Stephen Melkisethian via Flickr
Immigration rights activists protest in support of sanctuary cities in Washington D.C. on Saturday, June 1. A ballot measure supported by Nevada Republican Senate Leader Michael Roberson would ban the existence of sanctuary cities in Nevada.

By Karolina Rivas and Jacob Solis

In the days, weeks and months since Donald J. Trump was elected president, in part on an anti-immigrant agenda that touted things like deportation, jurisdictions across the country have begun grappling with a singular question: should they or should they not become a sanctuary for undocumented immigrants?

In Nevada, that question has become complicated, especially since no firm resolution was ever made on the issue following the 2017 legislative session.

And while Nevada has no official sanctuary cities, at least not by any general definition of the term, Nevada Republican Senate Leader and lieutenant governor candidate Michael Roberson wants to make sure it stays that way. A group backed by Sen. Roberson filed paperwork for a constitutional amendment to prevent sanctuary cities Monday, Oct. 30.

Also known as the Prevent Sanctuary Cities Initiative, Sen. Roberson is pushing for a ballot measure that would prohibit state lawmakers from creating any sanctuary cities. Roberson’s team hopes to have the initiative placed on the November 2018 ballot.

“If enacted, this measure will add a new section to the Nevada Constitution that will prohibit the legislature, a county or a city from enacting a law or ordinance, or otherwise adopting, enforcing or endorsing a policy which prohibits, limits or discourages cooperation with the enforcement of the immigration laws of the United States,” the initiative reads.

Roberson believes that the amendment will improve safety throughout Nevada.

“During the 2017 legislative session, we saw multiple attempts to make Nevada a Sanctuary State,” Roberson said in a statement. “This dangerous legislation was opposed by local law enforcement and would have led to violent criminals being released back onto our streets instead of being removed from our country.”

Last year, Democratic Sen. Yvanna Cancela sponsored Senate Bill 223. Under its initial wording, the bill would have prevented state police forces from cooperating with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, under certain circumstances. The bill was quickly labeled a “sanctuary state” bill by critics, especially Roberson.

Under mounting pressure from law enforcement groups, a new version of the bill would appear a little more than a month later that was more or less stripped of anything that could tie it to a “sanctuary” label. Now, the bill merely instructed police officers not to ask for immigration status at the point of contact — something the state’s largest law enforcement agencies were already doing.

But the damage had been done, and SB 223 had been irreparably labeled as “the sanctuary state” bill. Democratic leaders would quietly remove the measure from the committee agenda just days before a crucial legislative deadline and just like that, SB 223 was dead.

“Of course I’m disappointed,” Cancela said in a statement shortly after SB 223 failed. “I worked hard to try and find a good compromise. Law enforcement did a tremendous job at being transparent with data and sharing ideas. I believe our state’s officers truly have the interest of protecting Nevada as their guiding principle.”

But Roberson quickly claimed victory.

“One sanctuary state bill dead, one sanctuary state bill left to kill,” Roberson said in a statement, referencing an assembly bill that contained identical language to SB 223. “Today is a victory for Nevadans and for keeping our communities safe.”

But now months after that effort failed, it seems the battle between Cancela and Roberson over immigration continues.

“At a time when Nevadans have been coming together in strength and unit, this ballot initiative is a pathetic and divisive political stunt designed to help Senator Roberson pander to Republican primary voters and stroke anti-immigration fears in the 2018 election,” Cancela said in a statement. “No one wants dangerous criminals on our streets, and suggesting otherwise is ridiculous and misleading. I’m going to focus on working with legislators and local law enforcement to find solutions that keep families together and keep our communities safe.”

And it’s not just Cancela that doesn’t buy Roberson’s rhetoric. In an interview with KNPR, UNLV Law professor Michael Kagan says he thinks criminal activity might actually increase.

Kagan believes the anti-sanctuary push is a bad idea because of the ambiguous details of the ballot measure. Criminal activity will increase because it will prevent undocumented individuals from reporting a crime due to the fear of being turned over to immigration officials.

“I think that this is a measure on the policy that will be helpful to criminals,” Kagan said. “It won’t change much in the way law enforcement works but it will give victims of crime and witnesses to crime more reason to be afraid.”

According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Roberson says that he is pushing for the Nevada Prevent Sanctuary Cities Initiative because of Clark County commissioner and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris Giunchigliani plan to sign sanctuary state legislation.

“It’s alarming that instead of working across the aisle to keep our diverse community safe,” Giunchigliani said in an interview with the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “Less divisiveness out there will make this a much better state.”

The initiative petition will need to collect more than 110,000 signatures and receive voter approval in 2018 and 2020 in order for the initiative to become a part of the Nevada state constitution.

Jacob Solis can be reached at and on Twitter @NevadaSagebrush.  Karolina Rivas can be reached at mpurdue@sagebrush.unr and on Twitter @karolinarrivas.