Houston Immigration Advocates Ask: Why Does the Harris County Sheriff’s Office Continue to Voluntarily Help ICE Detain and Deport Immigrant Community Members?

In 2017, Houston immigration advocates celebrated the termination of the 287(g) contract between ICE and Harris County. The contract was responsible for countless arrests and deportations in our county, sowing fear in our immigrant communities. After years of community pressure, we were finally successful in getting rid of such a harmful program in our county. But even after terminating the 287(g) contract, Harris County still has the highest number of ICE arrests in the country. In 2018, 46% of ICE arrests in Harris County were direct transfers from the Harris County Sheriff’s Office. So what is the current relationship between ICE and the Harris County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO)? Why does HCSO continue to help ICE arrest, detain, and deport people?  

Through our work with immigrant communities, tours of the Joint Processing Center, conversations with the Sheriff, and public records requests, the Houston Leads coalition has learned that HCSO continues to hold other contracts and informal agreements with ICE. For example, Harris County is also allowing ICE agents to operate out of the Joint Processing Center, the county and city’s joint booking facility, where people are automatically sent immediately after arrest, prior to having their rights read by a judge or having bail set. ICE officers are even permitted to interrogate people without informing them of their rights or even identifying themselves as ICE agents.

Houston Leads is committed to ending this ongoing and harmful collaboration between Harris County and ICE. We demand that the Harris County Sheriff’s Office stops sharing personal booking information, including date of birth and citizenship status, with ICE. We also demand that all county officials, including law enforcement, magistrates, and criminal court judges, do not ask about citizenship status. Sharing booking information and asking about citizenship status is not required under local, state, or federal law, which means that such collaboration between Harris County and ICE is entirely voluntary. Additionally, we demand that HCSO stop honoring invalid ICE detainers, in violation of people’s constitutional rights. Though honoring valid ICE detainers may be required under state law, honoring invalid ICE detainers is illegal. 

We want Harris County to be a safe place for our immigrant communities. We know that immigrants cannot feel safe while Harris County holds more people for ICE than any other county in Texas, costing local taxpayers over $1 million last month (July 2021). Even after ending the 287(g) agreement with ICE, the average number of ICE detainers issued in Harris County rose from 195 in FY 2016 to 381 in FY 2018 (a 95% increase).

Our demand is simple: Get ICE out of Harris County! Houston Leads demands an end to the entanglement that puts our immigrant communities at such great risk of being torn apart from their families, homes, and loved ones. We had great success last year in advocating for an immigrant legal services fund, and we know we can be successful in our demand to end voluntary collaboration between the county and ICE too. Join us in our efforts!

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