A traffic initiative in Bastrop County resulted in the arrests of 13 undocumented immigrants.
The Consulate General of Mexico in Austin said he's worried the operation shows an increase in cooperation between police and federal immigration enforcement, but the Bastrop County Sheriff said it was simply intended to enforce traffic laws and make the County safer.
“We had an initiative, which we call zero tolerance, which may sound a little harsh, but it doesn't mean that. It means everybody we stop, we're going to take some kind of enforcement action,” said Bastrop County Sheriff Maurice Cook.
The zero tolerance traffic operation took place Saturday night in the area of FM 535 and FM 812. That is an area of the County with a high percentage of Hispanic people, but the Sheriff said it was only chosen because of complaints about traffic violations there.
The operation resulted in 63 stops. During 24 of those stops, officers made an arrest. Of the 24 arrested, 13 turned out to be undocumented immigrants, eight of them from Mexico.
“This is escalation that concerns me a great deal. I have never seen a so-called traffic violation operation that ends up in detaining eight Mexican undocumented nationals,” said Carlos Gonzalez Gutierrez, Consulate General of Mexico in Austin.
Gutierrez said five of the undocumented Mexican nationals have already been deported by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Two are still detained and one will appear before an immigration judge within the next month. “There are families who are now in very difficult situations. They are devastated, they are facing catastrophic conditions as a result of traffic violation,” Gutierrez said.
Bastrop County Sheriff Maurice Cook said no one was arrested for minor traffic violations. Instead, he said of the 13 undocumented immigrants arrested, four were driving with an invalid license, six did not have a license and three were driving while intoxicated.
“I mean we didn't have any just minor little violations; these were all violations that are arrestable offenses on a daily basis. We just don't have the resources every day to arrest people,” Cook said.
Gutierrez said all of the Mexican nationals arrested in Bastrop County told him they were asked questions to determine if they were from the United States.
“In at least one case, the county officials asked him about his migratory status. In the other cases, they were all asked questions that could be considered proxies of that question,” said Gutierrez.
However, the Sheriff said his deputies don't ask about immigration.
That's the jailer’s job. “It is our policy to vet everyone that comes through the jail, with ICE under the appropriate circumstances,” said Cook.
The Mexican Consulate General worries what message the arrests are sending to the Hispanic community in Bastrop County. “These type of operations significantly erodes that trust that immigrants must have in this community, regardless of their immigration status,” Gutierrez said.
The Sheriff said as long as his traffic initiatives are keeping the County safe, he will continue doing them. “Our target is not to target illegal immigrants, but I'm not going to apologize for arresting people that turn out to be illegal immigrants,” said Cook. The Mexican Consulate General in Austin has scheduled a meeting with the Bastrop County Sheriff to clarify what happened.