This summer, a five-member majority of the Fort Worth City Council refused to join every other large Texas city in challenging SB 4. The state’s “sanctuary cities” law that went into effect on Sep 1 requires police at every level to ask people their immigration status if they appear to be suspiciously non-Texan. Still, Mayor Betsy Price reminded everyone that Fort Worth is a compassionate city and won’t be using the law to get away with profiling and racial discrimination.
Chill out, in other words. Everything will be fine.
While everyone was bickering over SB 4, an equally insidious agreement between U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and several counties around the state had already gone into effect. In July, ICE officials announced the signing of 18 so-called 287(g) agreements with 18 Texas counties — in a huge expansion of an already existing national program — with Tarrant being the largest. The 287(g) program allows local law enforcement agencies to request to enter into partnerships with ICE to enforce federal immigration rules. The agreements call for a limited number of jail officers to be trained by ICE to interrogate people who have been arrested to ascertain their immigration status. The trainees will also learn how to access the Department of Homeland Security’s database to identify undocumented immigrants and detain them until ICE can pick them up and put them in the deportation pipeline.
“The government bills this as something that promotes public safety,” said Jennifer Deharo, the managing attorney for Fort Worth Refugee and Immigrant Center for Immigration Legal Services (RAICES), a nonprofit that offers free and low-cost legal services to the immigrant community in Texas. “The government makes that claim because these ‘criminals’ are not being released back into the public. But the reality is that individuals whose criminal charges are dropped or who have a warrant for an unpaid parking ticket or were erroneously arrested are being transferred to ICE for consideration of deportation.”
Without a 287(g) agreement, Deharo said, it was up to the county or the cities to comply or not.
David McClelland, public information officer for the Tarrant County sheriff’s department said that Tarrant decided to join the 287(g) agreement because it “puts control over who is being looked at in local hands, rather than in ICE’s hands.” Asked to explain, McClelland said that ICE has already been in Tarrant County’s primary correction center — the processing point for everyone arrested — for 10 years.
“ICE was here from 8 to 6 Monday to Friday,” he said. “The new agreement allows us to expand that coverage to 24/7. And it is our officers who are now doing the background checks, which gives us some discretion as to whom ICE should look at. If someone has an ID from the State of Texas, for instance, they are presumed to be here legally.”
McClelland added that the Tarrant officers involved in the program would be contacting ICE only in regard to arrestees who were charged with high misdemeanors or felonies. “That’s who ICE is concerned with,” he said.
McClelland’s comments do not satisfy those who oppose the agreements.
“Many counties only complied with ICE detainers for aggravated felonies,” Deharo said. “But with this agreement, the police officers in the jails can issue a detainer for anyone without legal immigration status.”
Nick Hernandez, community outreach rep for RAICES Dallas, said the agreements put tremendous fear into the community.
“It’s just another policy that inflicts fear on immigrants, another tactic that makes people feel they will be discriminated against,” he said.
Those who get picked up under the detainers issued via 287(g) will get their days in court to try to plead their case and argue against their deportation –– unless they have a previous ICE removal order. But winning those cases is difficult, Deharo said.
“That’s why this creates fear in the community,” she said.