Dallas County Sheriff's Office Is Holding Fewer Undocumented Immigrants

Two immigration protesters in Dallas on May 1, 2005.
Two immigration protesters in Dallas on May 1, 2005.

Under its old policy, the Dallas County Sheriff's Office honored all requests for what's known as an immigration hold from the U.S. Department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Anytime someone was booked into Dallas County Jail, ICE could request a hold and the person would be kept in Dallas County custody for an additional 48 hours, regardless of the charge and whether he or she made bail. During those two days, if everything went according to plan, ICE would come and pick up the inmate, starting a process that could end in deportation. That is no longer the case.

Under a new policy implemented late last month, the sheriff's office is granting far fewer ICE detention requests. Raul Reyna, the sheriff's office's spokesman, says undocumented people brought into county jail are divided into three categories. Depending on the category they're put in, ICE may ask that they be kept in the county jail and eventually pick them up.

Category 1 inmates are accused of "aggravated felony crimes committed in the community." Undocumented people arrested for something such as aggravated assault or another violent crime are likely to be held by the DSO should ICE request it.

Category 2 inmates are accused of "non-terroristic/personal behavior offenses." These inmates might have been accused of a crime such as evading arrest — which can be classified as a third-degree felony or a misdemeanor — or failing to identify themselves. Before the DSO will consider a request by ICE for a hold on an inmate accused of committing a Category 2 crime, the sheriff's office will ask ICE to provide details of other, more serious offenses committed by the person they want to detain.

Category 3 inmates are treated with the most lenience. For people who have committed only controlled substance violations or traffic offenses, the sheriff's office will not honor ICE requests for detention. The office will notify ICE if and when the inmate gets released, Reyna says.

When Dallas County declines to place an ICE hold on an inmate, he or she will be subject to the same requirements as any other inmate and will be able to post bail.

ICE holds were created as part of the Secure Communities program implemented during George W. Bush's presidency. Advocacy groups like the Texas Organizing Project have pushed Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez hard to change her office's policy on immigration holds.

"TOP and allies fought for this change because local law enforcement should not be doing ICE’s dirty work. The track record of local and ICE collaboration through programs like Secure Communities, leading to separation of families and record deportations, has eroded community trust with local law enforcement. Local elected officials can and should do more to protect immigrants in Dallas County," Texas Organizing Project leader Genoveva Castellanos said in a statement praising the changes.

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Through the end of August, Dallas County had honored 764 immigration holds in 2015 — 55 percent of those holds were requested for inmates accused of felonies. Of those held, 542 were turned over to ICE, and 90 percent of those turned over were deported. 

The Dallas County policy is not as strong as similar measures implemented in other areas. California's TRUST Act explicitly limits deportation holds from being placed on anyone who has not been accused of a serious crime. Currently, Dallas County's policy remains merely a set of guidelines.

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