Texas Sen. proposes grant so local police agencies can be trained for immigration enforcement

Sen. Bob Hall, R-Edgewood, has proposed a bill that would allow state money to go to federal law enforcement training. The bill would provide funds for counties, cities or other local agencies to participate in the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's 287(g) program.

The program provides voluntary immigration training for any law-enforcement agency throughout the country that would like to participate. Participating officers train for four weeks at a training facility in South Carolina and receive a one-week refresher course once every two years.

Throughout the country, 37 agencies participate in the program.

Three Texas agencies are included in that number, including the Jackson County Sheriff's Office, the Lubbock County Sherriff's Office and the Carrollton Police Department. The Harris County Sheriff's Office, which previously participated in this program, announced its departure from it in February.

Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez announced he would reassign the 10 deputies who had been participants in the program to other law-enforcement duties. He said their salaries collectively cost $675,000.

Without these dedicated officers, ICE is responsible for determining the immigration status of detainees on its own.

In February, HCSO spokesman Jason Spencer said the financial obligations of the program was one of the reasons the county opted out of the program.

"One of the considerations was that this was a voluntary program that has been costing Harris County a minimum of $675,000 a year to staff because we are paying deputies and jail staff essentially to handle duties in other counties that are handled by ICE agents," Spencer said. "By opting out of that program, it frees up resources for us to redeploy in a way that our sheriff thinks will have a big impact on public safety."

Hall's bill would provide money to alleviate these financial concerns for entities that wish to participate.

In a hearing on Thursday morning, when questioned by Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, about if any money had already been appropriated in the current draft of the budget for this purpose, Hall said no.

Hall said he would only wish to appropriate several hundred thousand dollars for this grant to cover the salary of the officer during his or her training period, the costs incurred by the officer's absence and any other related expenses.

Jackson County Sheriff A.J. Louderback said the grant would ease the financial burden for agencies that occurs through covering overtime pay for officers who cover the duties of the officer away for training and those who are away for training and detention officer salary.

Sen. Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville, had reservations about the grant program because of the federal responsibility to enforce immigration law.

"The federal government has the responsibility to fund [immigration enforcement programs] fully or to make grants available," Lucio said.

Celina Moreno, an attorney with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, said that local law enforcement is not as effective as federal immigration enforcement. She said 287(g) program trainees disproportionately issue detainers, creating a sense of mistrust between residents and their law enforcement.

"The disconnection between community members and law enforcement undermines safety," Moreno said.

The bill was left pending in the committee.
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