Galveston County’s deputies could soon have more power to investigate people’s immigration status, and detain them for possible deportation.
Galveston County Commissioners will today consider entering an agreement with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which will increase its ability to screen county jail prisoners’ immigration status, and potentially lead to their deportation.
Commissioners will vote on whether to direct the Galveston County Sheriff’s Office to complete a needs assessment to join ICE’s 287 (g) Program.
The program deputizes local law enforcement to interrogate, arrest and detain people suspected of violating immigration law.
Galveston County Sheriff Henry Trochesset said that he met with ICE officials recently to talk about the program.
“They will train our deputies within the jail to assist in determining status,” Trochesset. “This will help us out.”
The commissioner’s vote will come less than a day after Galveston Mayor Jim Yarbrough made a proclamation celebrating the city’s history as an immigrant port and decrying state and national efforts that “result in many individuals fearing for their safety ... and the potential loss of civil liberties.”
Yarbrough read the proclamation at an event called “Galveston Welcoming City Day,” held at the Galveston Islamic Center on Monday night. The event was organized by Indivisible Galveston, a organization dedicated to resisting the policies of President Donald Trump.
Yarbrough’s proclamation notes the contributions of immigrants to Galveston’s history and specifically notes the city’s Hispanic population.
“Through immigration in Galveston, our culture has been enriched as have many other areas of Texas,” the proclamation read.
Yarbrough said he would be willing to work with ICE in removing people who have committed “horrific” crimes, such as rape or murder. But he said there’s a difference between those people and people who have committed “lesser degree” crimes.
“There are a lot of people who are here maybe illegally but now they are a part of the fabric of our community,” he said. “You’ve got families involved now. You can’t just pick them up and move them.”
The event was scheduled in response to Trump’s executive order banning travel and immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries. It also comes days after the Texas Senate approved a bill proposing punishments for so-called sanctuary cities.
Galveston is not considered a sanctuary city, a term that generally refers to cities that refuse to cooperate in detaining people because of their immigration status.
Galveston Police Chief Rick Boyle said the Galveston Police Department doesn’t check a person’s immigration status during an arrest.
“We don’t,” Boyle said. “We book through the Galveston County jail. What the jail does, I’m not sure.”
Boyle stopped short of calling Galveston a sanctuary city.
“We follow the law when it comes to stopping people and detaining people,” Boyle said. “We have to have reasonable position or probable cause to do so. That’s what police departments live by.”
Regardless of the city’s checks, however, Galveston County does already try to review the status of people who are brought to the jail, Trochesset said.
“While we’re classifying them, we try to determine their status,” he said. “The one that can’t give us their Social Security numbers or can’t give us the documentation, we call to get assistance from ICE.”
The 287 (g) program essentially allows local law enforcement to do greater investigation into a person’s immigration status, after that person is arrested for another crime and after the local department receives training through the federal government.
Commissioners will vote on whether to move forward with the assessment. The assessment alone does not determine if ICE will approve the partnership.