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Monday, July 5, 2010

ACLU: Minor arrests leading to Vegas deportations

By The Associated Press
July 4, 2010

LAS VEGAS (AP) — American Civil Liberties Union officials are raising concerns that jail screenings by Las Vegas police under a federal immigration program are leading to deportations of people nabbed for only minor infractions.

Records obtained by the Las Vegas Review-Journal show that about one-third of the more than 3,300 Clark County jail inmates held for deportation in the first 18 months of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement 287(g) program were arrested on misdemeanor charges.

Some charges included jaywalking, fishing without a license, sleeping in public, possessing an unregistered animal and “walking on side of road.”

“Police officers should be focused on keeping the community safe, not enforcing petty crimes in the hopes that their target may be deportable,” said Maggie McLetchie, an ACLU of Nevada attorney in Las Vegas. “Some of these are arrests for things that shouldn’t even be crimes.”

Clark County Sheriff Doug Gillespie, the elected head of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, said he supports the 287(g) partnership because it targets violent criminals and because federal officials aren’t adequately enforcing immigration laws.

The program began in Las Vegas in November 2008.

An inmate’s immigration status is checked only after he or she is arrested on other charges, Gillespie said.

Officials say police agencies in 26 states take part in the program, named for the federal Immigration and Nationality Act section authorizing it. It lets jailers hold deportable inmates until immigration officials take custody of them.

Peter Ashman, a Las Vegas immigration attorney and ACLU board member, said programs like 287(g) tend to damage relationships between police and immigrants. But Ashman acknowledged there was no evidence Las Vegas police were abusing what he termed “an inside-the-station enforcement tool.”

“If somebody has been convicted of a serious crime and should have been deported before, it’s kind of hard to argue that they shouldn’t get deported now,” he said.

Of the inmates police in Las Vegas have referred to ICE, 17 percent had prior deportations, according to police records. The majority were from Mexico, but others were from the United Kingdom, Poland, Russia, Italy, China, Vietnam and other countries.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement reported deporting 1,897 inmates referred by Las Vegas police between November 2008 and May 2010. Officials said other inmates may still be awaiting final decisions in immigration court proceedings.

“You may have a guy who got arrested for jaywalking, but it wasn’t jaywalking that got him deported,” said Officer Jacinto Rivera, a department spokesman. “It was his prior history of robbery and kidnapping.”

Las Vegas police run the nearly 3,000-bed jail in downtown Las Vegas, and spend about $1.3 million a year to staff the 287(g) program. Officials say the program lets police trained in ICE regulations identify for deportation illegal immigrants who commit violent and dangerous crimes.

Before the agreement, local officers had to rely on ICE to investigate and place deportation holds on potential immigration violators.

Rivera said officers have no interest in arresting illegal immigrants who have committed no other crimes. He denied police target for arrest just because they are Hispanic or might be illegal immigrants.

“Cops want to catch guys who are preying on people,” he said.

The police spokesman noted that jail officers chose not to place immigration holds on at least 2,300 inmates found to be in the country illegally during the first 18 months of the program because they had no prior criminal history and had been booked on only minor charges.