Friday, March 28, 2008

Federal dollars from immigrant detainees aren't worth intangible costs at Travis County Jail

I'd somehow missed news of this recent protest at the local jail, but here in Travis County, reported The Daily Texan ("Workers rights group pickets Travis County Jail," March 19), Sheriff Greg Hamilton faces increasing political pressure to scale back his department's expanded collaboration with the federal Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) service
"We are presenting a letter today to the Travis County Jail signed by a broad base of community organizations, churches and immigration organizations to let them know there is large support for this cause" ... said [Cristina Tzintzun, a representative for the Workers Defense Project, an immigrant workers' rights organization].

Many of the protesters spoke of the importance of cooperation between local law enforcement and the immigrant population.

"A number of people have had their homes broken into, but they don't report it because of their legal status, and that causes a threat to all of us," said Rev. John Korcsmar of the Dolores Catholic Church.

Though many protesters are worried about the inability of immigrant families to report crimes or domestic violence to local authorities, ICE officials say their programs are designed to keep communities safe.

"Many of the victims of criminal aliens are illegal aliens themselves," said ICE spokesman Carl Rusnok. "One of our highest priorities is to target aliens with criminal convictions who target those in their community."

Rusnok said the agency has many programs that partner with local law enforcement to combat crime.

However, fear of imprisonment and deportation deters many victimized immigrants, including victims of domestic violence, from cooperating with local police, Tzintzun said.

Roger Wade, a spokesman for the Travis County Sheriff's Office, said the expanded collaboration with ICE is not a new program. Though he said he could not comment on specific arguments from the protest, Wade said the organization has been working in the Travis County Jail for the past 28 years to check on inmates who are illegal immigrants.

"We will continue to work with all federal, state and local law enforcement agencies," Wade said.
Whatever the merits of the Sheriff's new policy, the debate has become confused by the department's refusal to admit they've significantly changed it, which I think is a major public relations mistake. Roger Wade's statement simply misrepresents the facts, which makes it increasingly difficult for the Sheriff's critics to believe the department is acting in good faith.

As I've written before, the feds have "holds" on literally twenty times the number of inmates at the Travis jail compared to before the new policy, which allows ICE to identify suspected illegal immigrants upon arrest instead of upon conviction. According to Austin city councilmember Mike Martinez, "Prior to the change there were only a handful of cases per month resulting in detainments (4 to 5). That number has now risen to approximately 111 for December and over 110 for the first 2 weeks of February alone." These are OPTIONAL inmates, extra prisoners taking up jail space because of a political decision by an elected official, and for no other reason.

The Travis County Jail already is at risk of noncompliance with state regulators. I don't understand Sheriff Hamilton's motivation for sticking to his guns so stridently on this. Maybe it brings in a few extra dollars from the feds, but the soured community relations, not to mention headaches from piling scores of optional inmates into an overcrowded jail, seem to me to outweigh a little extra cash on the side.

Perhaps Sheriff Hamilton would be less gung ho for this strategy if Travis County Commissioners simply designated all proceeds from the ICE contract to roads or parks. Then, absent a false financial incentive, the Sheriff could get back to focusing on how to reduce needless jail overcrowding, rather than exacerbate it.


Anonymous said...

People protesting because the State and Local government are working together...Unbelievable!

Anonymous said...

I have to ask you to explain why you have a problem with this. If someone is in our country illegally, that's bad enough. However, if they are here illegally and are breaking the law, why shouldn't they be sent back? How would it improve the country to allow them to stay?

As for causing people to be afraid to report crimes, I don't see why. Victims do not have their status questioned. It is only the people arrested. ICE is not going to put a hold on someone who was the victim of a robbery.

I commend the Sheriff for sticking to his decision.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

To 10:06 - They ARE sent back, when they're convicted. What the Sheriff is doing differently is ID'ing them on arrest, so the jail fills up needlessly. We're already deporting people convicted of committing crimes here. The question is whether they'll take up extra space in the jail before they go when it's already completely full.

