Tuesday, November 19, 2013


Martin Martinez was never considered to be a "criminal" before. He worked and paid taxes. And he was providing for his family.

So why was he recently detained in the Henderson Detention Center? He fled gang violence and extortion in El Salvador in 2006. And he arrived in the US undocumented.

“I work and I pay taxes. I care for my family,” Martinez said. “Then, when I start to try to legalize my status, I’m detained. So I’m not working, and meanwhile the government is paying to lock me up. Now, if they deport me, who will take care of my wife and son, who are U.S. citizens? They’ll be public charges. It makes no sense.”

So he was sent to jail over a lack of papers... But why was he sent to Henderson?

With an average detainee population of more than 200 per day, the Henderson Detention Center has been the primary facility in Nevada for housing federally detained immigrants since early 2011, according to ICE documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request.

The federal contract has been a windfall for city coffers, with annual revenues between $10 million and $11 million. The contract has generated revenues above expenses ranging from $5 million to $6 million annually, with the surplus money going into the city’s general fund.

A report from UNLV’s immigration law clinic, being released today and already reviewed by the Sun, argues that the Henderson Detention Center has failed to comply with federal detention standards and procedures, including reasonable access to medical care and legal assistance. After conducting interviews with dozens of immigrant detainees at the facility earlier this year, the report’s authors are a calling for an independent review of the city jail.

To be fair, not all detainees have complained about conditions at the Henderson Detention Center. However, that's missing the point. Why are all these resources being used to incarcerate people who are productive and making positive contributions to society?

These raids typically don't work. New evidence suggests that immigration crackdowns (like the ongoing one here in Southern Nevada) just tend to scare high-skilled and productive documented and undocumented immigrants... Into other municipalities that don't conduct such crackdowns. Meanwhile, the immigrants who are locked up can't work. Local economies lose productivity, and federal, state, & local governments have to spend money to incarcerate people who committed the "crime" of acting on their desire for a better life.

Apparently, this ICE contract has generated at least $5 million in annual revenue for the City of Henderson. But at what cost to others is this windfall for Henderson City Hall? How much have Clark County and the City of Las Vegas spent to enforce federal immigration law? How many families have been torn apart? And how many communities have been losing business?

Of course, this brings up an issue that's currently held captive in some dark back room on Capitol Hill. If Congressional Republican "leaders" were to stop trying to duck & cover from comprehensive immigration reform (CIR), they could see how the failing immigration system of present is both cruel and inefficient. Perhaps we'd be wasting less money by simply flushing it down the toilet.

This should be a wake-up call for Rep. Joe Heck (R-Henderson). He says he wants CIR, but he's yet to sign onto HR 15. If he's looking for a "fiscally responsible" reason to push CIR, he only needs to look just beyond his own backyard.

And in the mean time, local governments in Southern Nevada need to reevaluate their decision to spend so much on enforcing federal immigration law. So far, it looks like Henderson City Hall's boon is becoming everyone else's boondoggle.

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