Lombardo takes right turn on immigration in his bid for GOP gubernatorial nod


John Locher / AP

Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo speaks June 28, 2021, at a news conference in Las Vegas announcing his candidacy for governor. Since launching his bid, Lombardo has bragged that more than 10,000 undocumented persons had been deported under his leadership. That figure doesn’t square, however, with what he said in 2016 when he told the Sun that most immigrants arrested by Metro were released back into the community.

Wed, Oct 20, 2021 (2 a.m.)

Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo has changed his tune on immigration now that he is running for governor.

Lombardo, who for years has downplayed Metro Police’s role in immigration policies and deportations, boasted at a recent campaign event to Republican voters that 10,000 undocumented persons have been deported under his leadership.

Lombardo also is touting his development of an internal system to identify and report undocumented persons in Clark County after a judge in 2019 ruled that federal immigration officials violated the Fourth Amendment by relying on an “unreliable set of databases to make probable cause determination for its detainers.” Lombardo used extra personnel and dedicated resources to work directly with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to determine the identity of violent criminals in other ways, he said on his website.

That goes against the actions of his police department, which ended its 287(g) program with ICE in October 2019 after the court ruling. The program allowed the department to detain immigrants at the request of federal authorities.

“He uses immigrants like a political tool, and our community is tired of watching politicians pander their messaging to their audience,” Nevada Democratic Assemblywoman Selena Torres said last week at an immigration advocacy event organized by Nevada Democratic Victory, a group endorsed by Gov. Steve Sisolak, Nevada’s Democratic U.S. Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen, and Democratic legislative leaders. “Lombardo’s leadership is unbecoming of a sheriff. It is unbecoming of a gubernatorial candidate.”

In an emailed statement to the Sun, which had asked for an interview with Lombardo, his campaign said complaints brought up at the Democratic event were “another manufactured partisan protest designed to distract voters from (Gov.) Steve Sisolak’s failures.”

After suspending the 287(g) program, Lombardo decided that he could not ignore a court order, but could “get creative and improvise as Sheriff” and find other ways “of getting these violent criminals off our streets,” according to his site.

Torres called Lombardo’s system used to report illegal immigrants an “embarrassing effort” to go around the court system.

“The United States has a system for checks and balances for a reason,” she said. “Lombardo publicly ignores this system and applauds himself for working around our court.”

Contrary to the narrative Lombardo is spinning on the campaign trail, many of the undocumented persons detained by Metro had wound up being released, he said in 2016. In an interview five years ago with the Las Vegas Sun’s editorial board, Lombardo said that when Metro would notify federal authorities about a deportable person having been arrested, Metro most often would release that person because ICE had failed to respond in a timely manner due to a lack of resources.

“All our immigration policies are associated to post-arrest,” Lombardo said in the 2016 interview. “We don’t do anything pre-arrest.”

He had also said in that interview that Las Vegas was not a sanctuary city because it was not clear what exactly a sanctuary city was.

Metro’s understanding at the time was that a sanctuary city is a jurisdiction in which local governments enact laws that affect immigration and deportation, Lombardo said, but authorities in Las Vegas had yet to do so.

A Las Vegas resident named Mary spoke last week in front of Las Vegas City Hall about the effects of Lombardo’s partnership with ICE that had allowed the police department to detain immigrants on behalf of the federal organization.

She said that her father, who moved from Mexico 23 years ago, was wrongfully arrested and detained at an ICE detention center several years ago. He has since been embroiled in a long court case, trying to persuade judges to let him stay in the country. She didn’t say what he was detained for.

“There’s really nothing to do but wait and see what can happen,” said Mary, who asked that the Sun not publish her last name out of fear of her father’s immigration status. “It’s not in our control.”

“We need compassionate leaders really to protect families like mine,” Mary said.

Other candidates vying for the Republican nod to face incumbent Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak are also touting similar hard-line immigration stances.

Former U.S. Sen. Dean Heller promises to “crack down” on illegal immigration, end catch and release and to ensure that police in Nevada fully cooperate with ICE, according to his campaign site.

John Lee, mayor of North Las Vegas, said in a campaign video that it was sad that there were countries where people want to get away from yet also understood that people who lived in the U.S. needed to be protected. Lee was out of the country and was unavailable for comment.

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