FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — Federal immigration agents arrested 26 immigrants suspected of living in the country illegally as they reported for labor-detail sentences for unrelated crimes in Fort Worth, according to local authorities.
Tarrant County Sheriff Bill Waybourn told local television station KXAS that his office participated in the arrests Sunday morning at the request of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Of the 26, 23 are from Mexico and three are from Honduras, according to an ICE statement Monday. Twenty three of those arrested have criminal convictions for driving while intoxicated. Two have multiple DWI convictions, and one of those convicted of DWI was given an enhanced sentence for driving with a 15-year-old minor at the time. Four of those arrested have criminal convictions for possessing a controlled substance.
Three of those arrested have been previously deported, and will have their previous final orders of removal reinstated, according to the ICE statement. Six will be voluntarily returned to Mexico, and 12 have been issued notices to appear before a federal immigration judge who will determine their immigration cases. All those who have not been removed or voluntarily returned to Mexico remain in ICE custody pending their removal or disposition of their immigration cases.
Waybourn said the arrested individuals were suspected of living in the country illegally and had been convicted of high-level misdemeanors or low-level felonies. The sheriff said the individuals were taken to an ICE facility in Dallas for processing, and some may be released. He said their families were notified.
The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported that Waybourn's office was contacted about a week ago by federal authorities asking for information about people in the work detail. A judge can order suspects to report for work detail as part of a sentence.
"If someone gets booked into jail Friday night and bonds out on Saturday, ICE never has a chance to screen them," David McClelland, Waybourn's chief of staff, told the newspaper. "I don't believe the people detained were ever screened by ICE when they came into our jail."
Fort Worth-based immigration attorney Nicolas Chavez said Sunday's operation could have a "chilling effect" on immigrants who want to comply with the terms of their sentences but are concerned about federal enforcement action.
Chavez said he and other local immigration attorneys have seen a spike in clients who want a better understanding of their rights. He said many are also now seeking, for the first time, a permit allowing for legal residence.
"We're seeing more and more individuals who are eligible but haven't applied for it before, and now they're just coming out of the shadows and seeking some form of protection to remain in the United States," he said.