Travis County Sheriff Greg Hamilton in Austin has encountered sharp criticism and a smattering of support for his decision to allow federal immigration agents to establish an office at the county jail, says the Austin American-Stastesman. Hamilton said the sheriff’s office is simply allowing U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to use a side office in a jail in which its agents have been working for 30 years. He denied that he is enforcing federal immigration law or facilitating racial profiling.
The immigration agency can detain people who have been arrested if it suspects that they are illegal immigrants, and the agency wants to have someone at the jail performing that vetting around the clock. The agency plans to add agents in Austin, and Hamilton said there was no harm in letting them use an office. “I think there’s a great deal of naiveté in that statement,” immigration attorney Malcolm Greenstein said. “It’s a difference between an arm’s-length relationship and embracing.” Critics’ main concern was that Hispanics could stop reporting crimes to the sheriff’s office because of fears that deputies could begin arresting people accused of being in the country illegally. Commissioner Margaret Gómez chastised Hamilton for “getting defensive” and for not conferring with the commissioners before making a decision, later saying that Hamilton was creeping toward enforcing immigration law. “I happen to think that no person from Earth is illegal,” she added.