Federal Immigrant Detainer Program Is Costing Bexar County Taxpayers Millions | Texas Public Radio

Federal Immigrant Detainer Program Is Costing Bexar County Taxpayers Millions

Oct 18, 2016

Bexar County taxpayers are spending millions of dollars each year to house immigrants in the county jail.  County commissioners and the sheriff want the federal government to better reimburse local taxpayers who are picking up the bill.

In 2015, Bexar County Sheriff Susan Pamerleau says the county housed 231 immigrants believed to be in the country illegally.  The federal Immigration and Custom Enforcement agency or ICE asked Bexar County to detain them.

Sheriff Pamerleau says that housing the immigrants cost local taxpayers just under $2 million.  The federal government only reimbursed Bexar County about 5 percent of that.

“They had committed a crime, yet last year I believe federal reimbursement was only $107,000, that’s not even one month of what it costs this county," Pamerleau explains.

Credit Ryan Poppe

Under a previous federal program, the county would’ve been reimbursed for holding immigrants arrested on misdemeanor charges. But last year that program changed. 

Now the federal government only reimburses local officials for holding inmates who are suspected gang members or charged with felony crimes.  That shift in policy has only widened the gap in what local taxpayers are spending on a federal program.

County commissioners oversee the sheriff’s budget.  Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff supports the sheriff’s effort to cooperate with federal immigration officials but says the program has cost county taxpayers nearly $2 million annually for the last five years.

Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff
Credit Ryan Poppe

“The fact of the matter is this is a federal issue and they should be reimbursing us for incurring their cost," Wolff says.

Sheriff Pamerleau often holds immigrants 48-hours through a grant agreement with the federal government. And that costs the county more.

Under the agreement the county holds immigrants who may be here illegally for 48 hours, giving immigration agents time to determine whether they should be considered for deportation.  

Although that costs more money Pamerleau, a Republican,  and Wolfe, a Democrat,  agree jailing the immigrants for extra days is often necessary to maintain public safety.

Numbers provided by the U.S. Justice Department indicate Bexar County turns over more criminal immigrants to federal agents than most other counties in the state.  Wolff says that should make the county’s effort an asset for the federal government,  but he says the feds are treating Bexar like a liability.

“We got to document this in the proper manner and be able to show them what is happening and who we are detaining and hopefully we’ll have some response," Wolff says.

Judge Wolff says local officials are calculating the cost of the detainee program over the last five years and will ask the U.S. Department of Justice for reimbursement.