ICE Meeting

A meeting was held Tuesday to review a program on cooperation between Smith County authorities and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement program.

A community meeting for the annual review of an Immigration and Customs Enforcement program got heated as community members questioned law enforcement in Tyler.

The Smith County Sheriff’s Office and ICE hosted the annual review of the 287(g) program, which delegates some authority to the local level at the Smith County Jail. The meeting was held at the Smith County Courthouse Annex on Tuesday night.

The meeting was marked by several heated exchanges between members of the community and Sheriff Larry Smith and ICE authorities.

The 287(g) program at the Smith County Jail allows jailers to exercise discretion to place immigration detainers on certain inmates, rather than waiting to see if they are flagged by ICE or Department of Homeland Security systems after being booked in.

At the heart of the disagreements was whether the program is racially profiling or deporting nonviolent undocumented people who have been arrested.

Christopher Medina, who supervises detention and deportation for the Dallas Field Office of ICE, began the meeting with a presentation meant to clear up misconceptions. He said the goal was to eliminate the misconceptions on both sides that have caused fear.

“Everything that occurs within this process, occurs within the Smith County Jail, not in the field,” he said.

The program is currently in effect with 81 municipalities in 21 states. Smith County entered into its agreement in April 2017, and it became effective in December of the same year.

Since the last review of the program, the jail has made contact with 125 people during book-in; about half were considered violent, but charges were not specified. All but 14 individuals had detainers placed.

“This is to interdict criminal illegal aliens, not your average ones outside waiting for work,” Smith said.

Smith referenced the 2016 murder of Kayla Gomez-Orozco, who was killed by a family member who had previously been deported, as a reinforcing reason why the jail entered the program.

Immigration advocate Dalila Reynoso said the program is instilling fear in the Hispanic community. She said she has spoken to people who don’t make police reports because they fear placing family members or themselves at risk of deportation.

Reynoso asked for specific data showing the program reduced violent crime, which Smith said was difficult to prove because they can’t quantify crimes that didn’t happen.

Smith said the county’s portion of the cost of the program also couldn’t be assessed because the eight officers performed only 125 searches over the entire year during the course of normal duties, because the suspects would have to be booked regardless.

“It’s a very minimal cost to Smith County,” he said. “It would cost more for me to figure that out than it costs taxpayers.”

Several community members pushed back, noting that the eight jailers were on salary during their initial four weeks each of training and then regular maintenance training after that. Smith did agree to see if it was possible to get a cost breakdown.

He also said the community response was a good indication of the need for outreach, and asked Reynoso to help set up a future town hall meeting.

Julie Gobble, a Democrat looking to unseat Republican state Rep. Matt Schaefer next November, pushed for an accounting of implicit bias training both inside and outside of the jail.

Gobble asked if Smith would commit to ensuring the sheriff’s office would implement implicit bias training, but Smith said because he had not received complaints of bias, he would rather spend the resources on community outreach.

“I think the time would be better spent doing the town halls,” Smith said. “If I have no complaints, than I have no reason to do the training.”

Smith also noted that this program was an issue he had campaigned on and he remains “100 percent committed to it.”

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Cory is a multimedia journalist and member of the Education Writers Association, Criminal Justice Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. He has appeared on The Murder Tapes, Crime Watch Daily and Grave Mysteries on Investigation Discovery.