Williamson Co. jailers issue 402 ICE detainers after identifying inmates in the country illegally

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WILLIAMSON COUNTY, Texas (KXAN) — Every person booked into the Williamson County Jail has to complete an interview with one of 15 corrections officers specially trained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

That’s a part of the process that Commander Chris Watts with the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office laid out Wednesday while explaining how the year-long partnership with ICE through the 287(g) program has worked.

Since Oct. 1, 2018, Watts said those jailers have questioned 10,397 inmates booked into the jail. They ended up issuing 402 detainers for ICE after asking questions to identify people here in the country illegally.

“It takes an hour and a half to interview and put a detainer on somebody,” Watts said.

He insisted that additional time — some 600 hours per year — does not come at the expense of other responsibilities for these corrections officers.

“It hasn’t really affected us to where we’re behind or our officers are getting behind in their regular duties,” Watts said.

Sheriff Robert Chody decided to extend the memorandum of agreement that his office signed with ICE through June 2020.

Earlier this summer, activists from several immigrant rights groups, including Grassroots Leadership, said they would keep pressuring the county to end the partnership.

“Not only does this take away capacity of having improved community safety, it also terrorizes immigrant residents,” Bethany Carson of Grassroots Leadership told KXAN in June.

Three representatives from the ICE field office in San Antonio came to Georgetown Wednesday morning to hold a presentation about the program with the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office. Irina Fayerberg of Georgetown was only one of three residents who attended to learn about this effort, which she supports.

“If a criminal is detained, then [the Sheriff’s Office will] have more tools available to them to able to identify who is here illegally or who is a criminal and here illegally that may need to go back to wherever they came from,” Fayerberg said.

Watts told the small group who attended the presentation that these corrections officers deputized by ICE only work in the jail.

“We do not go on the streets,” he said. “Once we leave here, we cannot use our ICE credentials at all. The only time we have them is when we’re at work and inside the jail.”

The Williamson County Sheriff’s Office is the only law enforcement agency in the Austin area partnering in this way with ICE, according to Dorothy Herrera-Niles with the San Antonio field office.

The sheriff’s office plans to put more jailers through this training paid for by ICE.

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