Following a letter of support from Gov. Greg Abbott urging the renewal of U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) controversial “287(g)” immigration program, Harris County Sheriff Ron Hickman renewed the program’s contract a week before its expiration.
The program is named for a section of the Immigration and Nationality Act and Harris County is one of thirty-two counties in the country to still utilize it. Section 287(g) allows local law enforcement access to federal immigration databases for identification purposes when someone is arrested locally. After identification, they can then send an illegal immigrant involved in criminal activity to ICE for deportation. Out of the 120,000 people sent to county jail in 2015, 1,800 were referred to ICE through this program.
The League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) National President Roger C. Rocha Jr. released a statement this week regarding the program renewal option with ICE.
LULAC’s statement reads:
“LULAC and the members of LULAC District VIII adamantly oppose the extension of the 287(g) contract because it violates people’s constitutional rights, it legalizes racial profiling, and separates families from their loved ones. Under the contract, routine sweeps of Latino neighborhoods are commonplace, and Latino drivers are stopped solely because of the color of their skin. The constant targeting of Latino immigrants by law enforcement is inconsistent with our country’s values and creates an environment of mistrust between the Latino community and law enforcement that Houston cannot afford. According to reports, Harris County has the second largest Latino population in the United States. In Houston, Latinos make up 44 percent of the population. Latinos are an integral part of Houston’s diverse population, offering cultural and economic benefits that cannot be measured. The application of 287(g) flies in the face of all those benefits and must be allowed to expire.”
Hickman pushed back against LULAC saying that the program only allows immigration status checks for people after they have been arrested and booked in jail. County law enforcement does not use the program on people involved in traffic stops, or anyone who is the victim of or witness to a crime.
Former Harris County commissioner, State Sen. Sylvia Garcia (D-Houston), opposes the program and voted against it when she was on the court. Hickman’s challenger, former Council Member Ed Gonzalez, has said that if elected he would end the program, and interim Precinct 1 Commissioner Gene Locke voiced his disproval of the program.
Although Hickman decided to renew the contract early, the current contract expires on June 30th. Harris County Commissioners have had to vote on the program in the past, but according to County Attorney Vince Ryan, a vote from them was not required this time.