FORT WORTH, Texas - Tarrant County Sheriff Bill Waybourn is taking some heat for comments he made at the White House.
Sheriff Waybourn joined the acting ICE director on Thursday while reacting to a recent federal court ruling.
The ruling issued last month bars ICE from using only electronic databases when it wants to detain an illegal immigrant who's been arrested.
Waybourn says that ruling can put the public in danger. He said illegal immigrants in Tarrant County custody are repeat offenders arrested for crimes like DWI. He then said “those drunks will run over your children."
After the sheriff made those comments, his office said it was taken out of context. Multiple lawmakers say they were racially charged and think the sheriff should apologize.
From the White House press room, Sheriff Waybourn and the acting ICE director criticized a September federal court ruling by a California judge on detainers for illegal immigrants.
The ruling bans the use of databases that have, at times, led to the wrongful detention of American citizens. ICE and Waybourn say the ruling makes it more difficult to detain illegal immigrants arrested for crimes and now puts the public at risk.
But the ruling is not what many on Capitol Hill or in Texas spent the day talking about. Instead, some are angry with Waybourn because of this statement about illegal immigrants arrested for crimes, including DWI.
“This morning we had 4,200 inmates. Out of that, seven percent are illegal aliens. They were being held for such offenses of murder, sexual assault of children, about 70 of them. Robbers in there, kidnappers, people who committed arson, and DWI,” Sheriff Waybourn said during the press conference. “Of those people that we have in custody, we know for a fact that 72 percent of them are repeat offenders. So if we have to turn them loose or they get released, they’re coming back to your neighborhood and my neighborhood. These drunks will run over your children, and they will run over my children. If that happens, I know that you would want, and I would want for you. The full force of the law and immigrations is part of that full force.”
He added that he knows many undocumented immigrants cross Texas' southern border looking for "a better day and something better for their family," but "the problem is, the very people they were fleeing, who preyed upon them, came with them."
"That's who we're trying to initially eliminate out of our country," Waybourn said.
Waybourn's jail partners with the federal government under the 287(g) program. It allows trained local officers to enforce parts of immigration law.
Tarrant County is the 15th largest in the nation, according to Waybourn. He says of the 4,000 inmates in his jail, nearly 10 percent of them are illegal immigrants.
The sheriff’s office sent a statement saying Waybourn was not referring to all legal or illegal immigrants.
As for illegal immigrants jailed in Tarrant County, the sheriff's office said “nearly 25% of the illegal immigrants in our jail have charges of DWI and/or DWI repeat offender."
Domingo Garcia, LULAC National President, issued the following statement about Waybourn’s comments:
“It is appalling that a man with a badge and gun like Sheriff Waybourn would make such ignorant and twisted racist statements influenced by his far right-wing ideology. We know that in Texas, the data shows that native-born residents are much more likely to be convicted of a crime than immigrants. This sheriff needs to resign and apologize for his bigoted comments immediately. The domestic terrorist attacks in El Paso and Gilroy have shown that this rhetoric can have deadly consequences."
U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey, whose district includes part of Tarrant County, called those comments “completely unacceptable.”
“These actions are completely unacceptable, let alone by someone who is tasked with protecting and serving our community. There is NOTHING noble about falsely characterizing all immigrants as criminals—the fact is that a majority of research finds that immigrants do not increase crime rates and are less likely to be incarcerated than their native-born peers. The sheriff is simply trying to continue to divide our diverse North Texas community with hateful rhetoric,” he said in a statement.
State Representative Chris Turner leads the House Democratic Caucus.
“I think the sheriff should apologize” he said.
Turner’s district includes parts of Tarrant county. He echoed Garcia's comments.
“We know from the El Paso tragedy that this type of dangerous rhetoric can fuel unhinged people, and leaders should have no part of it,” Turner said.
Republican Congressman Michael Burgess said in a statement the sheriff’s comments were out of context.
"He was speaking about cases he knew of from his experience as a law enforcement official,” Burgess said. “We cannot generalize the characteristics of a population based on the actions of a few."