Senate Bill Could Make Nevada a Sanctuary State

Mar 17, 2017

Credit Paul Boger

Sanctuary State...it’s a term that’s cropped up in the months since President Donald Trump took office. With promises from the administration to ramp up deportations, some states hope to protect their undocumented residents by prohibiting their local law enforcement from working with federal immigration officials, and Nevada could become one of the first states to pass such a law.

Dozens of protestors gathered on the steps of the Nevada Legislative building Wednesday to rally in support of a number of bills they see as important to immigrants. Among them, a Las Vegas woman named Yvonne stands with her two young boys. Yvonne is afraid to tell me her last name because while she’s a US citizen, her husband is not, and she’s worried that Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, officials could show up at any time to detain her husband.

"When somebody knocks on the door, most of the time my kids, they will hide in their rooms thinking that ICE will come inside our house and take my husband," says Yvonne.

SB223 would prohibit state and local police from devoting any resources, whether it’s time, money, personnel or even energy, to enforcing federal immigration laws.

"What this does is draw clarity for what law enforcement is responsible for and what the federal government is responsible for," says Democratic Senator Yvanna Cancela of Las Vegas, the bill’s primary sponsor. "We don't want our local law enforcement to have to do the work of ICE. ICE should do its work and law enforcement should continue to be able to do its work."

Since the measure’s introduction late last month, all but one Democratic senator have been listed as cosponsors of the bill.

The bill, however, seems to have drawn the ire of law enforcement.

"While this legislative building has a lot of power over wages and benefits associated with law enforcement, it should have no involvement relative to the inner workings of how a law enforcement operation operates," says Nevada Association of Public Safety Officers Executive Director Rick McCann. "The manner in which they go out and do their business to keep us as the public safe, that's not for these people in this building to dictate to. That is for the police departments to do."

And Republican leaders agree with him. 

"It's ridiculous that we're going to take a tool set away from our law enforcement and then call Nevadans safer," says Assembly Minority Leader Paul Anderson. "It's important for our law enforcement agencies, whether they're local or in big metropolitan areas like Las Vegas, we need to make sure they have the tools so they can make the decisions, they can create the policies that keep us safe, and I don't think state law is ever the place to do that."

However, some law enforcement agencies in Nevada, like the Clark and Washoe County Sheriff’s Offices, already have policies in place that state they will not participate in ICE detentions unless there is a warrant.

And Democrats seem to be holding firm on their support for the bill. 

"It is not the desire for us to bump heads with the federal government; in that regard, the status quo is a decent process right now," says Senate Majority Leader Aaron Ford. "Senator Cancela's bill limits federal overreach by clarifying that we set our own enforcement priorities while we're still allowing law enforcement to work with federal authorities to deport dangerous criminals."

But for Yvonne, the protester, she says it could put an end to the constant state of worry.

"We don't want no families to break apart," Yvonne says. "We don't want no more separation. We don't want that to happen, so that's why for me it would be a good idea if any city will become a sanctuary."

Whatever, lawmakers decide, they may not have the final word on the subject. There are concerns officials will follow through with President Trump’s executive order withholding federal dollars from communities and states with laws similar to SB223.