Travis County Jail & Surname Profiling

From Wednesday’s Austin American Statesman, Sheriff defends allowing immigration officials to have office at jail:

Travis County Sheriff Greg Hamilton encountered sharp criticism and a smattering of support Tuesday for his decision to allow federal immigration agents to establish an office at the Travis County Jail.

At two public forums, Hamilton defended the decision, saying 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 the charge that the sheriff's office is enforcing federal immigration law or facilitating racial profiling.

"I take offense to (critics) saying we're racial profiling," Hamilton said. "This is a public safety issue."

There are several issues in play here, but the one that interests me the most is this: how does the Travis County Jail (or I should say Sheriff’s Office) make the initial determination that someone is – or may be – an illegal immigrant?

As I’ve pointed out before, criminal defense lawyers in Austin as a group have probably all had the occasional experience where their client has an INS hold on them, even though they are an United States citizen because of their last name.

Surname profiling (i.e., a ‘hispanic’ surname leading to an INS hold) is a more accurate phrase perhaps than racial profiling, but it is unacceptable. Period.

I don’t care if it only takes a few hours, or a few days to ‘clear up the problem’ and release the hold. Any extra time incarcerated because a law enforcement agency thinks you might be here illegally is unconstitutional.

One last thing: the great thing about taking this angle on the argument is that you can bypass all the idiotic arguments made on the other side, for different reasons. I feel certain that the super majority of the public in Austin would be horrified to know that such a thing can happen – and would oppose ICE moving into the jail, on this basis alone.

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Comments (3) Read through and enter the discussion with the form at the end
elvez1975 - February 16, 2008 2:00 PM

I think the movement by local folks to get ICE out of the TCJ should be focusing on the undue burden this procedure puts on US citizens and LPRs first and foremost without focusing on the other problems with Sheriff Hamilton's policies. Every American, regardless of how you feel about the immigrants here without any lawful status, should be up in arms that the government would think it a good idea to throw people in jail because of how they look or what their last name is.

At the end of the day, most white Americans, confident in the fact that this won't happen to them or that looks like them, are more than happy to tolerate the injustice and indignation that Hispanic Americans (and potentially Asian and Middle Eastern Americans) have to put up with under this regime. It's more or less the same thing as "driving while black" and most folks have put up with that.

B - July 17, 2008 8:12 PM

Documentation, documentation, documentation.
First, to elvez1975, the issue at hand is NOT being arrested because of one's last name. It is, however, an issue of people being held "longer" in order to determine one's citizenship status.
What would happen to an American citizen arrested in Gemany if they were not in possession of valid identification? They would have to wait it out IN JAIL until their citizenship could be cleared up. I'm not even going to mention what could, and has, happned to U.S. Citizens without papers in Mexico (we all have heard the true stories).
I would like to see what is "Unconstitutional" about being held until one's citizenship status is cleared. Please explain. Citizens have the right to be released on time, I agree whole-heartedly. What is INS supposed to do when an incarsarated individual's status is unknown? Set them free when they may not be an American Citizen is hardly the answer.
INS has a duty to the citizens of this country, and an inconvienience to people incarserated is worth every minute to get thiir status cleared.

B - July 17, 2008 8:26 PM

One more point . . .
Wouldn't having INS Agents located in the jail expedite the process of identifying the incarserated's citizenship status thus decreasing the time U.S. Citizens are held for an extended time?

Thoughts?

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