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Detained By ICE In Nevada: A Mother's Story

Nevada’s large immigration population is being greatly affected by new immigration policies and enforcement by the Trump administration.

That means a lot more work for UNLV’s Immigration Clinic at UNLV's Boyd School of Law.

Attorney Laura Barrera deals with many the cases that land on the clinic’s doorstep. She told KNPR's State of Nevada the clinic is seeing an increase in all kinds of immigration cases from unaccompanied minors to families from Central American seeking asylum. 

However, she said the biggest increase has been in people who are long-time residents being detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

“These are people who have lived here five to 10 years," she said, "They have families here. They are established in this community and they’re increasingly more of those people with that sort of situation being picked up by ICE.”

Barrera said ICE finds people through traffic stops or while looking for someone else. That is what happened to a woman we're calling Mar.

She was working at an apartment complex in Las Vegas when an ICE agent came looking for another man who was undocumented. Mar thought she was helping them but soon the agent started asking her questions about her legal status.

“She said, ‘Stand up. They’re going take you.’ Even at that point, I didn’t who is this person,” she said.

Eventually, the agents identified themselves as working for ICE.

Mar had come to the United States from Mexico on a visa. Eleven years ago, she decided to overstay her visa. 

Mar's daughter called the Immigration Clinic. After two weeks, they were able to get her out of detention but she is still on the list to be deported.

“We’re looking at any defenses we can to keep her here, keep her with her family,” Barrera said.

Part of the problem for undocumented immigrants like Mar is there is often no legal way for them to get citizenship, Barrera said.

“People aren’t undocumented because they don’t want to become residents," she said, "It’s because there are very limited pathways to become a resident.”

She said people have to fit into a very specific category to be eligible for citizenship. 

Barrera also pointed out that ICE is detaining people who have not committed any criminal act. They are being arrested and detained on a civil matter.

She said if people want immigrants to come into this country in the "right way" they should pay for lawyers to help them navigate the immigration system rather than pay for them to be detained at a jail.

“In Las Vegas, we have such a huge immigrant population and immigrants are such a huge part of our community. It is really difficult to see ICE tearing apart families like this," she said.

As for Mar, she lost her job and now her oldest daughter, who is 21, is working to pay for rent and food for her mother and younger sister as they wait to see if she can stay.

“It has changed my life. I don’t know what is going to happen. I’m just trying to live day by day, thinking that nothing happened, trying to start over until – I don’t know what’s going to happen,” she said.

(Editor's note: This discussion originally aired January 2019)


Laura Barrera. attorney, Bernstein Fellow at UNLV's Immigration Clinic; Mar (pseudonym), former detainee


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Since June 2015, Fred has been a producer at KNPR's State of Nevada.