Immigration Enforcement Failures Felt Keenly in Texas

Texas lawmakers have been using this year when the legislature is not in session to examine how the collapse of immigration enforcement has affected public safety. Texas is greatly affected, not just because it is a large border state with many immigrants, but also because south Texas currently is the hot spot for illegal entry into the United States. How Texas approaches border security and enforcement matters to the entire country. Currently, half of all immigration enforcement activity happens in the four ICE field offices that cover Texas.

On March 23, I presented information on the decline in interior enforcement to a Texas Senate committee. According to ICE records, Obama administration policies, including the executive actions of 2014, have suppressed interior enforcement activity to about half the level that it was as recently as 2013. The deportation of criminal aliens, who are supposedly the highest priority for ICE, has also declined sharply.

There is a public safety cost to these policies. Several Texas sheriffs also appeared before the committee to discuss their concerns with the Obama policies. Susan Pamerleau, the sheriff of Bexar County, which is the nation's 17th largest, and includes San Antonio, said that as of the day before the hearing, her jail had 90 criminal aliens with ICE detainers, half of whom were considered serious offenders. She said that the number of criminal aliens being targeted by ICE has declined by 50 percent since 2013, even though the overall jail population has declined only 10 percent. "The bottom line for us is that significantly fewer individuals are being detained today than just two years ago," she said.

The former head of the Texas Sheriff's Association, Sheriff Andy Louderback, told the committee, "Here's what Texas sheriffs are concerned about: People are entering the country illegally and they are committing crimes."

One such criminal alien is Artemio Avila, who is now facing charges for driving drunk in his Dodge Ram pick-up truck on March 30, striking a cyclist and dragging her for nearly half a mile while fleeing the scene, and then lying about it to police investigators. The cyclist, Elizabeth English, is still hospitalized with very serious injuries.

The sheriffs' concerns are supported by data from the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS), which tracks immigration- and border-related crime more thoroughly than any other state.

More than 187,000 criminal aliens have been booked into local Texas jails between June 1, 2011, and March 31, 2016, according to figures published by the DPS. This number was derived from information transmitted to the agency as part of the fingerprint interoperability that forms the basis of the Secure Communities program. It includes only those aliens who previously had come into contact with a federal immigration agency; it does not include criminal aliens who evaded detection entering the United States and are unknown to ICE. (That could be a sizable number, possibly as many as 50 percent of arrested non-citizens in some jurisdictions.)

According to the DPS, these aliens were charged with more than 500,000 criminal offenses, including 996 homicide charges; 59,200 assault charges; 14,833 burglary charges; 58,825 drug charges; 605 kidnapping charges; 36,317 theft charges; 39,421 obstructing police charges; 3,315 robbery charges; 5,218 sexual assault charges; and 7,486 weapons charges. Of the total criminal aliens arrested in that timeframe, over 124,000 (66 percent) were identified by DHS as being in the United States illegally at the time of their last arrest.

So far, these criminal charges have resulted in over 224,000 convictions, including 413 homicide convictions; 22,102 assault convictions; 7,193 burglary convictions; 29,255 drug convictions; 205 kidnapping convictions; 16,346 theft convictions; 19,457 obstructing police convictions; 1,680 robbery convictions; 2,360 sexual assault convictions; and 3,148 weapons convictions.

No wonder the state of Texas has invested more than $1.7 billion in state funding since 2005 to augment the anemic and inadequate federal efforts at the border. Lawmakers are also exploring further steps to boost interior enforcement. These include legislation or executive action to bar or deter local sanctuary policies, expanding electronic fingerprint capability to ensure that all arrests are screened against DHS databases, and adding 287(g) or other cooperative enforcement programs.