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Migrant Nation

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement sought to screen Bexar County Jail visitors

ICE officials responded to repeated requests for comment late Tuesday, but failed to address any of the Current’s questions. The case also underlines disagreements between ICE and local law enforcement as ICE moves to up its local presence.

While Bexar County has willingly implemented Secure Communities, a fingerprint-sharing program designed to flag undocumented criminals booked in jail, the City of San Antonio hasn’t. SAPD Police Chief Bill McManus has expressed his deep unease with the program, saying it has begun to blur the line between public safety and immigration enforcement to the detriment of local policing.

According to ICE’s figures, since the program was implemented in Bexar County nearly 400 of the 1,725 taken into custody under Secure Communities had no criminal history, while 166 of the 1,147 immigrants deported had no criminal history. Despite this, some state lawmakers this session have pushed a measure that would mandate that every local law enforcement agency implement the program.

Still, ICE’s presence at the city-run Magistrate Court Detention Center predates Secure Communities, city emails show, where agents have patrolled for roughly three years looking for arrestees who may be subject to deportation.

While ICE’s operations at the detention center are meant to round up hardened criminals arrested for serious crimes who are eligible for deportation, what seems to have made the city squirm, according to the emails, is how those patrols have begun to snag immigrants whose offenses amount to nothing more than minor municipal warrants or unpaid traffic fines.

When city detention center staffers stopped holding immigrants with minor municipal charges for ICE, ICE got testy. An ICE agent emailed city staff in late June 2010, complaining the city failed to hold some inmates for ICE for even 20 to 30 minutes before releasing them.

However, even then, ICE was on the job. When the city released one undocumented immigrant from the Municipal Court Detention Center after she paid her outstanding traffic fines, ICE tracked her down without city help.

“Luckily,” the agent wrote, “ICE agents were able to locate her walking down the street six blocks away.” 

 

Staff Writer Michael Barajas’ column Migrant Nation appears in the Current monthly.

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