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Nevada immigration bill fails to satisfy both sides of debate

Updated March 30, 2019 - 9:46 pm

CARSON CITY — A bill that would restrict local law enforcement from cooperating in some cases with federal immigration authorities but stops short of enacting so-called sanctuary state laws is pleasing neither side of the immigration debate.

Assembly Bill 281, sponsored by Assemblyman Edgar Flores, D-Las Vegas, would prevent law enforcement in Nevada from detaining someone based solely on a request from immigration authorities unless the person is suspected of committing a crime.

But the bill also specifies that it does not prevent local authorities from entering into agreements with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, known as the 287(g) program, which deputizes officers to act as federal immigration agents.

At a hearing for the bill in the Assembly Judiciary Committee on Friday, people from both sides of the immigration debate found themselves sitting at the same table expressing their opposition to the bill, but for vastly different reasons.

Rural Nevada residents and conservatives characterized it as a “sanctuary state” bill that would prevent violent criminals who are in the country illegally from being detained, while immigration reform advocates panned the bill for not going far enough to protect undocumented immigrants.

The bill’s sponsor says that both sides are missing the point on what the bill actually does.

“It is a step in the right direction, in my opinion, but it is not in any way going to change law enforcement cooperation with the Department of Homeland Security,” Flores said.

AB 281 is framed to codify into law the policy that the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department has said that it uses. Under Metro’s 287(g) agreement with ICE, officers check whether people booked into the county jail are wanted for deportation proceedings, then detain them for ICE. In December, Metro stopped placing those holds on undocumented immigrants who had low-level traffic warrants.

Las Vegas police supported the bill because it won’t change how the department operates, said police lobbyist Chuck Callaway.

“We do not do field immigration enforcement. That’s not our job. That’s the job of the federal government,” Callaway said.

Anti-immigration advocates, many of whom were from rural Nevada, invoked the same arguments that have been used against “sanctuary state” laws in other states such as California and opposed giving any protections to anyone in the U.S. illegally.

“An undocumented immigrant from any country should not be protected,” said Barry Penzel, the chairman of the Douglas County Commission, who noted that he was opposing the bill in his personal capacity and not representing the county. “Why should the Legislature of Nevada see it necessary to pass legislation or any law protecting undocumented immigrants?”

The other side of the debate argued that the bill doesn’t do enough.

“While AB 281 is an important start to a discussion that must be had, this bill falls far short of the actions needed to address the deep issues of community fear, family separation and the dangerous convergence of local law enforcement and immigration and customs enforcement,” said Bliss Requa-Trautz, director of Arriba Las Vegas Work Center.

The bill drew support from other immigration reform groups as well as Mi Familia Vota, the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, the American Civil Liberties Union and Michael Kagan, a law professor and director of the UNLV Immigration Clinic, who echoed Flores in calling it a step in the right direction.

“The cooperation (that) has been shown in putting this bill forward and the support demonstrated today would be a tremendous step forward for our state in setting a Nevada solution to a vexing problem,” Kagan said.

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