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UNLV Law Prof Says Anti-Sanctuary Push Is Bad Idea

<p>Protestors rallies against sanctuary cities near the Santa Maria courthouse in Santa Maria, Calif. on 2017.</p>
Anne Cusack/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Protestors rallies against sanctuary cities near the Santa Maria courthouse in Santa Maria, Calif. on 2017.

Nevada doesn’t have a sanctuary city.

But other cities around the country have created areas where local government and law enforcement will not assist federal agents in catching undocumented residents.

And there have been talks and attempts by lawmakers to create sanctuaries in Nevada.

Now, Republican State Senator Michael Roberson wants Nevadans to create a constitutional amendment that would ban sanctuary cities in the state.

To get the measure on the ballot, Roberson’s team needs to collect more than 110,000 signatures. Then it would need voter approval twice, once in 2018 and 2020.

Some have been skeptical of the idea, including UNLV Boyd School of Law professor Michael Kagan.

Kagan said the ballot measure Roberson is overly broad and seems more like a ploy to get Republicans to the polls in 2018. He also thinks it is more likely to increase criminal activity in Nevada if passed. 

Kagan said the measure will actually be helpful to criminals because it will make crime victims, like victims of domestic violence or sexual assault, less likely to call the police for fear of being turned over to immigration officials.

“I think that this is a measure on the policy that will be helpful to criminals,” Kagan said, “It won’t change much in the way law enforcement works but it will give victims of crime and witnesses to crime more reason to be afraid.”

Making sure victims feel comfortable coming to police, while at the same time trying to target immigrants with violent criminal histories has long been a balancing act for Las Vegas Metro Police, Kagan said.

As part of the balancing act, Metro checks people's immigration status after they've been arrested and won't enforce federal immigration laws in the field.

In addition, the state Legislature, city councils, and county commissions would be barred from enacting laws or measures that limit or discourage cooperation with federal immigration law.

“Senator Roberson has been talking about proposing this in vague terms for months but I was really surprised by its text because it is so broad and sweeping and targets all immigrants, not just immigrants with criminal records,” Kagan told KNPR's State of Nevada.

Kagan also said that the federal government can't force the states to cooperate with federal law enforcement. It is really up to the states and local law enforcement how much they are going to cooperate.

“Different states make different choices about how they interact with different areas of law, immigration is no different," he said.

Kagan also explained that the federal government really has little recourse when a state or local government decides not to work with them.

 “I think that’s what’s had the most impact--that the Trump administration has made a lot of threats against any place that might call itself a sanctuary city and some local politicians have been worried about that,” he said.

In reality, the government can only really threaten to remove some funding but even then the Supreme Court has given mixed signals on whether that is Constitutional.

Roberson did not return a request to discuss his proposal.

Michael Kagan, professor. UNLV Boyd School of Law

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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.