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Metro And Feds Clash Over Immigration


Since he took office, President Donald Trump has held true to campaign promises by signing an executive order allowing Immigration and Customs Enforcement or ICE, to step up deportation of people in the country illegally.

In that effort, ICE has published a list of crimes committed by people in the country illegally. The Department of Justice also lists has police departments it says are not complying with new immigration standards.

Las Vegas Metropolitan Police is on that list.

But Metro Undersheriff Kevin McMahill says there is a lot of confusion surrounding immigration policies, and what Metro is doing and what it is not doing.

“The sheriff and I have spent an inordinate amount of time trying to explain to people what has occurred with this,” he told KNPR’s State of Nevada.

Metro is part of the federal immigration 287g program at the Clark County Detention Center. Under that program, four corrections officers are designated immigration officers, which allows them to look up an inmate’s immigration status.

If the person is charged with a violent offense, ICE is contacted and that agency will put a detainer on the inmate. The inmate is then moved to ICE’s detention center.

McMahill said every new presidential adminstration changes requirements for detainers. But one thing remains constant. 

“One thing that hasn’t changed is very simply this," he added. "If you are booked into the Clark County Detention Center, we run your name and if ICE places a detainer for you, it is based on whatever the priorities that whatever administration is in office determines."

However, McMahill also said, ICE doesn't always respond. Up to 50 percent of the detainees that ICE is contacted about are set free because ICE doesn't respond in time. There is a time limit to how long Metro's jail can hold someone.

In addition, McMahill said no officer who pulls someone over for a speeding ticket or non-violent infraction is going to arrest someone for an immigration violation. Officers in the field, he added, do not have the capability to look that deeply into someone's background.

“What I want to make very clear is, Metro, we do not go out and actively seek people for immigration violations nor have we, nor will we. And we will not participate in roundups with ICE and those types of things that so many communities are nervous about”

He said the jail simply doesn’t have the room to detain everyone whose only crime is being in this country illegally.

The Justice Department is also doing something new, and quite opposite of what was in place during the Obama Administration. It has recently ordered a review of what are known as consent decrees.

Consent decrees are agreements made between the Department of Justice and police departments to reform practices and policies. Decrees were established to help improve relations between police and communities after a series of police-related deaths and the protests that followed.

Las Vegas Metropolitan Police went through a similar overhaul -- it wasn't a consent decree, but a voluntary move by former Sheriff Doug Gillespie. After that, the Justice Department studied Metro and worked with them to adjust training and fix some of the issues.

“That was them coming in and evaluating us, fighting back and forth over what are the best reforms, what are the best practices and us willingly going along with changing our agency and our culture and it worked,” McMahill said.

McMahill pointed to a dramatic drop in officer-involved shooting since the overhaul. In 2010, Metro police shot 25 people, some of them unarmed. In 2016, that number was 10 and all of the suspects were armed.

At the same time, Las Vegas has been cited as a modelfor other departments of not only how to de-escalate situations but how to inform the public after an officer-involved shooting.

McMahill said the consent decrees of many police departments -- from Ferguson, Missouri, to Baltimore, Maryland -- cost a lot more and take many years to implement.



Kevin McMahill, undersheriff, Las Vegas Metropolitan Police

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Joe Schoenmann joined Nevada Public Radio in 2014. He works with a talented team of producers at State of Nevada who explore the casino industry, sports, politics, public health and everything in between.