Section 287(g) of the Immigration and Naturalization Act authorizes agreements between ICE and local law enforcement agencies to “perform limited immigration law enforcement functions after receiving appropriate training,” according to the ICE website.
Tarrant County engages in the “Jail Enforcement Model” which involves identifying and processing removable aliens who are arrested and being booked into the Tarrant County jail. It does not involve seeking out illegal immigrants in the community.
Sheriff Bill Waybourn said the agreement “gives us a solidified policy of how we are going to deal with immigration and those investigations are not taking place in the field.” Tarrant County currently has seven officers trained under the 287(g) program.
25 counties in Texas have entered into 287(g) agreements with ICE. Tarrant County is the most populous of those.
In its presentation to the commissioners court, the Tarrant County Sheriff’s Office (TCSO) submitted that 52,388 people were booked in the county jail from June 1, 2019 to May 31, 2020.
Of those, over 1,400 inmates had immigration detainers by ICE, most of which were applied by other law enforcement agencies. Out of the total number booked in that year, 309 inmates (0.59 percent) had immigration detainers placed on them by the TCSO officers in the jail trained by ICE.
TCSO released 236 inmates to ICE during the year. Of those, about 70 were deported and 61 voluntarily returned to their country of origin.
According to the TCSO, the 287(g) program costs about $18,000 per year.
Of the current 3,807 inmates in the jail, 264 have immigration detainers, most from other agencies. Detained inmates based on the 287(g) program amount to 56 of the total jail population.
Current inmates with detainers have been arrested for a variety of charges such as robbery, sex offenses, assault, burglary, DWI, drug offenses, and even homicide. Felonies and class A & B misdemeanor offenses are subject to 287(g) inquiries. Those who commit Class C misdemeanor offenses in Tarrant County are not subject to 287(g) immigration inquiries.
A representative from the Tarrant County District Attorney’s office explained that even without a 287(g) agreement, the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure legally obligates county law enforcement to honor ICE detainers. The Penal Code makes failure to comply with an immigration detainer a Class A misdemeanor for which the sheriff could be removed from office based on Local Government Code section 87.031.
Additionally, the Texas Legislature passed a law in 2017 that prohibits law enforcement agencies from interfering in the enforcement of immigration laws.
“It’s important to note that ICE would still be in the jail” even without a 287(g) agreement, the district attorney’s representative pointed out.
Dozens of persons appeared before the commissioners court to express their position on the 287(g) agreement, most in opposition. The commissioners only received in-person comments on the June 16 agenda items rather than allowing call-in remarks as has been the court’s habit since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
Those in opposition expressed concerns about separating families, wasting taxpayer dollars, straining relations with minority communities, and violating rights of those detained if the officers are not properly trained. Some also accused the commissioners and sheriff of racism and promoting white supremacy.
Those who supported the continuation of the program spoke about the importance of the rule of law and holding those who’ve broken the law accountable.
Judge Glen Whitley (R) along with Commissioners Gary Fickes (R) and J.D. Johnson (R) voted for the agreement while Commissioners Roy Charles Brooks (D) and Devan Allen (D) opposed it.
In expressing his opposition to the 287(g) agreement, Commissioner Brooks said he found the agreement unnecessary as he believed that immigration status inquiries would take place in the jail without it. He also is concerned that it allows people to be transferred to ICE without due process.
Commissioner Johnson pointed out that Brooks voted for the 287(g) agreement two years earlier.
Judge Whitley supported the agreement, saying he knew it was something that many of the speakers would not be happy about. “But if it stops one person from being assaulted, I’m glad I did it.”
After the vote, the crowd chanted for the removal of the sheriff and commissioners who voted in favor of the agreement for several minutes.
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Kim Roberts is a reporter for the Texan in the DFW metroplex area where she has lived for over twenty years. She has a Juris Doctor from Baylor University Law School and a Bachelor's in government from Angelo State University. In her free time, Kim home schools her daughter and coaches high school extemporaneous speaking and apologetics. She has been happily married to her husband for 23 years, has three wonderful children, and two dogs.