WILLIAMSON COUNTY, Texas - Nearly 11,000 people have been booked into the Williamson County Jail since October 2018. According to the Williamson County Sheriff's Office, on average 35 to 40 people a month end up being held on a federal immigration detainer.
Commander Chris Watts held a briefing Wednesday morning on an agreement the sheriff’s office renewed with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
“Offenders that have been arrested and brought to the jail are screened to check immigration status,” said Watts.
According to a memorandum of agreement, WCSO allows employees to work for ICE through the 287-G program. Fifteen county correctional officers are currently in the program and are classified as designated immigration officers. ICE program manager Dorothy Herrera-Niles said the county jailers are trained to identify inmates who may be in the country illegally.
“They receive four weeks of training and only ask questions to individuals that are incarcerated in the jail, so therefore, they have already been arrested,” said Herrera-Niles.
Participation in ICE raids is not part of the deal.
“No immigration enforcement functions are conducted on the streets, we do not go on the streets, once we leave here, we can not use our ICE credentials at all,” said Watts.
Under last year’s agreement, 402 ICE detainers were filed by Williamson County. More than half of those who were taken to jail are from Mexico, followed by Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, and Cuba. Russians, as well as people from China and England have also been identified. Herrera-Niles says those identified still have a chance to be released on bond.
“Everything is conducted on a case by case basis, in some instances the person may be amenable to a bond but because of the ICE detainer, will roll into ICE custody,” said Herrera-Niles.
In anticipation of a large turnout, Sheriff Robert Chody issued a notice that said people with protest signs and shirts with slogans on them would not be allowed inside. But with little advanced publicity about this meeting, parking certainly wasn’t a problem and the media outnumbered the general public.
Irina Fayerberg was one of three people at the briefing and noted how it started at 10:30 in the morning. She believes the meeting should have been held in the afternoon even if that means protesters may show up.
“Teah, even so because you have to have both sides come in and if there are both sides, everybody has to be here, it's, let's make sure we don’t have the professional protesters,” said Fayerberg.
Officials with ICE say they will talk to the sheriff about having another community briefing, but it was noted that holding more is not part of the agreement.
WCSO is one of 25 in texas currently part of the program. Burnet County is the only other participating office in Central Texas.
A spokesperson for the Travis County Sheriff’s Office says that everyone who is booked into the jail is fingerprinted, and as part of standard procedure, the fingerprints are entered into a federal database. If an ICE detainer is issued, Travis County will honor it.