Sunday, Feb. 17, 2019 | 2 a.m.
Sheriff Joe Lombardo is the epitome of a law-and-order guy, a Metro Police lifer who started as a patrol officer and received the department’s Meritorious Service Award on his way to becoming a high-level administrator and eventually Metro’s top cop.
So when he indicates that it’s not in the community’s best interests for Metro to notify federal officials when arresting immigrants who’ve committed low-level offenses, it carries enormous weight.
Last week, Metro’s lobbyist revealed to state lawmakers that Lombardo had instructed corrections staff to stop alerting Immigrations and Customs Enforcement about arrests of low-level undocumented offenders. The policy applies to individuals who have committed minor criminal offenses or traffic violations and have no significant criminal history.
The lobbyist, Chuck Callaway, indicated that Lombardo made the change after speaking with immigrant families and learning of their anguish over being separated because of something as trivial as a traffic offense or an outstanding warrant for a nonviolent offense.
Lombardo hasn’t spoken directly to the new policy, but assuming something wasn’t lost in translation, he’s made exactly the right move for Southern Nevada.
Tearing apart immigrant families over minor offenses does nothing to promote public safety. Rather, it hurts families financially and emotionally, and leaves them more vulnerable to predators in cases where a protector is removed from the household. It also creates a chilling effect in the reporting of crimes among immigrant populations by leaving them even more fearful of getting on authorities’ radar by speaking up.
The outcome is a vicious circle. Knowing their victims will remain silent, criminals are emboldened.
And for what? To punish someone for unpaid speeding tickets or failing to appear in court for driving with a burned-out tail light?
Let’s be clear, law violators living in the U.S. should be held accountable for their actions, regardless of their immigration status. Undocumented immigrants, like citizens, should be required to pay whatever fines or do whatever jail time is appropriate.
In addition, any immigrant who commits a violent crime or serious property crime should be deported.
But deportation and family separation are too harsh of consequences for nickel-and-dime offenses.
Don’t forget, the vast majority of undocumented immigrants are not troublemakers. To the contrary, they obey the law so as not to subject themselves or their families to deportation. Like their native-born or naturalized neighbors, they work hard, contribute to the economy in a variety of ways and strive to make their communities better places.
And in a great many cases, they’re here because they were either born on American soil to undocumented families or put down roots before their visas ran out and are trying to figure out a way to stay.
So Lombardo is making the right call with the policy.
Rest assured, if the sheriff believed there was a benefit to public safety in outing these offenders to ICE, he’d do it. Keep in mind that this is a man who personally opposed marijuana legalization in either medical or recreational form out of concern over how it would affect the public’s well-being. He’s not soft on crime by any stretch.
Rather, he’s a career law enforcement officer who for 30-plus years has taken his responsibility to protect and serve the public seriously.
And as he has correctly surmised that there’s no compelling benefit to public safety in subjecting low-level offenders to the undue punishment of deportation.
Las Vegas — the entire community — is better off for his decision. Well done, Sheriff.