Opinion Columns & Blogs - INACTIVE

Tarrant sheriff needs to give straight story on immigration program’s costs, drawbacks

Tarrant County is going out of its way to deport unauthorized immigrants in the area. Two years ago, it entered into a voluntary agreement with the federal government to deputize the Tarrant County Sheriff’s Office to enforce immigration laws at the county jail.

Such an act was completely optional; section 287(g) of the Clinton-era immigration law, under which the program operates, imposes no mandates on local governments. Tarrant County had long ignored the provision, as had most large counties in America, until Sheriff Bill Waybourn abruptly changed course and secured a 287(g) contract — with virtually no debate.

County commissioners are set to vote Tuesday on renewing the program for two more years. Proponents argue that it targets only the worst criminals for removal and that it’s supposed to be cost-neutral.

But there’s a catch: It doesn’t work. There are innumerable hidden costs, and the agreement has not been subject to public scrutiny. Worse, the sheriff’s office has stonewalled requests from scholars, activists, and even public officials who sought to learn more about the 287(g) contract.

A closer look offers much cause for concern. At a hearing before the Commissioners Court last week, Waybourn deliberately mislead the governing body charged with overseeing his department. He claimed that all costs for 287(g) amounted to less than one-tenth of 1 percent of his budget, but he didn’t account for any daily labor costs.

By the sheriff’s own admission, the staff doing the work earn at least $42,000 per year, which means that they are paid $0.33 per minute — add benefits and it becomes about half-dollar. Yet the amount of time and pay required for officers to place immigration holds, complete the required paperwork, transfer inmates and more were completely absent from the department’s misleading presentation.

What else might Waybourn be hiding? Immigrant advocates contend that 287(g) has led to racial profiling and a climate of fear in our county. Yet the sheriff’s office refuses to release any information related to the traffic stops and workplace raids that often ensnare immigrants. Instead, Waybourn cites unspecified legal restrictions, leaving fair-minded residents to wonder.

The lack of information has been so acute that County Judge Glen Whitley had to call the county’s information-technology department on his own to try to track down information on immigration holds at the jail — and then interpreted the data by himself just hours before the hearing.

Why didn’t the sheriff’s office help him get the facts? Instead, when the commissioners posed a series of clarifying questions, the sheriff and his staff evaded, responding with unsubstantiated assertions and half-truths at best.

One would think that elected officials would not tolerate such behavior, that they would refuse to rubber-stamp the renewal of a contract with unknown costs, no transparency and questionable ethics.

Not in Tarrant County. Rather, Whitley buried his head in his spreadsheet, zooming in on one still-incomplete dataset while ignoring community members’ calls to dig deeper.

Most shocking, the judge admitted that 287(g) fails at its stated purpose of deterring crime by deporting would-be repeat offenders. He highlighted multiple cases in which the sheriff’s office placed an immigration hold on a detainee, but the offender was released on a bond, returned to the streets and then charged with another crime and returned to jail.

Who knows how many innocent people were stopped and questioned before deputies found the perpetrator? Did racial profiling occur? The sheriff’s office won’t give us the evidence.

And yet the majority of the commission is poised to vote to renew 287(g). We must ask: Why?

Max Krochmal is associate professor of history and chairman of the Department of Comparative Race and Ethnic Studies at Texas Christian University. He can be reached at professormax.org.
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