Jail Where Sandra Bland Died Now Authorized to Detain Undocumented Immigrants

Despite the jail failing two recent state inspections, the federal government will allow Waller County deputies to act to a certain degree as immigration officials.

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Jul 21 2017, 7:46pm

Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

In 2015, Waller County Jail in Texas garnered national attention after the controversial death of Sandra Bland. The 28-year-old, who was seen on video being brutally slammed into the ground by a state trooper—she was initially pulled over for failing to use a signal light—was found dead in a jail cell three days after her arrest. Her death was ruled a suicide, but a subsequent investigation found that Waller County guards falsified records and failed to do timely checks on inmates.

The jail came under the spotlight again earlier this year when a female inmate filed a complaint that she'd been sexually assaulted by a male inmate there. State records also show that Waller County Jail failed two recent state inspections with the Texas Commission on Jail Standards—on March 21 and on December 12, the Houston Chronicle reports.

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Yet the Waller County Sheriff's Office was recently authorized by the federal government to begin questioning people they suspect are undocumented immigrants, reports Colorlines. The agreement, signed in May and in effect through June 30, 2019, allows appointed Waller County deputies to act to a certain degree as immigration officials under the 287g immigration enforcement program. Local authorities will now be able to question anyone they've arrested about their citizenship status, and take subsequent action if they see fit.

"There is little oversight and little accountability over how these agreements happen," Astrid Dominguez, a policy strategist with the ACLU of Texas, told Colorlines. "In places like Waller County, where they don't have the best track record, this impacts not just immigrants, but also communities of color."

Some critics say 287g programs open the door to widespread racial profiling and the unfair targeting of people of color—which may be particularly worrisome for a law enforcement agency in a place once called "the most racist county in the state of Texas" by a former Waller county judge. In 2011, the Department of Justice released a report that found one Arizona sheriff's office in a 287g partnership had reportedly engaged in "unconstitutional policing," including "racial profiling of Latinos," unlawful stops and detentions of Latinos, and discrimination against inmates who didn't speak English well.

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Moreover, Michelle Ortiz, the deputy director of Americans for Immigrant Justice, told Broadly recently, if immigrants don't feel comfortable reporting crimes in their communities for fear of detention or deportation, "that makes us all less safe." The International Association of Chiefs of Police agrees: In a 2007 report focused on immigration issues, the association wrote: "One of the central benchmarks of a well-commanded police department is establishing good relationships with the local communities, including those composed of immigrants. Working with these communities is critical in preventing and investigating crimes."

The news of Waller County's newly formed 287g partnership comes to light as the federal government appears to be ramping up immigration enforcements. The Washington Post recently reported that the Trump administration is considering expanding the Department of Homeland Security's authority to expedite deportations of undocumented people in the US. And earlier this week, ICE acting director Thomas Homan pledged to funnel more resources and agents to so-called sanctuary cities because, as he put it, "In the America I grew up in, cities didn't shield people who violated the law. What I want to get is a clear understanding from everybody, from the congressmen to the politicians to law enforcement to those who enter the country illegally, that ICE is open for business."