The number of Galveston County jail inmates handed over to federal immigration authorities this year is up more than 80 percent over recent years because of Trump Administration policies that expended deportation efforts to include those charged with minor crimes.
The number of federal immigration detainers sent to the jail hit triple digits, which had not occurred since 2011 when the Obama Administration began restricting the detainer requests to those charged with serious crimes.
That policy changed when President Donald Trump took office in January, leading to an uptick in the number of people the federal government wanted held in Galveston County’s central jail until they could be transferred into the custody of U.S. Immigrations and Custom Enforcement.
ICE issued 107 detainer requests to the county through November 2017, up from 58 the year before, according to the Galveston County Sheriff’s Office.
Detainer requests are the legal devices ICE uses to hold a person who has been arrested for a crime and also is suspected of being in the country illegally. The immigration agency issues such requests to jails after a prisoner has served his sentence and is being released, or is set to leave the jail on bond.
The number of requests sent to the jail through 11 months this year is higher than the number of requests recorded in any year since 2010, according to data collected by the Transactional Record Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University.
The number of requests made as of November was up 84 percent compared with the 58 issued during the full 12 months of 2016.
During the last four years of the Obama Administration, ICE sent an average of 67 requests to the jail annually.
Galveston County Sheriff Henry Trochesset credited the increase to Trump administration policies.
“Obama sent the letter out to not even contact immigration unless they were convicted felons,” Trochesset said. “Now that they have a different playbook, a different coach, a different president they don’t mind getting any individual that might not be a resident of this country.”
The number of detainers issued to the jail this year is not unprecedented and was higher at times during the Obama administration. In 2010, for instance, the jail received 174 detainer requests, according to clearinghouse data.
During his first term, Obama greatly increased the use of detainers to deport people from the country. The practice declined over time, particularly after 2014 when the administration changed enforcement priorities to focus on gang members, people convicted of felonies and people suspected of terrorist activities.
The increases in Galveston are reflected in jails across the country, Susan Long, the co-director of the Transactional Record Access Clearinghouse, said.
“It’s the announced policy,” Long said. “There’s certainly heightened enforcement and detainers are key to that.”
The increase in detainers has not meant extra work for the jail, which has been challenged with overcrowding, Trochesset said.
“It’s not that big a number to cause a bump in the road,” Trochesset said.
When immigration authorities issue an immigration detainer on someone at the jail, that person is usually picked up within 24 hours, Trochesset said. Deputies are not used to transport people on detainers to immigration facilities, he said.
INCREASES IN ENFORCEMENT
The sheriff’s office earlier this year joined a federal program through which local law enforcement officers are trained to identify people living in the country the illegally.
The program is run out of the jail, and can be done at the same time a person is being booked for a crime.
Agencies that don’t participate in the program can notify federal authorities about suspicions on a person’s immigration status. It was up to immigration authorities to confirm the person’s legal status.
Only one Galveston County Sheriff’s Office employee has been trained to participate in the program, Trochesset said. The training for the program takes place out of state and the office is waiting federal authorities to offer more details about future training opportunities, he said.
Galveston County was one of 18 agencies to join the program this year in what federal authorities said was the largest expansion of the program in its history. The number of agencies in the country participating in the program has doubled.
During his campaign, Trump pledged to crack down on illegal immigration. But while immigration arrests across the country have increased by about 25 percent, the number of people deported has decreased by 6 percent, according to news service agency Reuters.
The decline in deportations is because of both a decrease in the number of people trying to enter the country illegally and a backlog of cases in the county’s immigration courts, according to Reuters.
The Trump administration has emphasized its immigration policies in other ways, including by asking cities that receive Department of Justice grants to hire police officers to pledge not to act as “sanctuary cities,” and to co-operate with federal authorities in enforcing immigration laws.
Last month, the city of Galveston announced it had received one of those grants. The city will receive $875,000 to hire seven new police officers.
Galveston Police Department Chief Richard Boyle said the city agreed to sign the pledge, while noting that most of the immigration enforcement is up to the jail system. The city of Galveston sends all of its prisoners directly to the Galveston County jail.