FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) -- The sheriff of Tarrant County says he wants to establish a partnership allowing county jailers to identify inmates who are in the country illegally and begin deportation proceedings, rather than wait on federal agents.
Sheriff Bill Waybourn is proposing to train 12 jailers to look in the jail for those in the country without legal permission, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram (http://bit.ly/2lhmb4D ).
The move would only pertain to people in jail and deputies will not be questioning people on the street about their immigration status, he said. The program also would not apply to people who are crime victims, he said, speaking to a complaint of Democrats who contend that threat of deportation would lead immigrant communities from assisting in criminal investigations.
"This is going to give us coverage 24 hours, seven days a week so the ability for somebody to slip through the cracks is going to be reduced," Waybourn said. "I will not foolishly say somebody won't slip through the cracks at some point in a large, urban jail like this, but this will reduce that."
Normally the work falls on U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement but federal law allows the agency to partner with local law enforcement to conduct the work. Harris and Lubbock counties are among the ones in Texas that have agreements in place with ICE, as do dozens of counties in other states.
State Rep. Ramon Romero, D-Fort Worth, questioned why Tarrant County needs to get involved in a job that's already the responsibility of federal authorities.
"There are unintended consequences that aren't being realized," Romero told the newspaper. "You can have people in there for something as simple as a traffic violation and suddenly they're getting deported. Who's going to suffer are their families and their children."
Waybourn said he has the authority to enter into an agreement with ICE, but said he's willing to discuss it with county commissioners for the sake of transparency.
His proposal relates to ongoing debate over so-called sanctuary cities. The term has no legal definition, but Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has promoted the legislation as a move to crackdown on criminal suspects who are in the country illegally. The issue has become contentious in many legislatures around the country, especially with President Donald Trump promising to wall off the U.S.-Mexico border and impose strict federal immigration policies.
As proposed, Texas' bill applies to local police forces and law enforcement at college campuses, and seeks to strip authorities of state-controlled grant funding if they don't comply -- though some of its key provisions may change as it clears the Senate and makes its way through Texas' Republican-controlled state House.
Individual sheriffs and police chiefs -- particularly in heavily Democratic areas -- have long opposed enforcing federal immigration law, and Abbott has already blocked $1.5 million from the Travis County sheriff, who has said the jails in the state capital of Austin will no longer honor most federal immigration detainers.