The Travis jail in itself is a massive boondoggle going back several Sheriffs. They've repeatedly issued bonds that were supposed to expand capacity well beyond where it is now, but they botched the job over and over. Now it's chock full and debt on the jail is through the roof. It's foolish to add 100+ extra people who don't need to be there.

As for your statement that victims do not have their status questioned, not everything is as black and white as it appears from your perch above the fray. Many crimes are not committed by strangers. If the crime is spousal abuse, e.g., it's little comfort to the spouse that only the assailant will be deported. Instead she just won't call. There are many examples where victims interests are similarly compromised by immigration laws.

Anonymous said...

I guess that is the hazard of coming to this country illegally. Somehow, my heart fails to bleed at this.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

It's your wallet that's unnecessarily bleeding, 9:03. Your heart is largely irrelevant to the matter. At least until you're a victim of crime and a witness won't come forward because they fear deportation, of course. Then, I'd guess, their failure to trust the justice system would leave you significantly disheartened.

Anonymous said...

The Sheriff is doing the right thing by keeping illegals in jail until conviction. If an illegal is charged with an offense and released from jail, why would he appear in Court on the date of his hearing. If he is likely going to be deported, why do jail time prior to deportation?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

If the Sheriff had reported a problem with people released on bond not returning as a reason for this policy, you might have a point. That was never the issue. He basically wants the extra contract dollars that come from housing federal prisoners.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

In fact, the way to prove for sure this is only about the money would be to do what I suggested and designate the contract proceeds go to roads or parks.

If it's about safety he'd keep doing it. Since it's about money, I guarantee the new policy would be reversed overnight.

Anonymous said...

Regardless of the Sheriff's motivation, my point is still valid. Illegals who come into this country and commit crimes should be detained pending an official hearing. If the Sheriff detains those individuals, he should be compensated.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

If the Sheriff's motivation is not safety, and his actions inhibit other uses of the already overcrowded jail that ARE safety motivated, he's doing the taxpayers a serious disservice.

And just to be clear, HE wouldn't be compensated, it's his office, funded by the taxpayers whose interests he's supposed to serve. The jail isn't there to serve his personal political agenda, or yours.

Anonymous said...

You have to remember that there are many people in this country that have a problem with law-abiding illegals let alone those that commit crimes. I applaud that the Sheriff and the FEDs are working together. If the Sheriff's Dept. is compensated for assisting the FEDs, I am all for that. I see no reason that the Sheriff should take those funds and apply those funds to roads and parks, assuming he can do that. There are alot of strings tied to Federal Funds and he may be limited as to how those funds can be spent.

Regardless of the Sheriff's motivation, I see locking those indviduals up as a safety issue.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Two final reactions, then I think we've talked through this pretty well. You write:

"You have to remember that there are many people in this country that have a problem with law-abiding illegals"

How can I forget? This is yet another instance where that insensible position harms public safety and families.

"I see locking those indviduals up as a safety issue"

Immigrants actually commit fewer crimes than any other demographic. As such, your view is an ideological position, not a factual one. Locking them up upon conviction is doing plenty to keep us safe, and we put plenty of immigrants in prison under the current regimen. There's just no reason to believe treating them differently in the justice system will improve safety, and we KNOW the Travis jail is already overcrowded.

The pragmatic issues with the jail appear to mean nothing to those arguing the anti-immigrant position, but it's a significant issue. best,

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Whoops, I said "locking them up upon conviction," but obviously I meant securing the ICE hold at that time is good enough. Long day. Good night,

Anonymous said...

I agree with the Sheriff. If people are going to enter our country and commit crimes like speeding and jay walking just so that they can come over here and take our sub-minumum wage jobs just so they can support their spouses and children back home, they should be deported. Shame on them!

Signed, A Republican for Voldimort