Last month, Nevada State Sen. Yvanna Cancela proposed SB 223, which would bar state and local police from participating in warrantless, federal immigration enforcement. Over the next few weeks, Cancela met with law enforcement representatives and agreed to completely overhaul the text of the bill. The amendment, which was scheduled for a hearing on Monday, would prohibit local police from asking individuals about their immigration status. However, the bill pulled from Monday’s agenda before reaching the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Legislators are now asking law enforcement representatives to attend town hall meetings where officers can educate the public on immigration policies so that undocumented individuals can feel comfortable reporting crimes and working with the police without fear of deportation.
SB 223 was a hopeful piece of legislation for both those in favor of protecting Nevada’s immigrant community and communities themselves. Even though the bill (which would write into a law a practice that Nevada police already adhere to) was not a strong statement of support, it was a positive message from Nevada democrats who have been weak on immigration so far this session. The bill seems all but dead, and if it fails it will stand as another loss for the state in the nationwide battle over immigration policy. Democrats like Cancela, who promised to pass an immigrant-supporting bill this session, must do more if they want to show that Nevada will protect its immigrant communities from President Trump’s hateful anti-immigration rhetoric.
Since taking office, Trump has made good on his campaign promise to pursue stricter policies on immigration. In January, he issued an executive order threatening to pull Federal funding from sanctuary cities, and just last week his Homeland Security Department released the first of new weekly reports that call out state and local law enforcement agencies who refuse to keep immigrants in jail long enough for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents to pick them up.
Trump’s continued threats to cut funding based on non-compliance with ICE raise important questions about the Federal government’s role in immigration compared to states’ rights to form their own policy.
In an editorial last week entitled, “President Trump’s Reckless Shame Game,” the New York Times pointed to the tough spot that Trump is putting local law enforcement in when dealing with undocumented individuals. They wrote, “Honoring a detainer puts them at risk of a federal lawsuit. Not honoring one puts them in the cross hairs of the xenophobic Mr. Trump. His indiscriminate search for immigrants to deport keeps ICE from focusing on real public safety threats. It antagonizes local agencies that want to do policing the right way. It emboldens corrupt local jurisdictions that engage in racial profiling and other abuses. And it makes immigrants fear and shun the protection of law enforcement.”
Many state and local law enforcement agencies, including those in Nevada, oppose legislation that favors immigration protection due to fears of funding cuts.
Tom Robinson, Deputy Chief at Reno Police Department, testifying before the Nevada Assembly Committee on Government Affairs, clarified that while the RPD does cooperate with Federal law enforcement agencies, including ICE, officers are not permitted to enforce immigration laws.
Currently, police in Nevada are instructed not to ask individuals about immigration status, but there is no law that says they cannot. Only after an arrest, do police notify Federal immigration agencies of undocumented individuals. Sen. Cancela attempted to clarify these practices with SB 223.
The original bill would have made it illegal for Nevada law enforcement agencies to work with ICE in any capacity without a warrant. The amended version was far narrower, stating that officers could not ask for documentation on point of contact. Now, the bill is not scheduled for a hearing and will likely die in the coming weeks.
Whether SB 223 would’ve made a real difference in policing is less relevant than the fact that the Nevada Legislature is not protecting its immigrant community, despite having a democratic majority in both houses.