Immigration activists split on police bill: Good first step? Or not enough?

AB281
Make The Road Nevada Director Leo Murrieta and Arriba Las Vegas Workers Center Director Bliss Requa-Trautz testifying in opposition to an Assembly bill related to local law enforcement and immigration in March. (Photo courtesy Make The Road Nevada)

Democratic Assemblyman Edgar Flores made it clear from the very beginning of the hearing: He is not attempting to get local law enforcement agencies out of the immigration enforcement game entirely.

His bill, AB281, which was heard by the Assembly Judiciary Committee on Friday, seeks only to ensure that police officers in the field do not detain someone solely on the basis of a possible immigration violation. What happens after the person has been booked and arrested for a separate alleged crime would still be up to local law enforcement.

“This bill does not take away 287(g),” explained Flores, referring to the voluntary agreement law enforcement agencies can enter with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to further detain and transfer undocumented immigrants who are arrested and booked in local jails. “This is no way changes that.  They will continue to report to Homeland Security (the department under which ICE falls).”

He added, “This bill does not create a sanctuary state.”

Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, which participates in the 287(g) program, are supports of the bill. Their representative, Chuck Callaway, testified to the committee that the bill equates to “business as usual” for Metro.

“We do not do field immigration enforcement,” he said. “That’s the job of the federal government. We are not asking (about immigration status), not checking people’s papers.”

Callaway said immigration status is only factored in after a person has already been arrested and booked on a non-immigration related offense. Officers in the field have no access to ICE information.

Given the narrow scope of the bill, immigration groups split on whether to support or oppose the bill.

Most leaned toward the former.

Progressive Leadership of Nevada (PLAN) expressed their support without much elaboration, as did Mi Familia Vota, the Nevada Hispanic Caucus and the American Civil Liberties Union. A representative for the Culinary Union expressed his organization’s support, calling the bill “a step in the right direction.”

UNLV Immigration Clinic Director Michael Kagan characterized the bill similarly, saying that law enforcement’s engagement on the bill was “especially welcome.” However, he also criticized the 287(g) program as a whole, saying its “downsides are clear.”

Only two groups — Arriba Las Vegas Worker Center and Make the Road Nevada — refused to be content with a step in the right direction. Both groups spoke in opposition to the bill.

“It does not go far enough in protecting our community,” said Bliss Requa-Trautz, director of Arriba.

She called on the committee to strike out references to 287(g) and any other non-mandatory programs: “These only serve to drain resources, to complicate and confuse, and to create additional barriers.”

Requa-Trautz referenced data Arriba released Thursday, which found that over a 26-month period local law enforcement provided ICE with information resulting in detainers for more than 1,600 people.

During his earlier testimony, Callaway verified those numbers himself.

Make The Road Nevada Director Leo Murrieta echoed Requa-Trautz, saying the current practice of local law enforcement is “terrorizing and separating families.” He too advocated for the elimination of such programs, saying it was the best way to “truly protect and serve.”

Requa-Trautz and Murrieta were in complete contrast to the remainder of people who spoke in opposition of the bill. Most opposition testimony focused on the perceived danger undocumented immigrants might pose to citizens.

Many of the people speaking identified themselves as residents of Gardnerville, where an undocumented immigrant from El Salvador murdered four people last year. That ongoing case received national attention after President Trump tweeted about it as justification for his proposed wall along the southern border.

After the hour of testimony, Assemblyman Flores vowed to move AB281 forward as is.

April Corbin
Reporter | April Corbin is an award-winning journalist with a decade of media experience. Most recently she covered local government for Las Vegas Sun. She has also been a staff writer at LEO Weekly, web editor of Las Vegas Weekly and a blogger documenting bike share systems’ efforts to increase ridership in underserved communities. An occasional adjunct journalism professor, April steadfastly rejects the notion that journalism is a worthless major. Amid the Great Recession, she earned a B.A. in journalism from the University of Nevada Las Vegas, where she served as editor-in-chief of its student newspaper. She later earned an M.A. in media studies and a graduate certificate in media management from The New School for Public Engagement. April serves as treasurer of the Society of Professional Journalists Las Vegas pro chapter and is an at-large member of the Asian American Journalists Association. A stickler about municipal boundary lines, April enjoys teaching people about unincorporated Clark County. She grew up in Sunrise Manor and currently resides in Paradise. She lives with her boyfriend, his toddler, three mutts and five chickens. In her free time, she enjoys rock climbing, exploring Nevada and defending selfies.

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