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VICTOR JOECKS: Bill to protect illegal immigrants a threat to public safety

Limiting law enforcement to protect illegal immigrants isn’t a good idea. Some Democrats think otherwise.

In many ways, Clark County is already a sanctuary county. Local law enforcement limits its cooperation with federal officials to protect those here illegally.

For years, the Metropolitan Police Department has made a conscious effort to let illegal immigrants know it doesn’t proactively enforce federal immigration law. There’s a case to be made for that approach.

Immigration is a federal issue. Many illegal immigrants are otherwise law-abiding individuals who came here seeking better opportunities. If illegal immigrants — worried about deportation — are scared to call the police, criminals will benefit. That will increase crime overall.

Before December 2018, Metro used federal databases to check the immigration status of those it arrested. It told ICE when someone was here illegally, and sometimes ICE would take custody of that person. It was called the 287(g) program. Its logic is obvious. Illegal immigrants who commit additional crimes should be deported, and this allowed ICE to take that step.

But after that date, Sheriff Joe Lombardo told his officers to stop notifying ICE when an illegal immigrant had been arrested for low-level traffic bench warrants. In October 2019 and citing a California court case, Metro suspended its participation in the 287(g) program. It also stopped detaining illegal aliens with federal immigration holds.

An interesting side plot. Many insiders think Lombardo will seek the Republican nomination for governor in 2022. If he faces a credible opponent, such as Rep. Mark Amodei, his capitulation on this issue could be a major headache.

Even all this isn’t enough for some in Carson City. More than 15 Democrats are sponsoring Assembly Bill 376, which would make Nevada a sanctuary state. The proposal even prohibits police from allowing some federal law enforcement agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security, to interview a suspect who’s in custody. The bill attempts to disguise this by defining all of DHS, not just ICE, as a “federal immigration authority.”

“If someone’s arrested, saying we can’t communicate with federal partners has the potential to be a public safety issue,” Metro lobbyist Chuck Callaway said.

A terrorist might be sitting in a Metro jail, but this bill could deny DHS officials the ability to question him. There are some exceptions, but they are far too narrow.

The bill prohibits the police from asking where someone is from. Officers routinely do that to help verify identity. Also, some foreign countries want to know when one of their citizens has been arrested. But this bill prohibits police from asking about citizenship status.

America’s immigration system is broken. Restricting the ability of state and local police to communicate with federal agents doesn’t fix that and would make Nevadans less safe.

Contact him at vjoecks@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4698. Follow @victorjoecks on Twitter.

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