Tarrant County to continue verifying legal status of jailed suspects

Tarrant County commissioners voted to continue allowing some sheriff's office jailers to flag or hold illegal immigrants that have been arrested -- for at least another year.

County commissioners voted 3-to-2 in favor of staying in the federal 287(g) program. It allows jailers who have been trained according to federal regulations to check the legal status of suspects and work with immigration enforcement agents.

Speakers during public comment showed support or opposition to the 287(g) agreement.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement says they currently have 287(g) agreements with 80 law enforcement agencies across 21 states, and 25 of those agreements are in Texas.

"A lot of us have it in place because we believe it creates a safer community," explained Tarrant County Sheriff Bill Waybourn.

Under the program, Waybourn says his deputies have detained 485 illegal immigrants who were arrested on charges unrelated to immigration laws and brought to the Tarrant County jail within the last year.

"About 70% of those for a fact are repeat offenders," he explained.

But Gabriela Rodriguez with the activist group, ICE out of Tarrant County, says 287(g) only serves to separate families and keep illegal immigrants living in fear.

"Anyone that is undocumented fears that, regardless of what they do, they could be criminalized by this," she said.

But Waybourn clarified that his deputies only enforce immigration law inside of the Tarrant County Jail.

"These people that are here in our jail are still going to be completely afforded due process through the federal system," he said.

County Judge Glen Whitley offered his own clarification on the policy saying that detainees are arrested and held for breaking a law and not for being here illegally.

"It's not fair to assume that because there was a detention hold placed on them when they were booked in that that's the only reason they are remaining in jail," Whitley said.

After hours of discussion, the commission made its decision to extend their agreement with ICE for at least one more year.

"It's just sad to see that the hate is still there," Rodriguez said. "They say it's not, but it really is."

Under Tuesday's renewal, Tarrant County's agreement will not expire until June 30, 2020.

Sheriff Waybourn says the renewal is a temporary fix until the federal government takes action.

"I believe our congress has failed us miserably in this arena and there should be a comprehensive program," the sheriff said. "I mean the Republicans, the Democrats, both of them are to be held accountable."

The sheriff also clarified that it would not include people with misdemeanor offenses.