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Advocates Urge Harris County To Drop Immigration Enforcement Program

The 287(g) contract expires at the end of this month unless the sheriff asks for renewal.

Florian Martin
Texas state senators Rodney Ellis and Sylvia Garcia stand with Diana Rivera-Cardoza with United We Dream.

Under the 287(g) contract, local law enforcement officers are trained by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement. It ensures the immigration status of those that end up in the Harris County Jail is reported to federal authorities.

For weeks, advocates have asked the county commissioners court not to renew the contract.

Tarah Taylor with the Texas Organizing Project was one of many speaking Tuesday.

"It separates families and violates constitutional rights," she said. "It wastes taxpayers' money. The federal government reimbursement is miniscule because it has been deemed inefficient and unproductive."

She pointed out Harris County is the only county in Texas to participate in the program. State Sen. Rodney Ellis was also among the speakers. He and state Sen. Sylvia Garcia participated in a news conference on the issue prior to the commissioners court meeting.

Harris County Judge Ed Emmett said he has met with advocates and he is open to their concerns.

"Is it the right program? I don't know," he said.

But he said there should be some kind of collaboration with immigration authorities.

"If we were to suddenly stop doing it, this courtroom would be packed with people really upset over the fact that somebody who has been identified and then they go out and commit a subsequent crime and they weren't turned over to ICE, we've seen that play out all over the country," Emmett said.

Sheriff Ron Hickman at the commissioners court podium
Florian Martin
Sheriff Ron Hickman told the commissioners court he supports the 287(g) program.

He said he is waiting for a report and recommendation on the program by Sheriff Ron Hickman.

Hickman declined to be interviewed for this story and pointed to the statement below. He told the commissioners court he supports the 287(g) program.

The current contract expires on June 30.


Statement on 287(g) program by Harris County Sheriff's Office:

The Harris County Sheriff’s Office is sensitive to the concerns of the community regarding the 287(g) program and the Harris County Sheriff’s Office partnership with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The controversy surrounding the program has a legitimate history reflected in public outcry and concern.

That is why the program, under the leadership of Sheriff Ron Hickman and the leadership with the local ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations Office, has been rigorously evaluated to assuage the concerns of community groups.

County officials at every level have repeatedly set the record straight regarding the realities of the program. We are working hard with County, State and Federal officials, to clear up misperceptions and confusion surrounding the use of the 287(g) program. We want to make it perfectly clear that the system only operates “inside” the jail itself and people in the community have nothing to fear from normal contacts with law enforcement. Only inmates with a select priority crimes are referred to ICE.

  • There is no street level component of the 287(g) program. Only inmates of the Harris County Jail undergo immigration screening.
  • Harris County is not involved in deportation proceedings. Only federal officials have the authority to pursue deportation of convicted criminals.
  • Harris County does not lead the nation in subsequent deportations of convicted criminals. Los Angeles County, CA and Maricopa County, AZ both lead Harris County in ICE deportations.
  • The total cost to Harris County is $457,412.80. Last year the federal government reimbursed Harris County $862,429.00 via the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program (SCAAP).
  • No one is held in the Harris County Jail on federal immigration charges. Inmates are jailed solely on State criminal charges.

Gone are the days where habeas corpus concerns arise from the controversial “detainer” program. In years past, the Harris County Sheriff’s Office would honor an ICE request for detention by holding inmates for up to 48 hours after their scheduled release from local custody. We have disbanded that practice. ICE now operates a daily transportation system from the Harris County Jail, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, including holidays. If ICE has interest in the detention of a priority individual the onus is on that agency to take custody of the detainee. If ICE fails to retrieve inmates with detention notifications, the Harris County Sheriff’s Office will process the release of the inmate as scheduled.

Past concerns also addressed the application of detainers on pre-trial detainees. The process now occurs after adjudication allowing pre-trial detainees the opportunity to make bond regardless of their immigration status. This was an important step to applying equal and fair treatment to all detainees of the Harris County Sheriff’s Office.

It is true that we continue to work with ICE. Ultimately this is a program designed to protect the public from the most violent of offenders with histories of immigration violations (see charts below). Offenders like Victor Reyes, who last year went on a killing spree throughout Houston and Harris County, wounding two and killing two, until ultimately engaging a Sheriff’s Deputy in a gun battle where Reyes was shot and killed. Reyes had a lengthy criminal history, and had previously been deported on multiple occasions.

To date we continue to cooperate with ICE to evaluate our partnership to be responsive to community concerns. We continue to examine ways in which we can continue to answer the calls from the community, and keep the public safe through federal partnerships.

A year by year comparison of detainers and subsequent deportations is listed below:

2014: Average number of detainers/month: 324.75 Average number of subsequent deportations/month: 17.25

2015: Average number of detainers/month: 152.5 Average number of subsequent deportations/month: 13.9

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