Tarrant County Sheriff Bill Waybourn received backlash from various media outlets and elected officials after a White House press briefing with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Director Matt Albence. However, it’s clear that Waybourn’s comments about DWI offenses by repeat offenders in regard to illegal immigration were taken out of context.
Initial reports from some media outlets and elected officials accused Sheriff Waybourn of referring to illegal immigrants as “drunks” who will “run over your children.”
However, various Texas media outlets also published these claims without the context of the White House press briefing or Director Albence’s previous comments.
State Representative Chris Turner (D-Grand Prairie) said in response, “This is the kind of ignorant, irresponsible fear-mongering rhetoric that creates hate & division. Has Sheriff Waybourn learned nothing in the aftermath of El Paso tragedy? No elected official should say things like this, especially in a county as diverse as Tarrant.”
An official statement from the Office of the Sheriff qualifies Waybourn’s comments by saying, “Sheriff Waybourn was not referring to all legal or illegal immigrants when making his comments about DWI/DWI repeat offenders. He was speaking toward the charges of DWI and DWI repeat offender in the context of illegal immigration. We believe DWI is a very serious charge, and any time a person chooses to drive under the influence, they run the risk of killing or seriously injuring members of our community.”
Additionally, in an exclusive interview with The Texan, Waybourn said, “The one journalist that took it out of context … that’s not at all what my intent was. My intent was to try and make this issue personal. We have 72 percent recidivism rate of our illegal aliens who are currently in custody. Of the illegal immigrants we have in custody, 25 percent of them are there with DWI… I believe it’s a logical conclusion that if they are released right back into the community – and this goes for all DWI’s – I’m not just singling out the immigrants… the odds for tragedy to unfold simply goes up.”
At the briefing, Albence and Waybourn discussed the cooperative measures taking place across all levels of government and emphasized the need for congressional support in immigration enforcement procedures.
Calling on congressional leadership, Albence said, “Congressional inaction in the face of a documented and growing public safety threat is not only an abdication of its duty, it is dangerous to all who reside in this country, citizen and immigrant alike.”
He then continued by saying, “I cannot stand here today and promise you that dangerous criminal aliens are not being let out of jail to potentially harm others. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. The threat to your communities remains, and it is real,” as “violent and repeat offenders who are released from custody because local law enforcement is not permitted or makes a conscious decision to not cooperate with ICE.”
To this, Sheriff Waybourn further supported and illustrated Director Albence’s statements by saying, “This morning we had 4200 inmates. Out of that 7 percent were illegal aliens” being held for a variety of offenses like sexual assault of a children, murder, robbery, arson, and drunk-driving.
Referring to a recent California ruling challenging how long illegal immigrants can be held in detention, Waybourn stated his concerns over public safety by adding, “Of those people we have in custody, we know for a fact that 72 percent of them are repeat offenders, so if we have to turn them loose or they get released, they’re coming back to your neighborhood and my neighborhood. These drunks will run over your children and they will run over my children, and if that happens I know that you will want and certainly I would want for you the full force of the law.”
He then continued by expressing empathy for many immigrants fleeing persecution by saying, “These people have come into the country illegally, and I understand that many of these migrants come across that river down there in Texas looking for a better day, looking for something better for their family.”
“I don’t think anybody disagrees with that, but the problem is the very people they were fleeing, who preyed upon them, came with them, and that’s who we’re trying to initially eliminate out of our country.”
The sheriff then went on to say that many of the crimes committed are not only committed against American citizens, but in many instances of sexual abuse of children specifically, crimes are committed against children residing in the United States illegally.
Regardless of their immigration status, however, these victims are treated equally to any other American citizen and do not face the penalty of deportation or other legal action.
Sheriff Waybourn described ICE and other immigration officials as “honorable people doing noble things” fighting a narrative “very much like the narrative used against Vietnam returning soldiers.”
Sheriff Waybourn was elected Tarrant County Sheriff in 2016. Prior to that, he served as the Chief of Dalworthington Gardens Police Department for 31 years.
Sarah McConnell is a reporter for The Texan. Previously, she worked as a Cyber Security Consultant after serving as a Pathways Intern at the Department of Homeland Security – Citizenship and Immigration Services. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Texas A&M as well as her Master of Public Service and Administration degree from the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M. In her free time, Sarah is an avid runner, jazz enthusiast, and lover of all things culinary.