HOUSTON – Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez gave official notice on Tuesday that he is opting out of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s voluntary 287(g) program.
The decision places Harris County in line with 251 of 254 Texas counties that do not take part in the program that allows ICE to deputize local law officers to perform certain federal immigration enforcement functions in jails.
The decision will free at least $675,000 in the sheriff’s budget to address local public safety issues.
"I felt it was a better decision to relocate those resources to other local public safety priorities," said the sheriff. "This is not a political statement."
The process to begin termination of the HCSO’s participation in this voluntary program will begin immediately.
Gonzalez says Harris County will continue to cooperate with immigration authorities and will give ICE full access to its jail.
The only difference he says, is that federal authorities will handle tasks related to immigration and customs enforcement.
The move comes as President Trump plans to ramp up efforts to arrest, detain and deport undocumented immigrants.
The head of Harris County's GOP accused Gonzalez of playing politics.
"The sheriff, unlike prior Democratic and Republican sheriffs who kept the program in place, is discontinuing it for his own radical agenda, endangering the citizens of Houston and Harris County" said Harris GOP Chair Paul Simpson. "It's an effort to turn Houston into an outlaw city."
"Public safety is not jeopardized in anyway," said Gonzalez. "We are now just aligned with most other sheriffs across the state."
Now, only three other law enforcement agencies in Texas participate in the program: Jackson County Sheriff's Office, Lubbock County Sheriff's Office and the Carrolton Police Department.
That could soon change, Galveston County Sheriff Henry Trochesset says his agency will soon be signing up to train his jail officers to work with immigration authorities.
ICE agents will meet on Thursday with the Montgomery County Sheriff about adding the program in that area.