ICE was hot last week, so the White House hosted a press briefing. Bill Waybourn showed up in his traditional cowboy attire, and by the time the Republican Tarrant County sheriff had finished a short, garbled statement, he’d stuck his cowboy-booted foot directly into his mouth.
“This morning, we had 4,200 inmates,” Waybourn said of the Tarrant County Jail. “Out of that, 7 percent were illegal aliens, and they were being held for such offenses as murder, sexual assault of children. There were about 70 of them. And there were robbers in there and kidnappers and people who committed arson and people who were DWI.”
Nothing wrong with stating facts, and we have no reason to doubt them. But things went south for the sheriff after that.
Matthew Albence, the acting director of ICE, led the briefing. He lamented a recent decision by U.S. District Judge Andre Birotte Jr. that prevents ICE from detaining suspects based on information retrieved from database searches. After Trump took office, ICE officials began relying more heavily on section 287(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, a section that allows them to partner with local law enforcement officers, who are trained to perform the basic functions of federal immigration agents. The idea was to detain prisoners suspected of being illegal immigrants long enough for the feds to swoop in, even after the prisoners had already posted bond.
Many sheriffs in Texas and around the country refused to participate in the 287(g) agreements, calling them unconstitutional. Also, database searches yielded erroneous information much of the time, meaning some sheriffs would detain prisoners who were legal citizens who had already posted bond and not been convicted of a crime.
In 2017, Waybourn agreed for a dozen of his deputies to be trained as de facto ICE agents. That’s why he was at the White House talking about why the judge’s ruling could put communities in jeopardy.
“Of those people that we have in custody, we know for a fact that 72 percent of them are repeat offenders,” he said. “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 would want, and certainly I would want for you, the full force of the law. And immigration is part of that full force.”
The left was appalled and issued outraged responses calling for his termination or resignation. Some said the sheriff’s rhetoric put Latinos in danger, citing the mass shooting in August in El Paso that killed 22 people, most of them Hispanic. Waybourn said his statements were taken out of context and that he was referring to repeat offenders of all kinds and wasn’t saying that all migrants are drunks. We don’t doubt him but don’t blame those who do, particularly after The Texas Tribune’s original story was published with a headline saying Waybourn was calling migrants drunks who will run over children. The newspaper published a correction, saying, “An earlier version of this story mischaracterized statements” by Waybourn.