By Raquel Cruz-Juarez and Michael Kagan
The top Nevada official for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) recently complained to the Las Vegas Review Journal that it takes three or more years to deport mothers without criminal records. “Who knows what could happen in those three years? She could have three more babies,” said Dana Fishburn, acting deputy field office director for ICE in Nevada.
This is the language of white supremacy, echoing a racist “replacement theory” that encourages paranoia about women having children. It’s also a heavy dose of misogyny. Every mother should have the right to have and parent their children in a safe and equitable environment, regardless of immigration status. In short, a federal law enforcement officer should not talk like this. Federal law enforcement agencies should not employ people who think like this.
Unfortunately, this is not a problem that can be solved by reprimanding a single official. Ms. Fishburn did not make an off hand remark reflecting a mere personal opinion. She gave a lengthy interview, speaking on behalf of her agency, suggesting that preventing immigrant women from having babies is a core mission for ICE. Since when did ICE become the decision maker for the way immigrant families choose to grow? Immigrants, just like everyone else, deserve to parent their children free of racism and free of the assumption their growing family is a bargaining chip to stay in this country. Every family matters. Children are children.
Regrettably, statements that echo white supremacist talking points have become common in this Administration, starting with the President himself. Even stripped of her most offensive references, Ms. Fishburn’s central point is that ICE wants to deport mothers with no criminal records. That is a destructive policy which most Americans do not support. It is a policy aimed straight at families here in Nevada. It is a desire to take parents away from children. It is an attack on our neighbors, and on all of us.
Reforming ICE will require a long and thoughtful process in Washington, and probably cannot happen until there is a different president in the White House. In the meantime, we here in Nevada have some choices to make.
The reality in Las Vegas is that ICE arrests relatively few people on its own. ICE has partners in our own local governments. The UNLV Immigration Clinic is one of the few phone numbers that a person detained by ICE is given to seek free legal aid. In nearly every call, the person ended up in ICE detention after first being taken to the Clark County Detention Center (operated by Las Vegas Metropolitan Police) or the Las Vegas City Jail (operated by the City of Las Vegas). According to data collected by Syracuse University, in 82 percent of ICE “arrests” in Clark County in fiscal year 2018, the person was actually handed over to ICE by local police.
These arrests are not initiated in the White House. They are decisions made locally in Las Vegas. Helping ICE is a choice, entirely within the control of our local and state elected officials.
To be clear: Some people handed over to ICE have relatively serious criminal convictions. But according to data collected by Syracuse University, the most common criminal record of a person handed over to ICE in Clark County is “no conviction.” The Immigration Clinic receives calls from people handed over to ICE after nothing more than an unpaid traffic ticket. We know of cases where long standing residents of Las Vegas have been handed over to ICE after minor trespass or similar infractions. In at least one case, the Clark County District Attorney decided to drop charges after a misdemeanor arrest, but Metro still handed the person over for deportation.
This needs to stop.
Legally, neither Metro nor the City of Las Vegas need permission from ICE to end or limit their assistance to ICE. They do not have to help break up Las Vegas families. Las Vegas Metro and the City of Las Vegas need to decide if they still want to be partners with Ms. Fishburn in her zeal to take parents away from their children.
Sheriff Joe Lombardo promised in April to limit cooperation with ICE to people who have been arrested for a DUI, domestic violence or a felony. That does not go far enough, but it would be a positive step - if it were implemented. Metro has not released operating instructions that implement the Sheriff’s promises. The City of Las Vegas has been entirely silent.
If the Sheriff and city leaders lack the strength to stand up to the Trump Administration’s anti-immigrant agenda, there are others in local and state government who can step in. It does not matter whether action comes from the Sheriff, the Mayor, or someone else. Nevada’s leaders need to make clear that in this state we value everyone. We hope ICE will eventually reset its priorities. In the meantime, our local police should not help take mothers and fathers from their children.
It takes a remarkable amount of hate to express animosity toward mothers having children, or to suggest that the government should try to stop it, just because of who they are. Immigration policies should support families, ensuring that immigrant parents and children like all parents and children, have access to services to lead healthy and secure lives. Rather than supporting the separation of families, we need to separate ourselves from hate and intolerance. We can no longer have an unconditional partnership with ICE.
Raquel Cruz-Juarez is the Board President for the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada and a community activist for reproductive justice. Michael Kagan is Joyce Mack Professor of Law at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, where he is also Director of the UNLV Immigration Clinic.