When Tarrant County trained local deputies to do the work of federal immigration officers, it was explained as a way to help Washington find violent criminals.
But the way Sheriff Bill Waybourn now explains it, having his deputies hold anyone here illegally actually helps those immigrants’ families, too.
In a fascinating twist on immigration enforcement, Waybourn told a grassroots conservative political group last week that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers no longer raid homes or round up families here.
“ICE isn’t doing raids in Tarrant County,” Waybourn told the Project Fort Worth group, “because they only come to the Tarrant County jail.”
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Since 2017, when Waybourn agreed to have 12 deputies trained to act as local ICE agents under the federal program known as 287(g), ICE just picks up some of the immigration violators in the jail and doesn’t go out looking for them, he said.
“They don’t go out into the neighborhoods,” Waybourn, a first-term Republican and former Dalworthington Gardens police chief, told the meeting at an Elks Lodge in west Fort Worth.
“Do you see ICE out in any neighborhoods? You’re not going to.”
Waybourn said in California, where counties leave immigration enforcement to the feds, “ICE comes in — they go after someone bad from MS-13 … But they also check the documentation of the people around him — grandpa, grandma, aunt, uncle, brother, sister. They get all these other people, and they’re detained too.”
That makes sense. ICE agents seem to focus more on so-called “sanctuary” cities or counties where the local authorities aren’t helping out.
But Waybourn almost makes it sound as if Tarrant County deputies are providing a noble public service by screening anyone arrested and referring violators to ICE, regardless how minor the misdemeanor.
As of last week, he said, about 260 immigration violators were among the 4,000 prisoners in the Tarrant County jail. That’s about 6 percent of the jail population and a puny 0.3 percent of the county’s estimated 100,000 immigrants here illegally.
Waybourn listed some of the criminal charges they’re facing: murder, sexual assault of a child, arson, burglary, kidnapping or injury to a child.
But in Texas, anyone can be jailed for any violation, even for a traffic infraction. (Three exceptions: speeding; calling or texting while driving; or driving with an unsealed alcohol container in the car.)
So others of the 260 violators may be facing deportation after being arrested over — say, public intoxication, possession of marijuana, or driving without a license.
Tarrant County is one of 25 Texas counties where local deputies screen arrestees under 287(g). Rockwall is the only other such county in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
The 12 deputies get four weeks of training that includes warnings on racial profiling. They accept a two-year assignment.
In Florida, 17 counties recently joined 287(g) only after ICE officials there agreed to accept all liability for related injuries or civil damages.
State Rep. Ramon Romero, D-Fort Worth, said he was hoping Tarrant County deputies would focus only on “people who committed heinous acts.”
Look, nobody wants to release violent criminals or drug gangsters. But Romero said he’s disappointed to see Waybourn spending county time and money on screening those arrested over minor offenses.
“To only mention the worst crimes, and to not be transparent over how many times it was some lesser crime — and about how Tarrant County taxpayer dollars are being spent — I have a problem with that,” Romero said.
After watching Waybourn’s comments about ICE, Romero congratulated him.
“The sheriff did a really good job of proving why he is a really good politician,” he said.
No question about that.