Clinic Expresses Concerns that Sen. Heller’s Gang Bill Puts Children in Danger, Invites Him to Meet Gang Victims

As the Senate opens its critical debate about immigration, the UNLV Immigration Clinic today sent a letter to Sen. Dean Heller expressing concerns about the Criminal Alien Gang Removal Act, S. 2380, which he introduced in the U.S. Senate last week. 

The UNLV Immigration Clinic includes the Edward M. Bernstein & Associates Children’s Rights Program, which represents more than 100 unaccompanied minors who fled gang violence in Central America. Through this program, our lawyers and students have heard dozens of personal accounts of children who have been threatened, assaulted and in some cases raped by gang members.  We thus share Sen. Heller’s concern about the brutality of MS-13 and other gangs. 

Efforts to combat gang violence must include concern for its victims. The Clinic fears that S. 2380 would send children back to the gangs that terrorize them, and would subject even more innocent people to horrific violence.  It would also allow the Department of Homeland to arrest, detain and deport long term legal residents of Nevada who have never been convicted of any crime, based on only hearsay. 

The Clinic has invited Sen. Heller to meet with some of the children we represent, and to discuss ways to protect victims of gang violence. 

When the bill was in the House of Representatives, Reps. Mark Amodei, Ruben Kihuen and Jackie Rosen all voted in favor. In the Nevada delegation, only Rep. Dina Titus voted against it. 


February 13, 2018



Senator Dean Heller

8930 West Sunset Road
Suite 230
Las Vegas, NV 89148



Dear Senator Heller,


As the Senate opens debate on immigration, the UNLV Immigration Clinic would like to raise concerns about the Criminal Alien Gang Removal Act, S. 2380, which you introduced last week. We would like to invite you to visit our clinic to meet with victims of gang violence, and to discuss what can be done to protect them.


The UNLV Immigration Clinic has a special understanding and concern about the menace of gang violence in Central America, the MS-13 gang in particular. Through the Edward M. Bernstein & Associates Children’s Rights Program, our clinic represents more than 100 children who came to the United States as unaccompanied minors. Our clients have often been given a choice: to join a gang or die. In response, they flee to the United States for help. Many have become a part of Nevada communities, and have family ties to our state. We have listened to middle school aged children describe anxious weeks of moving from house to house, village to village, in vain hope that death threats would stop. Some of the girls whom we represent have been raped or told they had to become gang “girlfriends.” Some of our young clients have seen the dead bodies of gang victims. They worried they would be next.


The attorneys and students in our clinic have heard dozens of stories from children and families who have been terrorized by gangs in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. As a result, we entirely agree with you that gang violence is a serious problem. Much as in the fight against human trafficking, the fight against gang violence requires policies that provide protection to victims. We would like to work with you to find ways to accomplish this goal. Unfortunately, we fear that S. 2380 would send children back to gangs, and would subject even more innocent people to horrific violence.


Instead of protecting victims, S. 2380 would make a victim of gang violence ineligible for asylum if the child was ever forced to participate in gang activity. The bill makes no exceptions, even if the child was very young or acted under fear for her own life. For example, gangs often force very young children to deliver notes for them. Children are often in the grip of terror when they do this. Some children have told us that the gangs threatened to cut organs from their bodies and deliver them to their parents’ doorsteps if they failed to comply with demands. S. 2380 would refuse protection to such a child.


We are also concerned that S. 2380 would allow the Department of Homeland Security to arrest, detain and deport a legal immigrant who has never been accused or convicted of a crime. The bill provides no guidance about the kind of evidence that might be used by DHS to prove that a person was once involved in gang activity. A legal immigrant with no criminal record and longstanding ties to our community could be subject to detention and deportation based on hearsay, supposition or guilt by association, with little ability to offer a defense. We believe that giving federal officers that kind of unrestrained power would be a threat to Nevada families and communities.


Under current law, DHS already has many tools that can be used to prevent gang members from becoming legal residents. DHS has the authority to place any non-citizen who is unlawfully present in the country into deportation proceedings. A person who is guilty of a “particularly serious crime” is ineligible for asylum. For legal residents, existing law allows for the detention and deportation of a person who is guilty of a felony crime of violence, drug trafficking or theft. Moreover, DHS may make use of the anti-terrorism measures already enacted by Congress, which are broad enough to include groups like MS-13.


We would like to invite you to visit our clinic and to meet some of our young clients in person. We would like you to hear some of their stories, and to learn about the difficulties they face finding safety. Because we share a concern about the brutality of gang violence, we would like to discuss how our immigration laws might be reformed so as to offer shelter to the victims of gangs.


We hope that you will accept our invitation, and look forward to discussing with you means of protecting victims of gang violence.




Prof. Michael Kagan

Director, UNLV Immigration Clinic


Laura Barrera, Esq.

Bernstein Fellow


Mayra Salinas-Menjivar, Esq.

Clinic Fellow