By ARTHUR HAHN/Managing Editor Wednesday, August 20, 2008 1:57 PM CDT
Local authorities say they hope a meeting organized by U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul will help them deal with the growing problem of what to do with illegal immigrants who commit other crimes while in the U.S.
McCaul facilitated the meeting here Tuesday between U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and authorities from five counties, saying he hoped it would help law enforcement in the district by enhancing communication.
“Too often our police and sheriffs deputies’ hands are tied when it comes to illegal immigration,” McCaul said. “In some cases there are threats to our communities that need to be removed. Our local law enforcement must have a cohesive relationship with our federal authorities who have proper authority to detain and remove people who are in this country illegally.”
ICE’s new “Secure Communities” program, funded by Congress during its last session, looks to use technology to share information between law enforcement agencies and to focus resources to aid local communities in removing high-risk criminal aliens.
McCaul said the meeting was “a productive and candid discussion on illegal immigrants.”
“Most people will argue that if you’re here illegally and you commit a crime, you should be deported,” he said afterward. “And I think the idea of anybody entering the country and committing a crime is unacceptable.”
The problem, said McCaul, is a lack of funding.
ICE’s Houston-based office has only 35 officers who cover 53 counties, including Harris and Washington counties and areas in deep South Texas.
“My sense is that we need more resources. We can always use more resources,” McCaul said.
And the resources available have been used mostly in larger counties, meaning smaller communities have been virtually ignored because of a lack of ICE personnel and inmate housing capacity, he added.
“There’s simply not enough funding,” said Brenham Mayor Milton Tate, who was among those attending the meeting.
Still, local authorities say they are hopeful that Tuesday’s meeting will have some effect.
“I think it was worthwhile for all the law enforcement agencies,” said Washington County Judge Dorothy Morgan, who also attended. “It’s always good to have a face with a name.
“It (the illegal immigrants problem) is frustrating sometimes for everybody. Hopefully something good will come out of it.”
Washington County Sheriff J.W. Jankowski said his office “is seeing a lot of DWIs (driving while intoxicated), illegals with no insurance, sexual assault and family violence” cases.
“We’d like to get them deported,” Jankowski said.
If an illegal alien is arrested for committing another crime, authorities here contact ICE and “hope they come pick them up,” he added.
ICE, after reviewing the case, can file a detainer which permits local authorities to hold the suspect for up to 48 hours, until its agents are able to take custody and begin the removal process.
But ICE has only 1,800 cells available for its 53-county service area, leaving many of the illegal immigrants arrested for other crimes to go through the judicial system locally.
Law enforcement from Austin, Burleson, Lee, Waller and Washington counties, and from the cities of Bellville, Brenham, Caldwell, Giddings, Hempstead, Sealy and Waller were invited to the meeting.