Immigrant and civil rights groups are demanding transparency after struggling to get any data or questions answered regarding Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department’s relationship with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
The latest attempt Tuesday afternoon left them even more dumbfounded after a public meeting on the 287 (g) program ended in less than 10 minutes.
“This is supposed to be the place for us to ask questions and get answers in terms of how public dollars are being used to separate local families,” said Bliss Requa-Trautz with the Arriba Las Vegas Work Center. “We didn’t get that opportunity.”
“It’s unfortunate if this is what transparency is,” added immigration attorney Dee Sull.
Arriba, Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada and Indivisible Nevada, alongside U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, are planning to protest in front of the ICE building Friday in response to the meeting.
Immigration advocates nationwide are increasingly pushing for local law enforcement agencies to stop complying with voluntary programs that aide ICE. They argue the practice is a waste of local resources and a public safety issue. Studies have found that local law enforcement’s involvement with ICE makes Latinos of any immigration status far less likely to report crimes or information about crimes.
Southern Nevada groups have long complained that Metro has failed to be transparent and accountable about its relationship with ICE.
According to the Department of Homeland Security, 78 law enforcement agencies across the country participate in the 287(g) program. Those agencies are required to host steering committee meetings, like the one in Las Vegas Tuesday, where law enforcement agencies go over new information about the program.
Lena Graber, a senior staff attorney at the national Immigrant Resource Legal Center, said these meetings typically don’t have any set guidelines or standards for how they should be conducted.
A Center for American Progress report, “Rapidly Expanding 287 (g) ProgramSuffers from Lack of Transparency,” notes that in 2018, 61 of the 78 law enforcement agencies didn’t have a meeting altogether while only nine had meetings with accessible public records.
Nonetheless, members from Arriba Las Vegas Work Center, Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, Make the Road Nevada and Indivisible showed up to ask questions about the use of the programs.
Among the many questions, Requa-Trautz wanted to ask about the recent court case ruling on Gonzalez vs ICE. “It was a landmark decision that said that any detainers that are processed through the Pacific Enforcement Response Center, which is the data center for 41 states including Nevada, are unconstitutional,” she said. “So we wanted to ask how many are coming from there and how has the policy changed since this injunction from less than two weeks ago?”
The public notice from Metro said the meeting was supposed to discuss the latest statistics from 2018, along with maintaining ICE computer systems access and training for Designated Immigration Officers. It was also scheduled for two hours. About 20 people showed up to attend.
After four minutes, the committee members left the table and told the audience it would not be answering questions. For the next four minutes, the group shouted questions, some of which were intercepted by Metro spokesman Aden Ocampo-Gomez.
When asked about why the meeting was scheduled from 2 to 4 p.m., he responded: “That’s the time it’s scheduled for, it doesn’t mean we have to take the entire time frame.”
During the short time, Deputy Chief Fred Meyer said Metro used the program only to identify violent criminals and those with past deportation orders. The officers said there were “1,409 encounters” without providing any specifics.
After the meeting ended, many tried to press for more data, in which Ocampo-Gomez told them to “ask ICE.”
By that time, representatives from ICE who had attended the meeting, and said little, had already left the building.
“From the few comments they did make, we know the targets of the 287(g) program includes people with prior removal orders,” Sull said. “But why would the sheriff’s office participate in that when that’s the federal government’s job?”
She added she has clients who have been turned over to ICE after being picked up for traffic infractions such as driving without insurance or not having a license.
Over the summer, Clark County Commissioner Justin Jones questioned Metro about information regarding its cooperation with ICE. He previously said he was working on obtaining data. Jones could not be reached for comment.
Graber said there are other things local governments could do to aid in transparency.
One example she points to is Harris County, Tex., where officials audited the costs associated the 287(g) program. Though it came out after the 287 (g) agreement ended, she said officials found the jail “spending an enormous amount of overtime pay.”
“That’s not so uncommon,” she said.
Some county attorneys, she noted, have challenged the validity of law enforcement agencies entering 287 (g) agreements without approval from governing bodies, which in this case would be the Clark County Commission.
Local groups that attended said they reached out to Clark County Commissioner Tick Segerblom, who wasn’t at the meeting, to decry the lack of transparency surrounding the meeting. While he didn’t want to comment on whether the meeting disregarded transparency, he said it was something he’d look into.
Graber added local officials can also try to apply pressure on how steering committees are run. “It’s up to that locality to make sure those (meetings) are being taken seriously,” she said.