Not all traffic stops play out the same way.
For Alicia Moya her unpaid traffic violations, including driving without a license, resulted in jail time and spending weeks in an ICE detention center.
“I didn’t come from a rich, white suburb like (Attorney General Adam) Laxalt,” Moya says referring to a recent report about Laxalt’s numerous traffic tickets. “Why does he get a slap on the wrist?”
Members from Arriba Las Vegas Worker’s Center, which organizes around immigrants’ rights, gathered Sept. 14 to speak out against how Laxalt, who is currently running for governor, handled his past tickets.
First reported by The Nevada Independent, Laxalt had eight traffic tickets, five for speeding, from 1996 to 2006 — this was when he lived in Maryland and Virginia. This doesn’t include a DUI he received when he was 18.
Laxalt finally paid one of those tickets in August, 15 years after receiving it.
People in the community have pointed out the double standard.
“Across every aspect of our lives, racial discrimination still lingers, but in few places is it as clear as in the criminal justice system,” Hannah Brown, a community activist, said in a statement Sept. 12. “For our Black brothers and sisters, a brush with law enforcement is not just a small error to correct years later, but a life-altering event.”
Moya knows too well how an unpaid ticket can lead to unforeseen issues. Since her arrest, she has lost her job. “What job would wait for a person?” she says.
There can be harsh repercussions for immigrants as well. “There has been a significant number of people in our community — and nationally — who are being arrested and detained by ICE,” says Michael Kagan, the director of the UNLV Immigration Clinic. “It’s primarily people who don’t have serious criminal records. Traffic tickets are the pipeline for deportation.”
He adds this is one of the most acute immigration policy issues happening in Southern Nevada. “And very few people are talking about it,” he says.
The second Moya was pulled over, she knew she was going to jail. “It was just a feeling,” she says. “People call me irresponsible for driving without a license, but life has to go on no matter what.”
She says she kept driving because of work obligations. During her time in jail, she was shipped from the City of Las Vegas jail to Henderson’s jail and finally to a facility in Pahrump.
“That was the scariest,” she says. Finally, her family and the people at Arriba were able to raise the $2,000 bail to get her out.
While being incarcerated, she realized how many other immigrants face the situation.
“This is not linked to public safety,” Kagan adds. “These are not violent criminals.”
While a lot of attention is thrown at Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, he says city jails — North Las Vegas, the City of Las Vegas and the City of Henderson — also contribute to the problem.
“They are taken in (to the jails ) for minor traffic violations and are then handed over to ICE,” Kagan says. “They don’t have to do this.”
Kagan says Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department isn’t consistent in its policy and that there should be more transparency.
“I think there have been two different messages,” he says. “On the one hand, Sheriff Lombardo has always said they cooperate with ICE just to get rid of the worst of the worst, which means felons. On the other hand, they were very clear last year they were desperate not to be labeled as a sanctuary.”
Last month a legislative committee moved forward with a bill draft request to decriminalize traffic violations and treat them as civil matters.