Williamson County to train local deputies in federal jail immigration duties

Williamson County Sheriff's Office (KXAN Photo)
Williamson County Sheriff's Office (KXAN Photo)

WILLIAMSON COUNTY, Texas (KXAN) — The Williamson County Sheriff’s Office will train some of their deputies in federal immigration procedures to participate in a controversial program.

The 287(g) program allows local law enforcement to perform immigration duties. Sheriff Robert Chody says deputies will only participate in the program in the jail. Before this, only federal agents were allowed to perform immigration duties.

“Essentially, the 287(g) program allows us to be more sufficient in utilizing our own deputies rather than ICE. In other words, it cuts out the middle man,” Sheriff Chody wrote KXAN. “Also, all are required by law to honor detainees, so it doesn’t change anything in that aspect. This is not to be confused with the other program that allows officers to go out into the community. This is not what we are doing. Our officers are staying within the walls of the jail. No where else.”

There are already 18 Texas counties that have entered 287(g) agreements with immigration and customs enforcement. Seven more plan to enter, including Williamson and Burnet counties.

With this program, more people will be detained for deportation, says immigration attorney Eliana Maruri. “These programs are more than anything I think a political tool,” said Maruri.

Many of her clients live in Williamson County. Sheriff’s deputies will be sent for four weeks of training so they can hold people in the jail until they’re deported. Before, a federal ICE officer was needed in the process.

“It comes out of the county taxpayers they have to fund these operations, they have to house these detainees,” said Maruri.

The Department of Homeland Security has expanded the program under Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen.

“[It] expedites the process in which they face their federal immigration crimes. As a result, more criminal aliens are removed,” said Secretary Nielsen about the 287(g) program in Austin earlier in December.

Maruri worries over-zealous local officials could put too many in the system too fast — clogging up the courts.

“Our government also need to be sure that we’re going to be able to process those people through the courts as well,” said Maruri.

KXAN also reached to Burnet County but never heard back.

Once someone is detained the backlog of cases for immigration courts means many will spend weeks, even months, confined on the taxpayer’s dime. According to the University of Syracuse, nationwide there are close to 650,000 pending cases — 102,000 of those cases are in Texas. Last month, the Department of Justice says it plans to slash the backlog in half by 2020.

The Texas Department of Public Safety confirmed to KXAN they do not participate in the 287(g) program.

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