By Ken Ritter
LAS VEGAS — The city of Las Vegas has joined Clark County in suspending warrantless detention of arrestees at the request of federal immigration authorities, pulling two of the largest jails in Nevada from the program and prompting warnings from federal officials of threats to public safety.
The decision, announced Thursday, affects people taken to the 1,100-bed Las Vegas Detention Center in downtown Las Vegas.
It comes after Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo halted participation Tuesday in the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s 287(g) program at the 3,100-bed Clark County Detention Center.
Both moves follow a Sept. 27 ruling by a federal judge in California prohibiting the use of ICE hold requests called “detainers” in states that don’t have laws specifically authorizing civil immigration arrests.
Nevada does not have such a law.
American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada officials said they saw the potential for a broad effect of the ruling by U.S. District Judge André Birotte Jr. in Los Angeles.
The ACLU said an ICE clearinghouse in Southern California issues detainers to 41 states including Nevada. The organization interpreted Birotte’s ruling as effectively prohibiting Immigration and Customs Enforcement from issuing detainers “to any state without an explicit state statute authorizing civil immigration arrests.”
Clark County and the city of Las Vegas appeared to be the first jurisdictions to suspend the 287(g) program due to the court ruling.
But ICE regional spokeswoman Paige Hughes said she was not aware of jails in other states suspending the program.
The Henderson Detention Center, with more than 500 beds in suburban Las Vegas, and the 1,300-bed Washoe County jail in Reno do not take part in the 287(g) program, officials there said.
Deputy ICE Las Vegas office chief Dana Fishburn said in a statement that suspending 287(g) participation in southern Nevada “will only benefit criminals” and “make Clark County residents less safe.”
Her comments this week came after acting ICE Director Matthew Albence, during an appearance at the White House on Oct. 10, derided the judge’s ruling as “judicial overreach” and a threat to public safety.
The ACLU had called for Lombardo to end what the organization branded a practice of making new arrests at the request of federal officials “without probable cause or a properly issued arrest warrant.”
The ICE Pacific Enforcement Response Center, which opened in 2015 in Laguna Niguel, California, cross-checks jail rosters with federal nationality and immigration status databases and issues a “detainer” asking jailers to hold the person to be taken into federal custody within 48 hours.
Federal officials call the center “a tactical force multiplier” to identify and detain immigrants “suspected, arrested or convicted of criminal activity across the United States.”
But critics say electronic databases can contain errors and lead to false accusations that someone is in the U.S. illegally.
Birotte cited ICE data that nearly 800 detainers out of almost 13,000 were lifted in nine months ending February 2016 because the person was a U.S citizen “or otherwise not subject to removal.”
ICE tallied nearly 2,800 “encounters” in Clark County in 2017 and 2018, including more than 1,700 with people who had been convicted of criminal charges, Hughes said.
Nevada Attorney General Aaron Ford, a Democrat, said in a statement that suspending the 287(g) program could help build trust with police “so every Nevadan, regardless of their immigration status, can come forward as victims and witnesses of crimes without fear of punishment.”
Lombardo promised the Clark County jail will still “work with ICE … in removing persons without legal status who have committed violent crimes.”
Bliss Requa-Trautz, director of the Arriba Las Vegas Workers Center, and professor Michael Kagan, director of the Immigration Clinic at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, said they think jailers will simply notify federal officials about release times of people sought in immigration cases.