An analysis by the Texas Tribune of an annual report issued by a Texas criminal justice agency shows that immigration enforcement in Texas has declined steadily over the last 18 months, dropping 20 percent from August 2012 to December 2013.
Since 2011, the Texas legislature has required the Texas Commission on Jail Standards to collect and report on the number of ICE detainers issued and the cost to Texas county jails for complying with those detainers.
According to the commission’s report, in January 2014 ICE requested custody of 4,841 county jail inmates. This is significantly less than the number in January in each of the two previous years (shown in the nice interactive tables in the Texas Tribune analysis) and is a continuation of the steady decline that began in August 2012.
The total cost in of holding these inmates in January 2014 was $6.2 million, for an average cost of $59 per day per inmate. The total 2013 cost was $77 million.
The largest numbers were incarcerated in Harris County, which includes Houston and is one of the largest counties in the United States. In January, 2014 ICE sought custody of 1,138 criminal aliens from Harris County jails; the total was 34,833 detainers issued from October 2011 through January, 2014, making Harris County one of the busiest locations for ICE.
Enforcement opponents argue that localities could save money by refusing to comply with ICE detainers. Many Texas sheriffs disagree, citing the potential threat to the public of releasing criminal aliens and the need for enforcement to deter cross-border criminal activity, including human and drug smuggling that are encouraged when the government tolerates illegal immigration. An immigration position paper by the National Sheriffs’ Association calls for additional funding for ICE and also cooperative enforcement programs such as 287(g) that will increase the number of illegal aliens removed from the country.
They view the short-term cost of holding criminal aliens for ICE as outweighed by the long-term cost savings of removing criminals instead of allowing them to stay in their communities, in many cases to repeatedly re-offend (not to mention continuing to work illegally and/or collect public assistance). A study of ICE data subpoenaed by the House Judiciary Committee in 2012 found that one in six illegal aliens released by ICE after a local arrest was arrested again for new crimes within 2.5 years.
The decline in enforcement documented by the Texas data supports claims by several ICE officers in Texas who filed a lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security arguing that the administration’s so-called prosecutorial discretion polices required them to release criminal aliens who claimed to qualify for the new Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, regardless of whether those claims seemed credible. An ICE deportation officer testified that illegal aliens who were in custody after arrest for local offenses began claiming to be eligible for DACA because they knew they would be released. One jailed illegal alien was let out despite assaulting an ICE officer. The DACA program began in August 2012, just before the number of ICE detainers in Texas began to slip downward.
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