The new Tarrant County sheriff has asked the federal government to train jail detention officers to effectively become immigration agents, a move that will likely lead to more deportations of undocumented immigrants who committed crimes in the county.
Sheriff Bill Waybourn, who took office last month, said he's making good on a campaign promise.
"Our intent is to tighten up and to make sure if someone is in our country illegally in the first place – they forgot to sign the guest book when they came in, and then they had the audacity to violate our criminal laws and enter our jails – we hope to hold them fully accountable and maybe ask them to leave," Waybourn said.
He's asking U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement – ICE – to certify Tarrant County jailers in federal immigration laws, so they can start the deportation process for those inmates in the country illegally.
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ICE could accept Tarrant County into the program, known as 287G, in the next few months, an ICE spokesman said.
The Carrollton Police Department is the only other agency in North Texas to participate. Tarrant County would be the first such county-run jail.
Critics say local law enforcement agencies shouldn't get involved in immigration law.
"We shouldn't have officers in the local county level enforcing immigration. That's a federal-level thing to do," said Latina activist Pilar Candia.
Fort Worth City Councilman Sal Espino questions who would pay for the program and worries it could damage trust between police and the Latino community.
"It shakes up the relationship between our diverse communities and law enforcement," Espino said. "We want to work together to prevent and reduce crime, and this issue of being federal immigration agents only complicates matters."
Waybourn said he believes more deportations of criminals will lead to less crime on the street.