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.