Koenig, Chairman of the Nye County Board of Commissioners, discuss their thoughts on gun rights and Nevada Senate Bill 143. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @Vegas88s
Atkinson pleads guilty
Former Nevada Senate Majority Leader Kelvin Atkinson pleaded guilty to a federal wire fraud charge Monday.
Atkinson pleads guilty to wire fraud charges
U.S. Attorney’s Office announces plea deal for charges against former Nevada Senate majority leader Kelvin Atkinson during a press conference on Monday, March 11, 2019. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Former Nevada Senate Majority Leader Kelvin Atkinson pleads guilty
Former Nevada Senate Majority Leader Kelvin Atkinson pleaded guilty to a federal wire fraud charge Monday, less than a week after resigning from his post. (Mat Luschek/Review-Journal)
Melania Trump Speaks Out About Opioid Epidemic - VIDEO
Melania Trump speaks at the Westgate hotel about the Opioid epidemic in the United State and how this generation can be the group that ends it.
Nevada Legislative Session Preview: Education, Yucca Mountain and Microchips
The Nevada Legislature will be meeting to look at new bills that involve education and marriage age restrictions. Governor Sisolak has also requested to meet with the White House about the plutonium shipments sent to Nevada.
Cortez Masto, Rosen For Infanticide - VIDEO
If an abortionist — armed with scissors, clamps and a vacuum cleaner — can’t kill a baby while she’s still in the womb, he shouldn’t get another chance after she’s born. Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen disagree.
Lawsuit challenges Nevada’s new diabetes drug disclosure law

Two pharmaceutical groups have filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging the constitutionality of a bill passed by the 2017 Nevada Legislature requiring disclosure of the pricing of diabetes drugs.

Nevada Legislature approves final payment for ESA software

The final action on Nevada’s controversial private school choice program came Thursday when the Legislature’s Interim Finance Committee approved $105,000 to pay off the remaining costs incurred by a vendor who was working on the development of software to implement the program.

Recall targets a third Nevada senator

A third recall petition against a female Nevada state senator was filed Wednesday.

Federal government approves Nevada’s education plan

Nevada is among four states to get U.S. Education Department approval of its plan as required under a new federal education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA.