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Economy & Business | Immigration | Legislature | Local Government

In wake of Trump's order, Nevada officials run away from label "sanctuary city"

There’s not a standard, legal definition for the term “sanctuary city,” but the concept has come into the spotlight again this week after President Donald Trump issued an executive order condemning “sanctuary jurisdictions across the United States” that “willfully violate Federal law in an attempt to shield aliens from removal from the United States.”

Some cities have worn the term “sanctuary city” as a badge of pride and as a sign of their progressive, immigrant-friendly credentials, while others, including the City of Las Vegas, have been quick to distance themselves from the politically charged moniker and affirm their cooperation with federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The Nevada Independent checks in with government entities around Nevada to see whether they consider themselves a “sanctuary” entity -- a category that will be defined by Trump’s Secretary of Homeland Security and would render the jurisdiction ineligible for federal grants under Trump’s order. (Here's an explainer, too.)


Clark County Commission Chair Steve Sisolak said the county has not adopted an ordinance declaring itself a sanctuary municipality and has no immediate plans to do so. He said he remained concerned about how the order might affect the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, whose jurisdiction includes much of Clark County.

“I know that we do get federal funds that potentially, to my understanding, could be at risk. And obviously that is of major concern if a dollar was at risk,” he said Thursday. “The budget is based on that, we’ve got hiring in place, and that could be catastrophic to hiring at Metro.”

Spokesman Dan Kulin referred questions about practices at Clark County’s jails to the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, which is responsible for day-to-day jail operations.


Officer Michael Rodriguez, a department spokesman, said it’s unclear whether Trump’s order would affect the agency.

“We’re watching to see how this issue develops,” he said in a statement Thursday. “We expect in the weeks ahead there will be additional information that comes forward providing better clarification on expectations of cities. At this time we don’t know if this order will affect us.”

Metro issued a statement in 2014 saying it would no longer honor federal immigration detainer requests unless there was a judicial determination of probable cause for that detainer or a warrant signed by a judicial officer. Then-sheriff Doug Gillespie said court decisions raised constitutional concerns about the practice and he wanted to wait until federal officials figured things out.

Notably, the department is the only agency in Nevada listed as participating in ICE’s 287(g) program. Named for a corresponding section of the federal Immigration and Nationality Act, the program allows ICE to partner with local police agencies and allows designated, trained local officers to perform some immigration law enforcement functions.

The officers interview people coming into the Clark County Detention Center who are foreign born, booked as John/Jane Doe, have discrepancies in their birth place information, and/or refuse to give birthplace information to their arresting officer, according the the jail.

ICE says the program helped them identify more than 400,000 potentially deportable immigrants nationwide over the past decade, although critics including the ACLU say it has diverted scarce resources from local police agencies and led to racial profiling.


The City of Las Vegas and its mayor, Carolyn Goodman, tweeted Thursday morning that Las Vegas is not a sanctuary city.

“.@CityOfLasVegas is not a sanctuary city & we’re compliant w/ federal regulations. I’m passionate about finding a pathway to citizenship,” Goodman tweeted.

City spokesman Jace Radke said Las Vegas does not consider itself a sanctuary city because it’s never passed an ordinance declaring itself such and because officials at the city jail — which holds a daily average of about 850 Las Vegas and North Las Vegas inmates and is different than the better-known and larger Clark County Detention Center — notify federal officials if they’re detaining someone who has an immigration hold.


Trump’s executive order called on the Secretary of Homeland Security to engage with governors to initiate 287(g) agreements, which get local law enforcement agencies involved in immigration enforcement tasks.

That hadn’t happened as of Thursday, according to Gov. Brian Sandoval’s spokeswoman Mari St. Martin.

“The Department of Homeland Security has not been in touch with the Governor on this issue,” she said. “It’s unclear whether this order will apply to any of Nevada’s cities but the Governor will actively monitor the situation as the policy is fully implemented.”


Mayor Hillary Schieve said she doesn’t consider Reno to be a sanctuary city and there hasn’t been any formal declaration from the City Council to designate it such. While she doesn’t have any concrete plans to introduce such a measure, “I certainly don’t mind if we need to make that call, if that’s something we need to do,” she said in an interview on Friday.

“My whole message is let’s be kind to everyone,” she said. “Obviously I think we have to have parameters in place when we bring people in but I think it can be very dangerous and damaging to have that kind of negativity to humankind.”

She said it was too soon to tell whether the city would change any of its immigration-related policies in response to Trump’s order.

A Reno Gazette-Journal fact check from July 2015 ruled that calling Reno or Washoe County a sanctuary jurisdiction would be false, but not strongly so. The article pointed to some evidence that could support the “sanctuary” characterization, including policies not to arrest people solely on suspicion of an improper immigration status.


