Analysis: So, is Las Vegas a sanctuary city or not?


Steve Marcus

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions speaks to representatives from federal, state, and local law enforcement at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Las Vegas Wednesday, July 12, 2017.

Maybe now, the Trump administration will quit threatening to punish Las Vegas for being a sanctuary city.

Or maybe not.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ appearance in Las Vegas this morning yielded no clarity on whether the federal government would continue to classify Las Vegas as a sanctuary city, a designation that could lead to the loss of federal funding for the city.

Here’s what we know after Sessions’ speech to local and state law enforcement authorities at the U.S. Attorney’s Office:

Sessions and Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo met in person to talk over the issue.

Sessions concluded, “I’m not sure if that (Las Vegas being classified as a sanctuary city) was accurate, and we’re going to get on that quickly.”

Sessions says he’ll review his findings and make a determination soon.

If there was a breakthrough during the Sessions’ visit, the parties involved were playing it close to the vest.

“I think they realize that what we’ve said is accurate and they’re willing to listen to us,” said Metro lobbyist Chuck Callaway. “I thank them for that, for the attorney general taking the time to sit down with the sheriff and listen to why we had concerns about being listed as uncooperative.”

There was no indication from Metro that the local department offered any concessions during the conversation with Sessions. Callaway said Metro was cooperating fully with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. When Metro officers make arrests, he said, they notify ICE if their background check shows the suspect is an undocumented immigrant and then hold that person if ICE provides them with probable cause to do so.

Callaway said Las Vegas ended up on a federal list of sanctuary cities last year based on a memo distributed by former Sheriff Doug Gillespie saying that the department would stop holding anyone without an immigration detainer after the point at which the person was entitled to be released. The memo came after a federal court ruling that raised constitutional concerns about such detainments.

But Callaway said that when ICE identifies a detainee and provides Metro with probable cause to hold that person, “we cooperate 100 percent.” As before Trump was elected, Callaway said, local officers aren’t “out in the field doing ICE’s job for them,” meaning local officers aren’t seeking out illegal immigrants.

Only time will tell whether that explanation is good enough for Sessions and the Trump administration.

Sessions didn’t take any questions after his remarks, either from law enforcement officers in attendance or from the media.

On other subjects, he also didn’t break much ground, given that Trump ran as the law and order candidate: The feds are pushing to reduce gang crime, violence in general, opioid addiction and human trafficking, and they expect local departments to help.

“We must not concede a single street corner or a single block,” Sessions said. “We will work to strengthen our partnerships with you.”

And then he was gone. Those who came to his “I talk, you listen” appearance expecting revelations came away with few, if any.