Senate Bill 223, a bill that would prohibit state and local law enforcement from participating in immigration enforcement without a warrant, has undergone major changes since its proposal last month after harsh criticism from Republicans and concerns from local law enforcement.
State Sen. Yvanna Cancela, D- Las Vegas, is the primary sponsor of the bill and said last week that the amendment to the bill would more narrowly prohibit local and state law enforcement from questioning a person’s immigration status when they are contacted.
“I’m going to propose amending it to say that at the point of contact with an individual that law enforcement should not ask for that person’s immigration status,” Cancela said. “I think that is important for a couple of reasons, one is it lets people know that it’s OK to interact with law enforcement regardless of your immigration status, so if you are a victim of domestic violence and are undocumented, you don’t become afraid to call the police on your abuser. It also means that we codify into law what most law enforcement in the state is already practicing and that means that it can’t be changed at the wimp of a sheriff in the next decade.”
In a hearing for a bill in the Assembly that is identical to Cancela’s bill, AB 357, Tom Robinson, the Deputy Chief at the Reno Police Department said the department’s person merely based on the suspicion that they are in the US illegally.
“We do allow our officers to cooperate with Federalized law enforcement agencies including US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, but we do not allow our officers to enforce immigration laws, frankly the responsibility to effectively police a community make enforcing immigration laws impractical and an irresponsible use of our resources,” Robinson said. “Sometimes in our effort to promote safety, we find it advantageous to collaborate with Federal Law Enforcement Agencies, including ICE. We do this by either sharing information with them, assisting them with their operations in a support capacity or by requesting that they evaluate a case that we are working involving dangerous violent suspects that we believe are here illegally.”
Chuck Callaway, Police Director with the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, testified at the same meeting and also said the department does not perform immigration enforcement duties in the field.
Metro uses the 287(g) program, an authority program that allows a state or local law enforcement group to enter into a partnership with ICE.
“Our cooperation with ICE involves checking people through the 287 (g) program,” Callaway said. “If they are a priority for deportation, we have officers that work in that system that make a notification to ICE and then [they] can submit to us probable cause for us to detain.”
Callaway also said the 287 (g) program is nothing new and has been around since the late 2000s.
The original text of Cancela’s bill would prohibit Metro from cooperating with ICE in the city’s jails. The amendment would set in stone the Metro Police Department’s strategy of not asking for immigration status and would allow the 287 (g) program to continue.
“There is a lack of clarity at the federal level as to just how much local law enforcement is going to have to take on immigration enforcement work and that worries me because what we have seen in Clark County is that crime rates have gone up and that we have very precious resources in terms of the tax dollars we use to fund local law enforcement efforts,” Cancela said. “I think our law enforcement across the state does a tremendous job to keep our community safe and I want to make sure those resources are protected and not encroached upon by the federal government as it dictates the terms of immigration enforcement.”
The original text of SB 223 earned the reputation of a “sanctuary state bill,” from Republican lawmakers and other critics who felt the language went too far. However, it’s a criticism that Cancela disagrees with.
“I think the word sanctuary is an empty political term used to stir up anti-immigrant fears,” Cancela said. “I think that it has been demonized by the right and today has no meaning and no legal meaning and the fact that the bill was characterized by that is just an extension of the Trump administration’s fear mongering. That’s not what the bill was or what it is designed to do.”
In January, President Donald J. Trump released an executive order that stated, “jurisdictions that fail to comply with the applicable Federal law do not receive Federal funds, except as mandated by law.”
It was a sentiment strengthened on Monday when U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said the Justice Department would work to “claw-back” roughly $4 billion in federal grant money given to more than 100 so-called “sanctuary” jurisdictions.
State Sen. Michael Roberson, R-Las Vegas, has been one of the primary and most vocal opponents to SB 223, calling the bill both “recklessly irresponsible” and “outrageous.”
Roberson introduced Senate Bill 233 last Monday, and the bill would prohibit cities and counties from enacting policies that ban or discourage cooperation with the federal government when it comes to immigration enforcement. The bill would directly counter SB 223.
Cancela said she hopes Roberson’s bill would not get a hearing.
“I can’t control that but I think going to either the extreme left or the extreme right on these issues is exactly what polarizes the discussion on immigrant rights and immigrant protection,” Cancela said.
Cancela’s amended bill was scheduled to be heard in the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday, March 27, but that hearing was moved off the agenda last Friday by Senate Majority Leader Aaron Ford, D-Las Vegas, who said the bill wasn’t ready for a hearing. The move came in contrast to recent from statements from Cancela and judiciary chair Sen. Tick Segerblom, D-Las Vegas, who both said they were ready to act on the amended SB 223.