Update, 2/22/2017, 2:38pm
Harris County sheriff Ed Gonzalez has ended the 287(g) program, by which some of his staff transferred custody of some undocumented immigrants to federal authorities after they were booked at the county jail.
The Harris County Sheriff's Office (HCSO) officially made the announcement through a news release sent out on Wednesday morning.
Last year, Gonzalez campaigned on eliminating the program, which he categorized as "controversial," and he says doing away with is the right thing to do for several reasons.
One of them is that he hopes his decision will help restore the trust of Harris County’s immigrant community in the Sheriff’s Office, but Gonzalez also notes they were spending more than $600,000 a year in salaries by participating in the program.
The HCSO had two deputies and seven detention officers working on the 287(g) program.
The sheriff told Houston Public Media that he plans to redirect part of those funds to "other public safety priorities."
"For example, I have a staffing issue that needs to be addressed inside the county jail," explained Gonzalez.
"I need more patrol cars for my deputies so that they can keep their community safe," the sheriff added "and also have clearance rates in our investigative divisions that are not satisfactory to me. We need to be solving more crimes and, so, this was a resource allocation issue for me."
At least for now, the sheriff doesn’t foresee any negative repercussions for Harris County because of his decision even though there is legislation advancing in the Texas Legislature to punish so-called sanctuary cities and counties.
"This wasn’t about making a political statement. For me, I’m always gonna look at it through the lens of public safety, that’s always my priority," Gonzalez concluded.
Several grassroots organizations that advocate for a comprehensive immigration reform, such as United We Dream, Immigrant Families and Students in the Struggle (FIEL, by its acronym in Spanish) and the Center for Central American Resources (CRECEN, by its acronym in Spanish) praised the sheriff's decision.
Congressman Gene Green, who represents Texas' 29th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives, also said Gonzalez's move was the right one.
"Houston and Harris County is home to more than 575,000 undocumented immigrants who are our neighbors and contributing members of our community. It is the responsibility of our officers to protect and serve, not detain and deport. Removing violent criminals must always be a priority for Sheriff Gonzalez, but this program has done more harm than good," Green said in a statement.
See Sheriff Ed Gonzalez’s 287g withdrawal letter below.