Immigration enforcement bill and social media hyperbole rile Nevada’s right-wing

by Brian Bahouth

Image - Nevada Capital News and Wikicommons

Carson City – During his presentation remarks for Assembly Bill 281, Las Vegas Democrat Edgar Flores took time to thank all the people who sent him email regarding the bill that had been labelled a “sanctuary state” bill in an email and social media posting regarding the proposed immigration enforcement measure. Flores referred to the email when introducing his bill to the Assembly Committee on Judiciary on Friday March 29 and said  whoever dubbed AB281 a “sanctuary bill” has it wrong.

Hear Assemblyman Flores’ presentation comments.

“I genuinely believe that this is a conversation that needs to be had,” Flores said to the Assembly Committee on Judiciary on March 29. “And I also want to acknowledge the fact that unfortunately there has been a lot of misleading that has been occurring, and that has been the genesis of a lot of the emails that I’ve gotten, and I think that after we present the bill, most people will realize, this is not what I thought that it was.”

Assemblyman Flores said a misleading email has wrongly galvanized opposition to the measure, so Flores took time to clarify the intent of the bill.

“The recurring email that most of us got was ‘sanctuary state,’ and I believe the reason most of you got that is because somebody read through the Legislative Council Digest and saw in there the phrase ‘287(g)’ and stopped reading,” Mr. Flores said.

A 287(g) agreement gets its name from Section 287(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act. Since 1996, section 287(g) enables state and local law enforcement departments to voluntarily enter into a written contract with the federal Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE). These agreements allow ICE to delegate many of its enforcement powers to state and local law enforcement officers.

There are two police agencies in Nevada with 287(g) memorandums of understanding with the Department of Homeland Security. The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department and the Nye County Sheriff’s Office. Las Vegas Metro has had a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with federal immigration authorities since June 28, 2016. The Nye County Sheriff’s Office has had a similar MOU since April 20, 2017. Under 287(g) agreements, up to 10 Las Vegas Metro officers and an undetermined number of Nye County Sheriffs are delegated the authority of ICE agents and can interrogate and detain people for suspected immigration law violations, which is otherwise out of their jurisdiction, but all of those officers are jail-based.

Assemblyman Flores said many of the emails he got opposing the bill were from people who had been misled on the details of AB281.

“This bill does not touch 287(g),” Flores said with emphasis. “Local law enforcement will continue to do what they are doing today, which is reporting to the Department of Homeland Security. We’re not touching that. We’re not doing away with it. We’re not doing anything in that realm.”

We do not have a copy of the email Assemblyman Flores referred to in his testimony, but we did discover a post Lyon County Commissioner Ken Gray made to the Recall Governor Sisolak Facebook group that used the term “sanctuary state” in describing the effect of AB281 in its call to action.

Image – Nevada Capital News

Before saying what the bill would do, Assemblyman Flores reiterated what the bill does not do.

“So this bill does not, again, create a sanctuary state. There is no such thing as a ‘sanctuary state’ that allows 287(g) to exist. Law enforcement locally will continue to report to Homeland Security,” Flores said.

What would the bill do?

Assemblyman Flores represents Assembly District 28 in Las Vegas. According to Nevada Legislative Council Bureau data, the district is largely low income and Spanish speaking. The median income in District 28 of $32,402 is well below the state median of $51,847, and 69.9 percent of Assembly District 28 residents identify as Hispanic or Latino.

“There is a concern in the community that law enforcement when they detain individuals are simply utilizing 287(g) and saying that because somebody is undocumented that they are using that as an excuse to hold somebody,” Flores said and then offered a hypothetical example.

“Edgar Flores is undocumented and I’m pulled over by police, and the moment that I say I’m undocumented that that would create probable cause for law enforcement to say ‘I’m going to hold Edgar, put him in jail and then let the Department of Homeland Security pick him up.’ What we’re saying is, we want to make sure there is probable cause that’s not rooted in the fact that I’m undocumented when law enforcement detains me. That’s what this bill does.

“It is a step in the right direction, but it is not going to, in any way, going to change law enforcement’s cooperation with the Department of Homeland Security.”

From the bill text:

This bill prohibits a state or local law enforcement agency, school police unit or campus police department from detaining a person on the basis of a hold request relating to immigration enforcement,except where there is an independent finding of probable cause. This bill also provides that the provisions of this bill must not be construed to prevent any state or local law enforcement agency, school police unit or campus police department from participation in a delegated authority program, which is defined as a program implemented pursuant to section 287(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, 8 U.S.C. §1357(g).

Flores said through his work writing the bill in cooperation with the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, local law enforcement agencies do not have the resources to be immigration police.

“We can be pro-law enforcement and at the same time say, we realize we do not have the resources as law enforcement to act as ICE officers,” said Flores adding that Las Vegas Metro would agree. “We are not ICE officers. We are in our streets, in our neighborhoods, in our communities ensuring that when somebody commits a criminal act, that we are detaining them for that act and that they are being treated like any other human being would in the state.

“But we are not an extension of ICE or we are not an extension of Homeland Security and that our soul purpose is to be going after individuals simply because they are undocumented. That’s what this bill does.” Flores said.

Mr. Flores said those who oppose the bill may well change their minds after hearing Chuck Callaway of the Las Vegas Metro Police Department offer testimony in support.

“I think, after law enforcement speaks and at the conclusion of my presentation, that most people opposed to this bill will realize, this is not what I thought it was, and that we do not turn this into an emotion argument. We are not here to argue comprehensive immigration reform,” Flores said. “We are not here to argue whether or not an individual who has committed a criminal act should be detained. We are here strictly to discuss this bill as written.”

