A bill from Senator Dean Heller is looking to curb gang violence, in part, by making it easier to deport known gang members or immigrants associated with gangs, but not everyone is so sure it's the right move. Reno Public Radio's Jacob Solis spoke to a law professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas to find out more.
And a warning, this interview does contain some graphic details.
I'm Jacob Solis, and I'm here today with Michael Kagan. He's the director of the Boyd School of Law's Immigration Clinic. They represent children faced with deportation, and they've been outspoken against Senator Heller's Bill, the Criminal Alien Gang Member Removal Act. They're worried that along with gang members, young victims who have been forced into gang activity may also be deported.
Professor Kagan, thanks for joining me.
A version of Heller's bill passed the House last year in a bipartisan vote, and that includes two of Nevada's three House Democrats. Why do you think this measure has the support it does?
I think it got their votes because, as any political consultant will tell you, who wants to be seen as pro-gang? The problem is that the details, that I wish that people would pay more attention to, have a disastrous impact on people who are actually victims of gangs and also, I think, just give too much power to federal agents over people in Nevada communities.
Could you tell me a little bit about those victims?
So, we represent kids. Our youngest client is, I think, four years old, and we've recently taken on some new clients who are about six. Most of our clients are middle school or high school age, and they have come from, mainly, three countries in Central America: El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala.
They have fled horrendous violence at the hands of gangs, primarily MS-13. Some of the girls we represent have been raped, some of them have even had pregnancies from those rapes. Nearly all of them have been threatened with just gruesome violence. We have young kids who have told us about how they were told if they didn't do what the gangs wanted, that their organs would be cut out of their bodies and delivered to their parents.
So we've listened to dozens of these stories, but I think when you combat any kind of serious organized crime, you've got to pay attention to the victims. Otherwise, I think there's a danger that we're just using anti-gang rhetoric to target immigrants generally, and that can become very volatile; it can veer into racism and it can put innocent people in danger.
In your opinion, is there a way to curb gang violence that also manages to protect these children?
Sure, we already have lots of tools in immigration law that would allow The Department of Homeland Security to deny entry to, or to seek to deport, someone who's a serious criminal and involved in gangs.
I'm not really sure what loophole this bill is trying to fill, but that could be paired with opening up a visa for people who are victims of crime, so that people know U.S. authorities are on your side if you're a victim of gangs.
When people hear about an anti-gang bill, I imagine that they think of serious criminals, a long-term felon. But actually, that's not how the bill is written. The bill allows Immigration and Customs Enforcement to deport someone even if they have never had a speeding ticket, even if they have no criminal convictions.
This bill could lead to the deportation of legal residents who have been in Nevada for a very long time and have never had a problem with law enforcement.
Well we'll have to end it there. That was Michael Kagan, law professor and director of the Boyd School of Law Immigration Clinic. Professor Kagan, thanks so much.
Thanks for talking to me.
In its letter to Senator Heller, the clinic invited the senator to come meet their clients. A spokesperson from Heller's office confirmed they received the invitation, but as of Thursday afternoon, the clinic has received no response.
Jacob Solis is a senior at the Reynolds School of Journalism.