Agents for Immigration and Customs Enforcement detained 26 offenders suspected of being undocumented as they reported for community service Sunday morning at a Tarrant County Jail facility north of downtown.
David McClelland, chief of staff for Tarrant County Sheriff Bill Waybourn, said the Sheriff’s Department was contacted about a week ago by federal agents asking for information about people in the work detail, a program for those who are on probation and are working off part of their sentences.
McClelland said those detained Sunday at the Cold Springs Road work detail facility had convictions of high-level misdemeanors and low-level felonies.
Carl Rusnok, ICE spokesman for the Dallas region, declined to give specifics regarding the Sunday roundup.
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“ICE officers are conducting ongoing immigration enforcement operations in North Texas. No further details are available until the conclusion of this operation,” Rusnok said in an emailed statement. “ICE routinely conducts immigration enforcement operations locally and nationwide which help improve overall public safety by removing criminal aliens from our communities, and ultimately from our country.”
NBCDFW.com reported that most of those detained were frisked as they were escorted onto a bus and that one man was shackled.
“This was totally initiated by ICE,” Waybourn told NBC5. “They came to us and said, ‘Listen, we reviewed the list (of names) and we suspect some of them are illegal aliens.’ So we said, ‘Whatever you need to do.’ ”
Those detained were taken to an ICE facility in Dallas where they were to be processed and at least some would possibly be released, according to the TV station. It was not clear Sunday night where they were taken or whether any had been released.
Waybourn has pledged to crack down on undocumented immigrants, especially those convicted of crimes. After he took office in January, he applied to take part in a federal program that would train jailers to screen for undocumented immigrants in the Tarrant County Jail.
Two ICE agents work at the Tarrant County Jail during the day Monday through Friday, McClelland said.
“If someone gets booked into jail Friday night and bonds out on Saturday, ICE never has a chance to screen them,” he said. “I don’t believe the people detained were ever screened by ICE when they came into our jail.”
Anita Quinones, a local activist who tutors immigrant children, said: “These individuals were following the law by showing up to do their community service. In the act of doing the right thing they were rounded up like cattle. No good deed goes unpunished.”
Fort Worth immigration activist Gloria Gonzalez-Garcia said the immigrant community was following reports of the ICE operation closely.
“Our thoughts are that we are disappointed that Waybourn would use such ... tactics, creating an ‘open season’ on our community,” she said in a text message.
Maria Robles of Arlington, a bilingual organizer with North Texas group Faith, said Sunday’s roundup is the type of crackdown that immigrants fear.
“This type of collaboration is what tears at the relationship and trust between our community and law enforcement,” she said in a message. “We will continue to stand in solidarity to ensure our community’s rights are respected by continuing to organize and bring ‘Know Your Rights’ sessions to the Fort Worth community.
“Unfortunately in these types of situations there is little or nothing that can be done in the moment, but there is plenty of room to empower our community with helping them recognize they too have rights under our Constitution regardless of immigration status,” Robles said.
Staff writer Diane Smith contributed to this report, which includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.
Susan McFarland: 817-390-7984, @susanmcfarland1