Nevada LegislatureSocial Justice

Immigrant Rights Debate Takes #NVLeg by Storm with Senator Yvanna Cancela’s SB 223

It’s already one of the hottest bills in the Nevada Legislature, even though it will likely be amended to apply statewide what multiple police departments claim they are already doing. So why are opponents quick to label SB 223 “controversial”? I asked Senator Yvanna Cancela (D-Las Vegas) directly. See for yourself what the pro-immigrant bill’s sponsor has to say.

Earlier today, The Nevada Independent broke the news of SB 223 being amended ahead of its Monday committee hearing. The new language will mainly codify into state law what North Las Vegas Police say is their current policy of directing officers not to ask residents about immigration status. (The current bill gives law enforcement agencies broader direction not to cooperate with federally directed deportation raids.) During their testimony to the Assembly Government Affairs Committee last Friday, Reno Police, Henderson Police, and Las Vegas Metro Police all indicated they have similar policies in place.

For the record, I had already planned a sit-down with lead SB 223 sponsor Yvanna Cancela before news dropped of the likely amendment. But once this news broke, I especially felt compelled to seek some clarification on what might be happening to this legislation… And why this legislation is even necessary.

Senator Cancela’s response?

“The amendment merely codifies what’s being done now.”

That is, she stressed that the above mentioned police departments need not fear because what will likely be an amended SB 223 will simply make their current practice statewide policy. But again, why is this amendment needed when several police departments are already doing this? Cancela stated her desire to “provide consistency across the state and standardize practice” so that immigrants need not fear calling the cops, whether they be in Las Vegas, Pahrump, Ely, or Sparks.

“It’s really important for immigrant families to know they can call the police. They do not need to fear local law enforcement.” – Senator Yvanna Cancela

So why are Metro Police and the Washoe County Sheriff’s Office still opposed? Cancela refused to speculate. Instead, she complimented Metro’s willingness to assuage fears in Southern Nevada immigrant communities of President Donald Trump ordering Metro Officers to deport them. Even as Metro Detention Officer Martin Vargas explained their practice of only employing the controversial 287(g) program in jail, Metro Police lobbyist Chuck Callaway more or less admitted last Friday Metro’s fear of losing federal funding if the Trump Administration deems Nevada a “sanctuary state”.

I asked Senator Cancela about Metro’s fear of losing federal homeland security funds. She placed the blame on the Trump Administration for its intimidation campaign, one that may not be constitutional at all. “Donald Trump is bullying local law enforcement by threatening to pull funding if states and cities act to protect immigrants.”

“We can’t ignore the moment. Immigrant families are fearful. They’re looking to the Legislature to protect families.” – Senator Yvanna Cancela

I finally asked Cancela about Senate Minority Leader Michael Roberson’s (R-Henderson) campaign not just against her bill, but her goal of protecting Nevada’s immigrant communities this session. She described his “mischaracterization” of her legislation as “unfortunate”. SB 223 is currently on track to be heard in the Senate Judiciary Committee next Monday.

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