At the end of December, the Harris County jail released on bond a DWI suspect who had been ordered deported by a federal immigration judge in 2019.
According to a press release from the Harris County Constable Precinct 4 office, one Emilio Duarte was arrested on December 28, 2019 and charged with Driving While Intoxicated and Failure to Stop and Give Information.
The constable’s press release said that Duarte was booked into the Harris County Jail and then released on bond out of County Court 15.
The Texan requested additional information about the suspect from both the Harris County Sheriff’s Office as well as U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
A media spokesman for the Harris County Sheriff’s Office confirmed to The Texan via email that ICE is notified by HCSO when suspects are booked, but said all other information requests would need to go through ICE. He did not address questions regarding the suspect’s legal status or provide any additional information.
In an emailed statement to The Texan, ICE’s Public Affairs Office confirmed that the suspect was under deportation orders.
“On Nov. 18, 2016, Emilio Duarte-Lone, a 54-year-old citizen of Honduras, was encountered by immigration officials after he illegally entered the U.S. near Hidalgo, Texas. He was released on his own recognizance pending disposition of his immigration proceedings. On October 28, 2019, an immigration judge with the Executive Office of Immigration Review ordered Duarte-Lone removed from the U.S. to Honduras.”
ICE also clarified that Duarte-Lone was the correct legal name of the suspect arrested on December 28, 2019.
According to U.S. law, aliens processed for removal may receive legal due process from federal judges in the immigration courts administered by the Executive Office for Immigration Review or EOIR. EOIR is an agency within the Department of Justice and is separate from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and ICE.
Immigration judges in these courts make decisions based on the merits of each individual case and ICE officers carry out the removal decisions made by the federal immigration judges.
Records from the Harris County District Clerk indicate that Harris County Criminal Court 15 set bond at $100. Duarte posted bond and was released the next day after his arrest.
In 2017, then newly-elected Sheriff Ed Gonzalez (D) announced that his department would opt out of the 287(G) program, under which sheriff’s deputies were trained to identify suspects with deportation orders. At that time, Gonzalez stated that his decision was based on available resources and not political. He also said that his department would still cooperate with local, state, and federal officials.
State Senator Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) in an email statement to The Texan wrote, “I am a big critic of Sheriff Gonzalez ending the 287(g) program; he should be looking this sort of stuff up because Sheriff Gonzales is putting citizens of Harris County at risk by not doing his job.”
In 2019, during a White House press briefing with ICE Director Matt Albence, Tarrant County Sheriff Bill Waybourn discussed the safety issues created by releasing illegal immigrants arrested for DWI back into the community. Although some Texas media outlets took Waybourn’s warnings out of context and later had to retract their characterization, Waybourn clarified that releasing these suspects increased “odds for tragedy to unfold.”
Mr. Duarte is only one of many arrestees processed and released through the state’s largest county jail each year.
Although Texas law passed in 2017 prohibits so-called “Sanctuary City” or “Sanctuary County” policies (SB4), it remains unclear as to whether arrestees like Duarte-Lone with deportation orders are correctly identified when processed through the Harris County jail.
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Holly Hansen is a freelance writer living in Harris County. Her former column, “All In Perspective” ran in The Georgetown Advocate, Jarrell Star Ledger, and The Hill Country News, and she has contributed to a variety of Texas digital media outlets. She graduated summa cum laude from the University of Central Florida with a degree in History, and in addition to writing about politics and policy, also writes about faith and culture.