AG Sessions brings tough-on-crime talk to Las Vegas

Attorney General Jeff Sessions, giving a speech in Las Vegas on July 12, 2017. (Jeff Gillan | KSNV)

On a sunny and steamy Wednesday morning, Deborah Harry had a message.

“I love my President. He’s doing a wonderful job. I want to give him a chance to make America great again,” she said.

Harry was standing on the opposite corner of the new federal justice building on Las Vegas Boulevard with a handful of other Trump supporters.

Across the street stood other people, with opposing opinions. Both camps were here to welcome U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Minutes later, eight floors above, Sessions walked into a conference room crowded with law enforcement.

“It’s good to be with you and good to be in Nevada,” Sessions said.

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Sessions’ 30-minute speech portrayed an America under siege by a rising rate of violent crime, threatened by gangs, and overwhelmed by opiates.

“You all know we have a multi-front battle in front of us right now,” Sessions said, adding “we cannot accept the status quo.”

But the centerpiece of his address was a full-throated defense of the Trump Administration’s approach to immigration.

“Under President Trump’s leadership, we are finally getting serious about securing our border,” said Sessions. “I think the message of this election - the desire of the American people is clear: they want a lawful system of immigration that serves our national interests and protects our public safety.”

Sessions came to Las Vegas because we're under a Justice Department sanctuary city spotlight. At stake: more than 900,000 in federal funds which could be withheld if Washington determines local governments are not cooperating with immigration authorities.

Local governments have consistently said they are not sanctuaries, but the issue lingers because, in 2014, the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department said, as a result of court rulings, it would not detain persons on federal immigration holds, except in certain circumstances.

But that was then.

Three years later, LVMPD fully complies, turning over people who have been arrested and who are wanted by immigration. It participates in what’s known as the “287g” program, under which local police cooperate with immigration authorities.

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Sessions promised a quick review of our supposed sanctuary city status, taking a swipe at the lists that claim we are, in fact, a sanctuary.

“I'm not sure that was accurate,” said Sessions, telling his audience he had spoken with Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo on Tuesday.

Since the beginning of the year, LVMPD has turned over 327 people to immigration. Around 169 more are still in jail.

“We're getting the right people out of here that do not belong in our community,” says LVMPD Deputy Chief Richard Suey, who oversees the Detention Services Division.

In front of the federal building, immigration activists worry the administration's tough stand could keep immigrants from reporting crime, something LVMPD does not want to see happen.

“That not only puts these families at risk but it puts the whole community at risk because people are not going to feel comfortable or safe talking to law enforcement,” says activist Erika Castro, who joined several dozen protestors.

“We don’t need any extra legal actions where citizens need to fear being sought because they don’t, quote unquote, look like an American. What does an American look like,” said Jean Green Dunbar, who stood nearby.

John Hermeler had a different perspective and wore his Donald Trump socks to prove it.

“Keep America safe. Not just Nevada. But build that wall. Absolutely no sanctuary cities and stop funding cities that approved sanctuaries. Because it's just not right,” Hermeler said.

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