Monday, March 17, 2014 | 9:30 p.m.
Rep. Steven Horsford, D-North Las Vegas, joined by two other congressmen, called on President Barack Obama to cease deportations and “keep families together” at a public hearing on immigration policy and deportations Monday night at North Las Vegas City Hall.
With Congress stalled on reform of the immigration system, many of the staunchest advocates for a sweeping overhaul have hammered Obama to use his executive authority to alter deportation policy.
Approximately 200 people attended the hearing, where Horsford was joined Monday by Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D–Ill., and Rep. Ruben Hinojosa, D–Texas, in the discussion on detention standards, deportation rates, rights of detainees, and sweeping reform of the immigration system.
Horsford, who shared his mother’s story of coming to the United States as a child from Trinidad, called on Obama to use his “pen and phone” to suspend deportations while Congress works on legislative action.
“I place a high priority on immigration reform because it’s the right thing to do,” Horsford said. “I believe it’s the civil and human rights issue of our generation’s time, and when the record is written I want to be on the right side of history.”
The panel of congressmen heard statements from Ruthie Epstein of the ACLU, Peter Ashman of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, Fatma Marouf of the UNLV Law Clinic, Bishop Joseph Pepe of the Las Vegas Catholic Diocese, other experts and community leaders and members of the public.
“I’ve come to express my concerns that the broken immigration system in the nation continues to dehumanize people and tear apart institutions in our society, families, businesses, neighborhoods, schools and our local congregations,” Bishop Pepe said, also representing Nevadans for the Common Good, a coalition of local faith-based groups.
Pepe questioned whether some people are being detained simply to meet the daily bed quota for immigrants in detention.
“Immigration procedures and laws are applied unevenly and often are not filling prosecutorial priorities,” he said.
The congressmen also heard personal stories, like that of Bryan Rivera of Las Vegas. Rivera told the panel his father abused his mother and then abandoned the family. His father then reported his mother to immigration enforcement because he chafed at child support demands. She was detained, and is now seeking asylum through a visa for victims of a crime, while Rivera manages by himself.
On Thursday, Obama met with three members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, including Gutierrez, to discuss immigration issues. Afterward, the White House announced in a release that the president would ask Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson to review deportation policy and practices to see “how it can conduct enforcement more humanely within the confines of the law.”
The number of deportations has risen steadily since Obama took office, before dropping 10 percent in fiscal year 2013, when ICE conducted 368,644 deportations. Overall, 59 percent of the 2013 deportees had a criminal record, according to ICE, up from 55 percent of those deported in 2012.
In 2007, a year before Obama’s first inauguration, there were 291,060 deportations. In 2008 that number climbed to 369,221 and continued to increase incrementally each year through 2012, when 409,849 people were deported, before dropping in 2013. The federal government spends $2 billion annually on immigrant detention.
The Henderson Detention Center is the federal government’s primary location for holding immigrants in Nevada, with more than 200 immigrants in custody daily. In November, a report from the UNLV Law Clinic and an investigation by the Las Vegas Sun raised concerns about access to legal counsel and treatment of immigrants at the facility.
Earlier this year, House Republicans released a set of principles for changing the immigration system, but House Speaker John Boehner later said reform was not likely until Obama restored “trust” with Republicans over his ability to enforce the laws. Since then, there has been little movement in Congress except for a bill approved by the House last week that would defund an earlier executive action by Obama, deferred action for childhood arrivals, that allowed some young people in the country illegally to stay and work for a two-year period.
“We need one person out of the 435 members in Congress and that one person is Speaker Boehner,” Horsford said. “He is responsible to schedule a vote to allow the majority of the members of the House to do the will of the majority of Americans who believe it's time to pass comprehensive immigration reform.”