On a hot Wednesday morning, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions slipped into Las Vegas to do an event with Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt (R) and local law enforcement officials. Only select elected leaders were invited to participate. And even though some media were present, neither Sessions nor Laxalt took any questions from the press.

Democratic Lawmakers Excluded

What was most notable about Jeff Sessions’ press event was who was not in the room. The table was almost entirely male and white. No immigrant community leaders were present inside, and no Democratic Members of Congress had any representatives in the room.

Photo by Andrew Davey

Mike Naft, District Director for Rep. Dina Titus (D-Paradise), explained that their office received no official notification, despite Sessions appearing mere blocks away from Titus’ Las Vegas district office. “After learning about Mr. Sessions visit to our district, we immediately contacted the Justice Department to inquire about the purpose of the visit. It seems awfully convenient that they omitted the customary Congressional notification.”
U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto’s (D) office also confirmed they were excluded. Even though her Las Vegas office is right across the street from the U.S. Attorney’s office (where Sessions spoke), Communications Director Reynaldo Benitez confirmed that the Justice Department also left Senator Cortez Masto’s office in the dark. “The Justice Department did not extend an invitation to Sen. Cortez Masto’s office to participate in the Attorney General’s event today.”

“We learned about it from the papers like everyone else.”
– Reynaldo Benitez, Communications Director, Catherine Cortez Masto

Of all Nevada’s Congressional offices, only Senator Dean Heller’s (R) participated, sending a staffer from his Southern Nevada office.
Why was the guest list so exclusive? Perhaps it had to do with the content of Sessions’ speech, which followed a brief introduction by Laxalt.
Jeff Sessions claimed the Trump Administration’s deportation surge is targeting “criminal aliens”, despite a recent Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency memo indicating a vastly different policy. Sessions also misrepresented FBI data to falsely claim “sanctuary cities” have high crime rates. In reality, these jurisdictions have found that reducing the imminent threat of deportation encourages more immigrants to step forward and report violent crimes.
Sessions then sidestepped the issue of the $975,000 in federal grants the Justice Department has not released to Las Vegas Metro Police due to the Obama-era Justice Department listing Clark County as a “sanctuary city”. Sessions did say the “sanctuary city” label is being reviewed, but wouldn’t further elaborate on when the withheld grant funds will be released to Metro Police.

Watch Adam Laxalt and Jeff Sessions speak… Then dodge the press.

Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt and US Attorney General Jeff Sessions speak in Las Vegas

Posted by Nevada Forward on Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Both Sessions and Laxalt left the room without taking any questions from the press. Sessions then shifted to a private conversation with local law enforcement officials present. However, Las Vegas Metro Police Intergovernmental Services Director Chuck Callaway did stay to take questions from media. Callaway reiterated his view that Las Vegas is not a “sanctuary city”, noting that Metro Police selectively participates in ICE’s 287(g) program that directs local law enforcement to turn undocumented immigrants over to ICE custody. “We’ve been using the 287(g) program for a decade. We’re always going to have a working interest with [ICE] in the interest of public safety.” 

Photo by Andrew Davey

Callaway then restated Las Vegas Metro’s policy of limiting its 287(g) cooperation with ICE. He indicated Metro has no plans to become a deportation force, regardless of the Trump Administration’s desire that all municipalities do so.
This is not the first time Adam Laxalt has dodged questions, nor the first time the Trump Administration has tried to hide a Cabinet official from public view while in Nevada.