Activists upset after meeting on Metro’s agreement with ICE ends in eight minutes; no questions taken
Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department officials held a public briefing on Tuesday to present updated statistics about the department’s agreement with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), but activists said they left frustrated when a meeting scheduled to last two hours ended in less than 10 minutes.
Deputy Chief Fred Meyer prefaced the brief by saying there would be no opportunity to ask or answer questions, unlike a town hall-style steering committee meeting on the so-called 287(g) agreement in 2017.
ICE officials Robert M. Culley and Laurence J. Carroll traveled from Salt Lake City to attend the brief meeting.
“It’s not really a big presentation. I know [Metro has] the statistics. It looks like last year, we had 1,409 encounters. Roughly 500 or so were convicted criminals. We are very pleased with the program the way it’s going,” ICE field office director Robert M. Culley told the police officials attending. “We appreciate your collaboration and would like to continue working with you.”
Through the 287(g) program, trained Metro officers within local jails can perform some of the duties of federal immigration officers and impose “detainers,” which allow jails to hold inmates longer than they would for the underlying local offense to give ICE a chance to take the person into federal custody. ICE officials say the program allows transfers of immigrants from local to federal custody in a safe, controlled jail environment.
But since the program began in Las Vegas a decade ago, concerned citizens and groups have asked who and how many people are affected by the partnership. The 8-minute meeting on Tuesday did not satisfy some of the groups in attendance — Arriba Las Vegas Workers Center, Make the Road Nevada and the Democratic Socialists of America — who had budgeted two hours to seek answers to their questions.
“These folks who are representing the Salt Lake City Regional Field Office — that was our moment of transparency for two years?” said Bliss Requa-Trautz, director of the Arriba Las Vegas Workers Center.
Earlier this year, activists protested against the program in a press conference, saying it had lacked transparency about who was being detained and why. The following week, Sheriff Joe Lombardo tweeted a statement reassuring the public that people would not be deported when arrested for traffic violations and other minor offenses.
But other incidents in the last year, including the launch of deportation proceedings for a woman arrested after selling souvenirs on the Las Vegas Strip, raise questions about whether people are still being handed over to ICE after coming into Metro’s custody for small offenses. A bill that would have required police disclose the underlying offenses that led people into the deportation pipeline through 287(g) was gutted in the legislative session to remove those provisions.
Metro has previously declined to release information about the underlying offenses in response to a Nevada Independent records request, citing federal code. Clark County commissioners — who fund and oversee the jail — have struggled to get information about the program, and have raised the prospect of withholding funding from the police in the future if answers aren’t forthcoming.
“We want to see the numbers backing up Lombardo’s claims that they are not arresting people for minor offenses, traffic tickets,” said Shaun Navarro with the Democratic Socialists of America. “Lombardo made specific promises, and we want to see the data.”
After Metro officials concluded the meeting, Requa-Trautz asked how recent legal and policy changes had been implemented. Last month, a federal judge ruled it unconstitutional to enforce detainers issued from electronic databases, which commonly have errors.
“When is the appropriate opportunity for people to voice their questions? This is a mandated meeting for transparency. It’s the place we understand we can come for clarification,” Requa-Trautz said. “For example, at the end of September, the Gonzalez vs. ICE decision made any detainers that are issued from Pacific Enforcement Response Center unconstitutional. What percentage of your detainers are coming from that program?”
The Metro public information officer who remained in the room and fielded questions while panelists walked out referred Requa-Trautz to the ICE website, and other questions to the Metro PIO email address. Several other community members voiced their dissatisfaction that the meeting was much shorter than expected and did not provide sufficient statistics or updated information about how the media and advocacy groups may request information about the program.
A public notice of the meeting indicated that “topics for discussion will consist of 287(g) statistics, training for the Designated Immigration Officers (DIOs), media requests, and maintaining ICE computer systems access.” It also said the meeting would run from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.
Metro officers concluded by affirming the program as-is.
“Simply, this program is intended to continue on with the way it is right now,” Deputy Chief Meyer said during the Tuesday meeting. “The 287(g) program allows us to identify people we wouldn’t otherwise be able to identify, and has resulted in individuals getting detainers placed [who] have a history of being a violent felon, prior deportations, things like that. It’s been a valuable tool for us.”
This story was updated at 1:22 p.m. on Oct. 9, 2019 to include names of ICE officials.