Tarrant County Commissioners Court votes 3-2 to renew agreement with ICE

Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley speaks at a press conference March 13 in the Tarrant County Commissioners Court in downtown Fort Worth.

Tuesday morning stretched into the afternoon as more than 45 people, including a UTA philosophy professor, spoke at a Tarrant County Commissioners Court meeting, most of whom were protesting against the renewal of an agreement with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

In a 3-2 vote, the commissioner’s court approved the Memorandum of Agreement which partners ICE and the Department of Homeland Security with the Tarrant County Sheriff’s Office in authorizing local personnel to perform some immigration enforcement functions. The policy, known as 287(g), enables certified officers to act as a “force multiplier in the identification, arrest, and service of warrants and detainers of incarcerated foreign-born individuals with criminal charges or convictions,” according to ICE’s website.

The collaboration aims to focus resources on identifying and processing illegal aliens after they are arrested and booked at Tarrant County Jail for a separate crime, according to the memorandum document. The agreement was last renewed in 2019, but the memorandum passed Tuesday did not have an expiration date.

David McClelland, chief of staff for the Sheriff’s office, said either ICE or the Sheriff’s office may opt out of the agreement at any point. He said the Sheriff’s office could brief the court about the program and the viability of the contract.

The court agreed to review the agreement on an annual basis, according to the vote.

Seven officers are currently trained and certified by ICE to interview and detain inmates, McClelland said. The officers are supervised and directed by ICE, according to the memorandum document.

McClelland presented data measuring the department’s performance regarding the agreement policy from June 2019 to May 2020. Over the course of the year, 307 people were detained on the basis of 287(g) and 197 of those were released to ICE, according to his presentation.

Participating in the agreement allows the Sheriff’s office to take more control over how they interact with ICE, he said. The office does not place holds on people charged with a class C misdemeanor, though it was later pointed out that officers don’t process anyone for that.

The public comment portion of the meeting lasted longer than five hours as a majority of the participants protested the agreement because of a lack of transparency from the sheriff’s office and the impact 287(g) has on the community. Some argued for the policy to be renewed, citing public safety and increases in crime.

UTA philosophy professor Charles Hermes recited “Pinocchio” by Shel Silverstein before saying he wished the words spoken Tuesday would touch County Judge Glen Whitley and Sheriff Bill Waybourn’s hearts.

Whitley said he would vote in support of 287(g) again because if it stopped one violent crime from happening in the future, then he would be glad he did it. He advocated for a more efficient citizenship process that protects hard-working citizens.

Before the vote, Commissioner Roy Charles Brooks said he would not support the memorandum because he believed what people said and felt their pain during the public comment section.

“There is humanity and there is divinity in the face of each and every one of God’s children regardless of their race, color, creed, national origin, sexual orientation or documentary status,” he said.

@colby_farr

news-editor.shorthorn@uta.edu

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