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Commissioners question police cooperation with ICE, as they approve more staff for jail where collaboration takes place

Michelle Rindels
Michelle Rindels
Criminal JusticeLocal Government

Clark County commissioners raised concerns about a renewed collaboration between the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), saying they’ve been unable to get information about how the so-called 287(g) agreement is being carried out in the county jail.

The discussion came during a commission meeting on Tuesday, before the commissioners unanimously approved funding for 40 new positions within the Clark County Detention Center. The 287(g) agreement involves Metro officers trained to screen people at the time of booking for potential immigration violations and placing “detainers” that hold inmates in jail long enough for ICE to pick them up for potential deportation. 

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

While the sheriff has said he does not want to detain people for ICE on low-level traffic offenses alone, accounts from immigrants and lawyers show the agency has played a role recently in deportation proceedings that stemmed from arrests on minor local charges. But Metro does not provide information that could confirm or deny the agency is adhering to the sheriff’s state public policy goal; Metro has denied requests for information about the nature of arrests that lead to detainers and subsequent deportation proceedings, on the basis that ICE does not want the information released.

Metro confirmed in June that it renewed its 287(g) agreement for another year with no changes, meaning it retained a provision that Metro cannot release information about the agreement without prior approval from ICE. Jones said he had run into a roadblock from Metro’s legal division when he sought information about the agreement, which he described as “something that is of critical importance to our community here.”

“I’ll be supporting the additional positions here today,” Jones said. “But the reality is, I will be asking a lot more questions over the next year and I can’t support additional supplemental positions going forward if we don’t get the answers that I think we’re entitled to in terms of cooperation with ICE.”

The jail staff positions in question were an effort to make good on promises in past years to help restore staffing levels that were cut during the recession, according to Commission Chairwoman Marilyn Kirkpatrick.

Assistant Sheriff Charles Hank, who oversees detention services, stressed during the meeting that “Sheriff [Joe] Lombardo is certainly transparent and committed to that transparency of how we’re spending.”

Immigrant rights advocates who oppose 287(g) have previously said the county commission could be the best backstop against the agreement because it holds the purse strings for Metro and the jail.

Commissioner Tick Segerblom took up that argument, noting that the county pays for 100 percent of the expenses of the jail and should hold it accountable. That’s in contrast to Metro overall, which is funded 64 percent by the county and 36 percent by the City of Las Vegas.

“We as commissioners have an obligation to ensure that the jail operates correctly and if they’re operating with ICE agents, that we know exactly what they’re doing,” Segerblom said. “And if we don’t appreciate that, we step in and say, ‘no that’s not appropriate.’”

But Commissioner Larry Brown pushed back, saying that Metro is still in charge of the operations of the jail in spite of the county paying the bills. He said he would be “very averse” to getting involved in operational questions “unless they were in violation of civil rights or constitutional issues,” and suggested the solution was better communication between the commission and Metro. 

“I guess we could use funding as a leverage to demand certain things from an operational standpoint from the jail,” he said. “But then I think we’re 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.”

Critics including the ACLU have questioned the constitutionality of the detainer process used in the 287(g) agreement. But opposing the program has been politically dicey; an effort in the Democrat-controlled 2019 Legislature to put more limits on immigration holds in jail attracted a social media backlash and died, and another effort to require more disclosure about actions taking place under 287(g) was dramatically watered down.

Jones alluded to the political risks in the meeting on Tuesday, saying he was accused by the Las Vegas Police Protective Association police union last week of not supporting public safety because of questions he was asking.

“That’s offensive to me,” he said. “I certainly hope that folks, simply because I ask questions, [don't say] that I don’t support public safety.”

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