HOUSTON, Texas – Harris County Sheriff Ron Hickman met with anti-deportation activists on Thursday and stood strongly in support of his jail programs that cooperate with immigration officials to deport criminal illegal aliens.
Hickman met with representatives of United We Dream, an organization that seeks to stop all deportations, local immigration attorneys and other community members to discuss the Harris County Sheriff’s Office’s participation in the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) program 287(g). The program is designed to help keep communities safe by identifying illegal aliens in the Harris County jail and having ICE official detain the individuals when they are released from the jail.
“In recent public appearances, representatives from United We Dream have invoked rhetoric to promote their objection to the Sheriff’s Office’s cooperation with federal authorities,” Hickman wrote in a statement obtained by Breitbart Texas. “On many instances vague references to anecdotal evidence has promulgated a message aimed at inspiring fear in the immigrant community; a message that has little bearing on the facts.”
Hickman then released facts that he shared with the activists and community members about his jail’s actual participation in the program.
Of the approximately 120,000 inmates held annually in the Harris County jail system, 1,831 individuals were placed on ICE detainers following the screening process in the jail intake during 2015. This represented about 1.5 percent of the jail’s population during that year, a statement from the Harris County Sheriff’s Office revealed. These detainers resulted in the actual deportation of only 167 illegal aliens who had been detained in the jail on criminal charges.
“The majority of the other inmates with ICE detainers are people who have been convicted and turned over to state prisons to serve their sentences,” Sheriff Hickman said during a phone interview with Breitbart Texas.
In the past, Harris County jail officers would hold a person with an ICE detainer for up to 48 hours after the person was scheduled for release from the jail. Now, ICE operates a daily transportation system, 24 hours per day, 7 days per week, holidays included, Hickman’s office stated. In 2014, then Sheriff Adrian Garcia ended the 48 hour hold program and put in place a system that releases the inmate at their scheduled release time if ICE has not picked them up.
Illegal aliens, even with ICE detainers in place are still allowed to make bond. ICE jurisdiction over these aliens does not come into play until final adjudication of the case or completion of a jail sentence, Sheriff Hickman said.
Breitbart Texas reached out to the Harris County Courts Administration Office to find out how many illegal aliens with ICE detainers in place were actually released on bond and how many of those released did not show up for their scheduled court appearance. A response was promised from the department but the information was not immediately available.
Hickman told Breitbart Texas that groups like United We Dream inadvertently, or perhaps intentionally, put unwarranted fear of police into members of the community by making inaccurate statements about the sheriff’s office’s role in immigration enforcement. “Contrary to claims made in public outcries from United We Dream, local law enforcement authorities do not enforce federal immigration laws on the street level,” Hickman said.
The sheriff said he wants members of the community to know they do not need to fear arrest because of their immigration status if they encounter a Harris County deputy in the course of a routine traffic stop or when they are reporting a crime as a victim or as a witness.
Hickman said there is a difference in the way 287(g) is implemented in different communities across the nations. “A person’s experience in Arizona might be completely different than that of a person in Texas,” the Houston sheriff explained. “Harris County Sheriff’s Deputies are only concerned with taking action on violators of state law, and do not pursue immigration status during the course of daily interactions.”
This procedure is in compliance with state and federal laws, the sheriff said.
Hickman said he hopes the meeting with the activist group and community members will lead to a better understanding of the role his department plays in dealing with criminal illegal aliens who are housed in his jail. “Now, it is the shared responsibility of law enforcement and vocal community groups to accurately share facts to alleviate the anxiety of the community, and build bridges between law enforcement and the people it’s sworn to protect.”