County spokesman Chris Ciarlo said Friday that the county does not consider itself a sanctuary jurisdiction, even though some groups who maintain online lists of sanctuary municipalities include Washoe County. Ciarlo didn’t have an immediate response to questions about specific sanctuary policies.


Spokesman Bob Harmon says his office doesn’t think they’re at risk of losing any federal money under the sanctuary cities order.

“If the question is whether we have concerns right now, we don’t,” he said in an interview on Friday.

The department hasn’t changed a policy announced in September 2014 by then-Sheriff Mike Haley. Similar to the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, the Washoe County Detention Center would not hold people based solely on a detainer from ICE, but would hold them if ICE got a warrant. Haley said the move was “not a statement on immigration issues, it is aimed at protecting Washoe County from legal liability based on current court interpretation of the law.”

The office has a close working relationship with ICE, including a station reserved for agents who monitor intake within the jail, although deputies aren’t trained to do immigration tasks through the 287(g) program and it’s unclear whether they will be in the future.

“At this point we have not made any decisions to change anything we’re doing right now,” Harmon said.


A city spokesman issued the following statement to The Nevada  Independent on Monday:

“Henderson is a vibrant, diverse community that is home to residents with a wide array of different ethnic and cultural backgrounds, including many immigrant families.

The City of Henderson does not consider itself a 'sanctuary city' and has not passed any ordinance on this topic. The city is also in compliance with all federal regulations in this area. As a result, there is no concern that federal grant funding will be restricted. There are no plans by the City Council to consider such an agenda item.

The Henderson Detention Center holds a contract with ICE to house ICE detainees. Upon intake, if it is determined an arrestee is a suspected or confirmed undocumented individual, the Detention Center will notify ICE who will determine whether to issue a detainer/hold for that individual.

The Detention Center does not detain individuals pursuant to an ICE hold longer than the scheduled release time on the local charges unless ICE provides the necessary paperwork to book the individual as an ICE detainee pursuant to the contract.”

ICE has contracted with the city since 2011 to hold detainees in the city’s 540-bed jail, which is operated by the Henderson Police Department. A report from 2015 indicates an average of 236 ICE detainees were being held in the jail on any given day, and the average stay was 27 days.

The Henderson jail and a private facility in Pahrump are the only ICE detention centers in Southern Nevada, according to the agency.


Mayor John Lee provided The Nevada Independent a statement late Friday in response to questions about the municipality's sanctuary city status.

"We are a compassionate city that values each of our residents and, as a diverse city with the state's largest Hispanic population, we are concerned about how Wednesday's executive orders will impact families and our communities," he said. "This is a human rights issue, and I am in discussions with community leaders regarding how best to respect the law and protect the interests of our entire community."

While North Las Vegas has its own police force, it closed its jail in 2012 to save money during a budget crisis and houses its inmates at the Las Vegas Detention Center. The City of Las Vegas does not describe itself as a sanctuary city and says it notifies federal officials if it’s detaining someone who has an immigration hold.


City spokesman Adam Mayberry said Sparks is not a sanctuary city.

“What other mayors and what other cities across the country feel is in their best interest with respect to immigration and immigration rights and sanctuary cities is entirely up to them, it’s just … not a fight that (Mayor Geno Martini) ’s going to engage in or really has a strong opinion one way or another,” Mayberry said.

He said that while it’s probably too early to tell, the executive order doesn’t appear to have any impact on Sparks.

“I kind of say this tongue in cheek,” Mayberry said, “but should that order stand and should there be a significant reduction in funding to cities across the country that are sanctuary cities … perhaps there will be opportunities for cities that aren’t sanctuary cities to capture some additional grant funding, so that’s something that we may explore.”


Trustees passed a resolution 6-1 on Thursday stating that the school district won’t divulge students’ immigration status to enforcement agencies, including ICE, unless there is parental consent, a judicial warrant, subpoena or court order.

Trustee Carolyn Edwards, who proposed the resolution, argued it doesn’t create “sanctuary campuses.”

“We are reaffirming that we will follow current federal policy on our immigration status for our students,” she said. “It’s an attempt to raise awareness about that federal policy and to ensure to our families and our students that we will continue to do what we are already doing in terms of protecting the privacy of our students.”

Michelle Rindels and Riley Snyder reported from Carson City. Jackie Valley reported from Las Vegas.

This story was updated on Friday with comments from local government officials. It was updated again on Saturday to add comment from North Las Vegas Mayor John Lee. It was updated again on Monday to add comment from the City of Henderson.

Photo is courtesy William Beem on Flickr.

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