Las Vegas Sun

October 17, 2019

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Commissioners call for more transparency from Metro in relationship with ICE


Charles Reed/U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement / AP

In this photo taken Feb. 7, 2017, released by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, an arrest is made during a targeted enforcement operation conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) aimed at immigration fugitives, re-entrants and at-large criminal aliens in Los Angeles.

Las Vegas activists and elected officials are expressing frustration that Metro Police recently renewed their commitment to a program in which Metro notifies federal authorities when officers have jailed someone they suspect of being undocumented.

Under the 287(g) program, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials train Metro officers to screen for the immigration status of arrestees at the time of booking. When an undocumented suspect is booked in the jail and flagged for removal, ICE agents can decide to put a 48-hour detainer on the suspect after they’ve answered for their local charges.

Metro officials said the partnership, which started in 2009, was renewed last month for another year.

The agreement does not extend beyond the Clark County Detention Center, and Metro officers don’t participate in immigration enforcement outside the jail, ICE spokeswoman Yasmeen Pitts O’Keef said.

But some Clark County commissioners and activists are taking issue with any collaboration with ICE. They want to know how many undocumented persons are being detained and for what offenses.

American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada spokesman Wesley Juhl said any cooperation with an agency that targets immigrant communities can be seen as “problematic.” The ACLU of Nevada opposes the program because it believes Metro resources should be aimed at local law enforcement and that immigration policing should be left to federal authorities.

County Commissioner Justin Jones during Tuesday’s board meeting raised concerns over the partnership, as well as Metro’s lack of transparency in disclosing more information about the agreement and number of ICE detainers.

“As we speak, ICE agents are out raiding people’s houses, ICE agents are holding people in cages at the direction of a president who has weaponized the organization,” Jones said. “And Metro has decided to re-up with ICE in that regard, and I have issues with that.”

Jones made his comments while speaking on an agenda item to add 40 new positions at the Clark County Detention Center for $3.9 million.

“I don’t know if the information provided has been sufficient to justify all those positions,” he said. He added that the legal department at Metro has not been transparent in providing information on its number of detentions flagged for deportation.

Commissioner Tick Segerblom echoed some of these concerns, saying that because the jails are entirely funded by the county, the county is entitled to know how they’re run.

“We need to know exactly what they’re doing and if we don’t appreciate it, we can step in and say, ‘No, that’s not appropriate,’” he said.

Commissioner Larry Brown urged commissioners to remember that the county is only responsible for funding of the jail, while Metro is in charge of operations. While funding can be used as leverage to demand certain things from an operational standpoint, he fears that would be crossing the line.

“The sheriff is elected, he and his executive staff run the jail through policies that are not only adopted statewide, but nationally,” Brown said. “If we have concerns with those policies, that’s when the communication component comes in.”

Brown added that he would be “very averse” to the county getting into the operational decisions of the jail unless staff at the jail were violating someone’s civil rights or practicing unconstitutional policies.

But Juhl argues that Metro’s agreement with ICE is unconstitutional. He said the agreement violates the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable seizures, and that ICE detainers and warrants have vastly different procedural requirements.

“The Fourth Amendment requires probable cause and a warrant signed by a judge,” he said. “With ICE detainers, a lot of times they are signed by an officer, not a judge.”

In February, Sheriff Joe Lombardo directed jail staff to not turn over undocumented immigrants booked on low-level crimes like traffic violations.

But Juhl said Metro’s lack of transparency on the type of offenders being detained makes it impossible to track whether the agency is keeping good on the sheriff’s promise.

“When you’re making these sorts of claims and not releasing the data, that’s what where we see an issue,” he said.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Metro Assistant Sheriff Charles Hank said Metro would work harder to provide county commissioners with any information they need. “We apologize. … There may have been some lack of communication where we are and how we’re moving forward,” he said. “But I assure you on behalf of Sheriff Lombardo, we’re more than willing to provide you with any information.”

Jones voted in favor of the supplemental positions and said that while he plans to ask more questions in the future, that doesn’t mean he doesn’t support public safety.