Harris Jailers To Resume Role As Immigration Officers

Harris jailers to resume role as immigration officers

By Liz Austin Peterson
The Houston Chronicle, November 4, 2008

Commissioners Court voted 4-1 today to allow the Harris County Sheriff's Office to continue participating in a program that lets local jailers act as immigration officers.

The sheriff's office temporarily suspended the program last week after acknowledging it had not gotten the court's permission to adopt it. Sheriff's spokesman Lt. John Legg said the program should be reinstituted later this week.

The sheriff's office first asked the court for permission in July to participate in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's 287(g) program, which trains local law enforcement officers to help identify illegal immigrants. Commissioner Sylvia Garcia asked to postpone a vote on the county's agreement with ICE, and it never appeared on another agenda.

The court did approve plans to send nine jailers to South Carolina in August for special immigration training, and those officers began performing their immigration-related duties as soon as they returned, the sheriff's office said last week.

Garcia raised questions about the program last week and she cast the only no vote, saying Harris County should not volunteer to do the federal government's job when the local jail system has so many problems of its own.

Three people testified against the proposal, saying it opens the door for sheriff's deputies on the street to become immigration enforcers. Even legal immigrants would be too intimidated to report crimes to police, said the Rev. Mark Cooper, co-pastor of ChristChurch Presbyterian in Bellaire.

'It sends a very loud and clear message that the sheriff's department is now in the immigration business,' Cooper said.

Four people testified for the plan, including Joslyn Johnson, whose husband, Rodney, was fatally shot as he wrote up traffic offenses for an illegal immigrant who previously had been deported following a child indecency offense.

'Had we had this system in place, my husband probably still would be alive,' she said.