Chuck Callaway, Director of the Las Vegas Metro Police Department Office of Intergovernmental Services told the Assembly Committee on Judiciary that he consulted with Assemblyman Flores on the details of AB281, and that Metro was in support of the measure.

“We operate a 287(g) program, which is jail-based. No one is subjected to that program unless they’ve been arrested for a crime, and once they are arrested on a crime, they are in the screening process asked a number of questions. If it is determined during that process that the individual is undocumented or not a US citizen, they are queried through the 287(g) program, and if ICE wants that person, a detainer is placed for ICE.”

Hear Mr. Callaway’s bill introduction remarks.

In 2018, according to Mr. Callaway, the Las Vegas Police Department had roughly 67,000 bookings in the Clark County Detention Center. Of those 67,000 booking about 6,700 people were interviewed by a 287(g) officer, and of those, 1,467 detainers were placed for ICE. Of those 1,467 detainers, 998 people were actually released to ICE custody.

“We do not do field immigration enforcement. That’s not our job. That’s the job of the federal government,” Callaway said. “So officers in the field, we have a strict policy. We are not asking people their immigration status. We’re not checking peoples’ papers in the field. The only time we would subject somebody to any type of immigration enforcement is through this 287(g) program after they’ve been arrested for some crime. So based on that, this bill does not take away our ability to do that and basically allows us to continue doing business as we do, so I’m here in support.”

Opposition

The committee meeting room in Carson City was full of citizens there to testify against AB281, and many more were in Las Vegas. During his presentation, Assemblyman Flores made an accurate prediction regarding an ironic quality of opposition to AB281.

“Some of the opposition will be surprised to learn, that some of the people who oppose this bill are individuals who are considered on the left, and it’s because we don’t touch 287(g), so I think if we put the opposition in one room, they would be opposed to each other philosophically,” and Flores was correct.

While the majority of opposition came from politically conservative citizens, those on the “left,” to quote Mr. Flores, testified in opposition, shoulder to shoulder with Nevada’s right wing in opposition to the bill for different reasons. People on the left said the bill did not go far enough because it did not ban voluntary 287(g) agreements, while those on the right criticized the measure for creating a “sanctuary state.”

Much of the opposition came from those who cited the recent murder of four locals by a 19-year-old Salvadoran immigrant charged with the crimes. Wilber Ernesto Martinez-Guzman is an undocumented alien whose only brush with the law before the murder charges was a traffic stop in 2018. According to the Washoe County District Attorney’s office, Martinez-Guzman has confessed to the killings, and many of those who gave testimony in opposition cited the crimes as prime example why AB281 was a bad bill.

Anthony Magnotta testified against the bill and offered a particular concern for the recent murders and echoed the “sanctuary bill” language.

“I have an elderly mother in-law that was huddled in the corner of her apartment when the people in Gardnerville were killed by an illegal,” Magnotta said. “Every one of you have to look at yourself in the mirror and say, like in California, eight times, eight times an illegal was arrested and released. He broke into someone’s house and kicked her to death with the heel of his foot. Everyone one of you here and in Nevada have to worry about that, and that blood will be on everybody’s hands.  We should not, not allow this to be a sanctuary state,” Magnotta concluded.

Bliss Requa-Trautz is the director of Aribba Las Vegas Workers Center and testified in opposition to the bill.

“I am here in opposition to this bill because I do not believe it goes far enough to protect our community, Bliss Requa-Trautz said. “The members of Arriba Las Vegas and the Las Vegas community in general are deeply impacted by the issues this bill begins to address. While AB281 is an important start to a discussion that must be had, this bill falls far short of the actions needed to ensure, to address deep issues of community fear, family separation, and the dangerous convergence of local law enforcement and immigration and customs enforcement.”

Bliss Requa-Trautz said that studies show when local police work with federal immigration enforcement officials, community safety suffers when Latinos are far less likely to report crimes they witness or are victims of.

“These programs serve to drain local resources, complicate and confuse the agencies that manage them, and create additional barriers for local families who seek to feel safe in their community.

“Recent data obtained from the City of Las Vegas Department of Public Safety shows that Las Vegas city staff have had a direct hand in the deportation proceedings of more than 1,600 Nevadans since 2017. This at the cost of two hundred thousand to the taxpayers of Las Vegas,” Bliss Requa-Trautz said.

Following all testimony, Edgar Flores shared concluding remarks. Hear Assemblyman Flores’ concluding comments on AB281.

“Almost all of the opposition was focusing on things unrelated to the bill,” Flores said. “I appreciate the context of everything that was brought up, but I think that most people struggled to articulate a specific line that they were opposed to in the bill, they were just talking about undocumented people and that they disagree with people coming here. This bill has nothing to do with that.”

Flores said his office door is open but he is not open to amendments.

“This bill’s not changing. It’s going to move as is. I’m not amending it,” Flores said.

Public Testimony

Chair of Assembly Judiciary Steve Yeager did an admirable job with a crowded agenda to give nearly an hour to testimony in opposition of AB281. Below is an audio catalog testimony on opposition to AB281.

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Barry Penzel, chair of the Douglas County Commission

Anthony Magnotta

Maurice White

David King

Robert Auer

Bob Russo

Bliss Requa-Trautz director Aribba Las Vegas Workers Center

Leo Murrietta, executive director of Make the Road Nevada

Mack Miller

Darlene Wheeler

Jim Degraffenreid vice chair of the Nevada Republican Party

Anita Trone, Nevada Republican Women

Amy Tarkanian

Jesus Marquez

Mary Rooney, Nevadans Can

Jim Hindle

Gary Deheart

John Hermler

Cameron Taylor

Julie Moore

Judy Pierce

David Korale

Michael Corona

Guy Peirson

Constanza Mancea Arizega

Gabrielle Clark

Linda Buckhardt