After an embarrassing jail escape, Walker County, Tx., in 2012 issued $20 million in bonds to build a new jail. It was a hefty price tag for the county of fewer than 70,000 people north of Houston, and officials pledged to search for new revenue streams to help pay for the jail. This year, they found one: The Walker County sheriff’s office is getting into the immigration business, the Austin American-Statesman reports. Walker County is seeking to join a small but growing group of local governments that simultaneously participate in two U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement programs. When combined, they create a profit incentive for law enforcers to pursue unauthorized immigrants aggressively. If ‘sanctuary cities’ are on one side of the spectrum of immigration enforcement, these counties are the polar opposite — an ICE spokeswoman called them “an invaluable force multiplier” for federal immigration authorities.
One program, known as 287(g) for its federal statute section, allows police and sheriff’s deputies to be trained and certified as immigration officers and gives them the authority to enforce some aspects of federal law. The other, an intergovernmental service agreement for immigrant detention, allows ICE to place suspected unauthorized immigrants in county jails for a fee. Mary Small of the Washington-based Detention Watch Network called the arrangement to a “perverse financial incentive.” “It allows them to control the pipeline of people into the detention facility where they’re then paid per day to detain people,” Small said. ICE spokeswoman Sarah Rodriguez said the two programs aren’t connected. She pointed out that ICE decides how long a detainee is held in a particular county jail, not the local sheriff