Immigration law ruling won't change sheriffs' focus

Sonny Long

June 25, 2012 at 1:25 a.m.
Updated June 26, 2012 at 1:26 a.m.

In Texas, it is often the county sheriff's office that handles the bulk of illegal immigration traffic stops, bailouts and initial detentions.

While the Supreme Court upheld Arizona's "show me the papers" portion of the law, it struck down four provisions that the Associated Press categorized as "taking the teeth out" of the law by preventing officers from arresting people on minor immigration charges.

County sheriffs throughout the Crossroads reacted to the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling.

In Victoria County, Sheriff T. Michael O'Connor said his office will continue to pursue the criminal element, no matter their immigration status.

"It's all about law and order," said O'Connor. "We have to abide by the law and not get involved in the emotional aspect.

"You have to look at the totality of it. We have to consider the criminal aspect and what we can lawfully do, and that's ask for identification," said the sheriff. "We have never intended to get into the immigration business. That's the responsibility of the federal government."

O'Connor said his office will continue to focus on gang activity, drug trafficking, gun trafficking and human smuggling.

"If we start segmenting, worried about whether criminals are here legally or not, we could lose our focal point," O'Connor said.

The sheriff added that any people committing a crime who are found to be in the country illegally would, of course, be turned over to federal authorities.

O'Connor said having Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents stationed in Victoria has been a plus.

"If you not here legally, we will advise ICE," he said. "It's a collaborative effort."

DeWitt County Sheriff Jode Zavesky said he needs to learn more to know exactly how it might change his staff's efforts.

"We will need to have 'minor immigrations charges' defined and make our decision based on that definition," said Zavesky. "The term alone is far too vague to give directions to my deputies. I suspect that we will be learning more on the Arizona decision very shortly."



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