Tarrant County Sheriff Bill Waybourn acquired some useful experience Thursday that not all lawmen can claim: He was accused of a crime he didn’t commit and convicted in the court of the fast-moving news cycle.
Waybourn, a Republican, was at the White House for an event defending immigration enforcement. He’s popular among illegal-immigration hardliners, in part because his jail is one of the largest in the country that cooperates with federal authorities to check the immigration status of those arrested.
From a White House lectern, Waybourn said that among the current Tarrant County Jail inmates, 7% are in the country illegally. Some of those, he noted, have multiple arrests for driving while intoxicated. After providing some other information, 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.”
BEHIND OUR REPORTING
Hey, who writes these editorials?
Editorials are the positions of the Editorial Board, which serves as the Fort Worth Star-Telegram’s institutional voice. The members of the board are: Cynthia M. Allen, columnist; Steve Coffman, executive editor; Bud Kennedy, columnist; Juan Antonio Ramos, editorial director of La Estrella, the Star-Telegram’s bilingual publication; and Ryan J. Rusak, opinion editor. Most editorials are written by Rusak and edited by Coffman. Editorials are unsigned because they represent the board’s consensus positions, not the views of individual writers.
Read more by clicking the arrow in the upper right.
How are topics and positions chosen?
The Editorial Board meets regularly to discuss issues in the news and what points should be made in editorials. We strive to build a consensus to produce the strongest editorials possible, but when we differ, we put matters to a vote.
The board aims to be consistent with stances it has taken in the past but usually engages in a fresh discussion based on new developments and different perspectives.
We focus on local and state news, though we will also weigh in on national issues with an eye toward their impact on Texas or the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
How are these different from news articles or signed columns?
News reporters strive to keep their opinions out of what they write. They have no input on the Editorial Board’s stances. The board consults their reporting and expertise but does its own research for editorials.
Signed columns by writers such as Allen, Kennedy and Rusak contain the writer’s personal opinions.
Some sloppy or too-fast reporting suggested Waybourn was saying that all or many illegal immigrants are “drunks” who are a danger to Tarrant County’s precious youth. No fair reading of his comments suggests he was speaking broadly of anyone beyond habitual drunken drivers. Political opponents pounced, and in a world where too few people read beyond an inflammatory headline, let alone watch the full couple minutes of video, Waybourn was guilty and sentenced to a day of being one of Twitter’s piñatas.
That said, the sheriff should be extremely careful with his words on such a volatile topic. His decision to participate in the 287 (g) program that has county officers doing ICE status checks has roiled Tarrant County immigrants and their allies — including many citizens who don’t want their public officials participating in such a program.
There’s no evidence that immigrants here illegally commit more crimes, or have a higher share of “drunks” endangering children, than native citizens. So Waybourn’s language was unnecessarily inflammatory.
And when you’re speaking from the White House, with Trump administration immigration officials at your side, your words carry tremendous weight. You must be precise. To so many in the world, Tarrant County now looks intolerant. That’s not entirely Waybourn’s fault, but he handed opponents a stick to hit him with.
Waybourn is up for re-election next year, and with Tarrant County trending Democratic, he could be in for a tough fight. He’s walking a line on enforcing the law, keeping a campaign promise and appearing reasonable on a topic that spikes blood pressure on all sides.
His words Thursday didn’t help, even if he was unfairly convicted.