Several leftist groups and Democrats crowded the Tarrant County Commissioner’s Court Tuesday morning, advocating for commissioners to vote against renewing the Tarrant County sheriff’s cooperation with federal immigration enforcement.

Since 2017, Tarrant County has participated in the Jail Enforcement Model of Section 287(G) of the 1996 Federal Immigration and Naturalization Act. JEM is “designed to identify and process removable aliens with criminal or pending criminal charges who are arrested by state or local [Law Enforcement Authorities].” Tarrant County Sheriff Chief of Staff David McClelland clarified to the commissioners and County Judge Glen Whitley that, under this model, they only check immigration status of those arrested for Class B misdemeanors or above; they do not check the immigration status of crime victims, witnesses, or those visiting their jail.

“We only look at immigration status inside the jail, after the booking,” McClelland said.

An inmate who has an ICE hold in the system is kept an additional 12-16 hours in the Tarrant jail where they await pickup from ICE. If ICE does not pick up the inmate within a 48-hour period, they are then released.

“I’m absolutely pro-legal immigration,” Tarrant County Sheriff Bill Waybourn told the court. “Some of our command staff are immigrants from other countries. But we do want bad actors to get out of our country.”

“I think [287(G) is] a vital program,” he added.

ICE’s website states that “[u]nder the JEM, nominated state and local law enforcement officers will be trained, certified, and authorized by ICE to perform only those immigration functions that are established on the Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) of the Memorandum of Understanding.”

McClelland said that training was paid for by federal taxpayers, not through taxes collected by the county. Furthermore, .0387 percent of the office salaries were spent on 287(G), $1037.82 was spent on overtime, $642.60 on paper, and $28.25 a month was spent on food for prisoners being held.

However, very few people in the commissioner’s courtroom supported renewing the program. Those in opposition all raised similar talking points, accusing 287(G) of being a racist program that spreads fear of law enforcement, separates families, and is a waste of taxpayer dollars. Some of the speakers were young women and children sharing personal stories, at times crying, claiming immigration enforcement resulted in the separation of their families.

Among the speakers were prominent local Democrats, such as former Fort Worth mayoral candidate and former chair of the Tarrant Democratic Party Deborah Peoples.

“We should immediately repeal this program,” she said, arguing she’s not soft on crime but understands what it’s like to live in fear.

“This is a barely thinly veiled instance of what I ferreted out in state government for 18 years: institutionalized, legalized racism,” said former State Rep. Lon Burnam (D–Fort Worth).

Among those speaking in opposition were many associated with prominent local and national advocacy organizations, wearing T-shirts featuring customized logos.

A number of these leftist organizations have appeared in other instances of political conflict, such as the Senate Bill 4 protest of 2017 in Fort Worth and the recent controversy over reforms of the Dallas’ Citizens Police Review Board.

Some of the groups represented were:

  • ICE Out of Tarrant
  • ACLU of Texas
  • Democratic Socialists of America-Fort Worth
  • Faith in Texas
  • Indivisible Fort Worth
  • Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES)
  • United Fort Worth

UFW had previously failed in their attempt to gain a foothold on Fort Worth’s City Council in the May 4 elections of this year.

While respect was largely given to those speaking against 287(G), it was not always shown to those speaking in favor of the program. An elderly woman was heckled by some in opposition, forcing Whitley to call for respect from both sides.

The court is expected to vote on the matter next Tuesday. Waybourn had told the audience at Northeast Tarrant Tea Party this week that Whitley will be the deciding vote on the matter, and asked for supporters to come speak in support of renewal.

Robert Montoya

Born in Houston, Robert Montoya is an investigative reporter for Texas Scorecard. He believes transparency is the obligation of government.


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