Monday, May 22, 2006

TX Senate Hispanic Caucus: Governor should rein in Operation Linebacker

The Texas Senate Hispanic Caucus criticized implementation of Governor Rick Perry's "Operation Linebacker" program on the border last week, saying some sheriffs, especially in El Paso, are using the money in ways that overstep the legal authority of local law enforcement.

Writing as chairman of the caucus, Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa sent Governor Perry a letter dated May 19, 2006 declaring his concern the program was paying for "recent immigration raids conducted by Sheriff Leo Samaniego in El Paso County." He also lamented "confirmed reports that the sheriff is setting up roadblocks and asking vehicle occupants for driver's licenses, car insurance information and social security cards." (Regular Grits readers may recall me complaining about some of these practices a few weeks ago, see "
Is Operation Linebacker making El Paso less safe?")

I can't find a link to Hinojosa's letter online yet, but I was faxed a copy by the Senator's aide. (UPDATE 5-23: Here's Hinojosa's press release, and coverage from AP and the El Paso Times.)

El Senador
didn't object to all uses of Operation Linebacker funds. "A good example of an appropriate use of opeation Linebacker funds is the plan developed by the Hidalgo County Sheriff's Department," he wrote. "Instead of targeting workers, the department used the funds to creat a specialized Criminal Illegal Immigration Unit that responds to violent criminal activity." I really think he's on the right track here.The Hidalgo County program sounds exactly like the kind of smart, targeted expenditure that could actually improve public safety and reduce criminality. Paying overtime for deputies to drive up and down the river in SUVs is a feel-good proposal that solves nothing.

Hinojosa, himself a criminal defense attorney in Hidalgo County, said Sheriff Samaniego has no authority to conduct roadblocks or immigration raids.

Though the Border Security Plan for Texas includes funds for local officers' overtime and hiring of additional local law enforcement personnel, it does not give the officers new arrest powers. Under Article 14.01 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, a Texas peace officer may only make a warrantless arrest for a criminal offense if the criminal offense is committed in his or her presence or within his or her view.Texas law does not authorize a peace officer to engage in activities designed to uncover illegal immigration, such as immigration raids or roadblocks.
Hinojosa quoted an El Paso Sheriff's deputy saying arrests were made without probable cause because "you could tell they were undocumented immigrants." Hinojosa rightly noted that
the El Paso County Sheriff's remarks imply that Mexican ancestry or "looking Mexican" is sufficient to identify and detain undocumented immigrants. however,, in United States v. Brignoni-Ponce, the United States Supreme Court established a number of factors to consider before any federal immigration officer or employee may search or detain a person due to speculation over that person's immigration status. The Supreme Court ruled that Mexican ancestry alone was not enough to justify a search or detainment.
Finally, Hinojosa noted that "Sheriff Samaniego's 'raid and roadbock' approach to immigrants undercuts the ability of law enforcement to ensure the public's safety because it discourages both legal and illegal immgrants from seeking help from the police. The sheriff's activities increase the likelihood that frightened residents will refuse to cooperate with law enforcement.

El Senador closed by calling on Governor Perry to develop a "clear policy ... regarding the appropriate use of funds under Operation Linebacker." That would have been a good thing to do
before handing out the money.

Kudos to Hinojosa and the Senate Hispanic Caucus for holding the Governor and the sheriffs accountable for how this money is spent.

See these related Grits posts:

No comments: