Number of Victoria inmates with federal detainers down
April 2, 2016 at 10:21 p.m.
Updated April 3, 2016 at 6 a.m.
The number of Victoria County Jail inmates placed on an immigration detainer has dropped dramatically in the past four years, according to figures from the Texas Commission on Jail Standards.
An immigration detainer is a request from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to keep an inmate in custody in a local jail until authorities can pick him or her up. It's a tool ICE uses to identify people who may need to be deported, according to the American Immigration Council.
Generally, the immigrants with detainers wouldn't have been on ICE's radar unless they were arrested for an unrelated crime.
In 2012, the Victoria County Jail averaged about 22 inmates a month with immigration detainers. In 2015, the number was about one a month, according to the state's figures, which each county has been required to report since October 2011.
Other Crossroads counties have seen a relatively consistent number of immigrants with detainers each month since 2012. Their total numbers are in the single digits, according to the state's figures.
The decreased number might signal fewer undocumented immigrants are traveling through Victoria County or relocating in the area.
"The number of detentions in the field has been down," said Roy Boyd, chief deputy for the Victoria County Sheriff's Office. "We're not coming across as many criminal aliens in our interdiction work."
One reason for the decline might be a downturn in the local economy.
"There were more people looking for jobs when oil was booming," said Alex Hernandez, a Port Lavaca criminal defense attorney who has represented clients held under immigration detainers.
Boyd also credited the drop to the department's vigilance toward smuggling. Working with the sheriff's offices in Goliad and Jackson counties, the Victoria agency has pushed smugglers away from the county, Boyd said.
U.S. Highway 59 - what Sheriff T. Michael O'Connor has come to call the "fatal funnel" - was a favored smuggling route, Boyd said.
But interdictions conducted by the sheriff's office on the highway have forced smugglers to find a path of less resistance, he said.
"It's like water," Boyd said. "They always find a spot."
Jackson County Sheriff A.J. Louderback offered another reason why the number of immigration detainers is down.
In November 2014, Jeh Johnson, the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, issued a memorandum that prioritized the inmates who would be deported. For example, people deemed a threat to national or border security would be prioritized over people who were just living in the country illegally.
"It doesn't mean they're not committing crimes," said Louderback, an outspoken critic of the memorandum. "It simply means they're not a priority."
The year-over-year decrease in Victoria County is surprising to some officials given the number of apprehensions by the U.S. Border Patrol in South Texas has increased in the same time span.
In 2010, about 60,000 unauthorized immigrants were caught in the Rio Grande Valley sector, which covers most of South Texas, including Victoria County. The number of captured immigrants would explode to about 260,000 in 2014, according to Border Patrol figures.
The flood of immigrant families prompted Texas to deploy the National Guard and promise to put hundreds of Department of Public Safety troopers on the U.S.-Mexico border.
Detaining federal inmates has cost Victoria County about $220,000 since 2012, according to the state. But the cost is pretty minimal, Boyd said.
In 2015, the county spent about $19,000 on housing inmates with detainers. The federal government reimbursed the county for about $14,500, according to Bureau of Justice Assistance figures.