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Sheriffs Tell Lawmakers About Challenges In Detaining Immigrants

Ryan E. Poppe
Bexar County Sheriff Susan Pamerleau Testifying Before Texas Senate Subcommittee On Border Security

Under current federal guidelines, county sheriffs operating jails are told to hold people suspected of violating federal immigration laws if they are also suspected of committing felony crimes.  Other immigrants arrested on misdemeanor charges are freed after 48 hours.

Bexar County Sheriff Susan Pamerleau told state lawmakers Wednesday that prior to 2015, federal guidelines called for holding all undocumented immigrants suspected of a crime, regardless of how minor the crimes might be. Pamerleau said the relaxation of the policy has cut in half the number of illegal immigrants detained in Bexar County.

“Those are the kind of concerns that all sheriffs, all law enforcement have is that; here’s someone here illegally, they commit a crime and yet they are allowed to stay in the United States," Pamerleau said.

Pamerleau claimed up to half of the immigrants convicted of misdemeanors committed additional misdemeanor crimes after their release.

She says holding immigrant offenders is also expensive. She told members of the Senate Border Security Subcommittee it costs Bexar County $46 a day to house someone detained for violating federal immigration laws, but the federal government will only reimburse the county seven percent of the cost, or about $3.22. Bexar County taxpayers pick up the rest  which added up to more than $1 million dollars last year.

Texas Sen. Brian Birdwell, of Granbury, is chair of the Senate Border Security Subcommittee. He’s among state Republicans who want to encourage local law enforcement to assist the federal government in cracking down on illegal border crossings. Birdwell says he’s interested in creating a state grant program that would reimburse county jails for detaining undocumented immigrants.