When the Tarrant County Commissioners Court voted to renew the 287(g) program indefinitely, the vote was 3-2 along party lines, with Democrats voting against the program.
Heading into the primary elections, only one Democrat seat is assured on the court, meaning it is unlikely there will be a change to the program. However, most candidates still want more data and accountability.
Two seats are up for election in the primaries, precincts 2 and 4. Currently, the precinct 2 seat is held by Democrat Devan Allen, who is not running for re-election. Andy Nguyen, a Republican who held the seat before Allen, is running in the primary against Democrats Ruby Faye Wooridge and Alisa Simmons.
The Precinct 4 seat is occupied by J.D. Johnson, whose son, Joe D. Jody Johnson, is hoping to keep the family legacy in the role. The only other Democrat currently on the court is Commissioner Roy Charles Brooks in precinct 1.
In July 2021, the county voted to renew the program indefinitely, despite dozens of people asking the county not to do so. The vote fell along party lines with the commissioners voting 3-2 to keep the program.
Who is on the ballot in precinct 2 and 4?
Ruby Faye Woolridge-D
Larry Dale Carpenter Jr.-R
Joe D. Jody Johnson-R
Cedric C. Kanyinda-D
The partnership allows sheriff’s deputies to identify undocumented inmates in the Tarrant County Jail and turn them over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement. They do not need to be convicted, just charged with a crime.
The commissioners agreed to an annual review of the program. Although many candidates support this, some questions about the agreement have yet to be answered.
The 287(g) program helps keep communities safe, Precinct 4 Republican candidate Manny Ramirez said. He also said he believes the county owes it to the citizens to be good partners with federal and state agencies, and 287(g) allows the county to partner with a federal agency.
“The 287(g) program, as it’s been used in Tarrant County, really has been focused on violent offenders and offenders that already have felony warrants for other crimes committed in this country,” Ramirez said. “So yes, I’m in favor of continuing our relationship with the federal government and utilizing the program.”
Documents obtained by the Fort Worth Report regarding the agreement said the sheriff could not tell the court how many people were booked into the jail and released to ICE custody because of the agreement. At the time of the meeting in 2021 to discuss the renewal of the agreement, there were 253 people in county facilities being held in ICE detention.
The county reviews inmates for ICE if they are booked on Class A and B misdemeanors and felonies, but not if they are arrested on a class C misdemeanor.
The county owes it to taxpayers to ensure government resources are being used efficiently so he is in favor of an annual review of the program, Ramirez said.
“But I would demand that there’s greater data presented so that we could be the most informed for making those decisions,” said Ramirez, the president of the Fort Worth Police Officers Association.
Some of that data would include how many people were flagged, how many were removed, how many were turned over to federal custody and what offenses people are flagged for, he said.
Another Republican candidate for Precinct 4, Joe D. Jody Johnson, declined an interview but sent a statement regarding the program in an email.
“As a 36-year line-of-duty police veteran, I know firsthand that illegal immigration is a serious problem for our country, Texas and Tarrant County,” he said. “I strongly support the 287(g) program whereby the Tarrant County Sheriff’s Department works closely with the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency to identify the citizenship status of arrested criminal suspects. This problem is an important tool in our country’s battle against illegal immigration and helps crack down on serious crimes likes illegal drug and human trafficking.”
Precinct 4 Republican candidate Larry Dale Carpenter Jr. also supports the program, but wants to see more data.
“If we could keep it indefinite, I would prefer that over an annual review of 287(g),” Carpenter said. “I love this, but I want to see stats. I want to see: Are we actually deporting a good amount of these people, (or) is it just catch and release? Are we actually having ICE members do this, or do we have sheriff’s deputies that are trained to do this?”
One candidate, Andy Nguyen, has met with the sheriff’s office to discuss the program. Nguyen, who is running for the Precinct 2 spot and previously held the office, said he would have voted yes if he was on the court at the time of consideration for the agreement.
The agreement is controversial because of national politics, but a closer look at the program’s usage in Tarrant County shows it is for public safety, he said.
Before speaking with the Fort Worth Report, Nguyen met with the sheriff’s office about the program and was given a list of offenses committed by people flagged under the 287(g) agreement included murder, rape, assault and burglaries, he said.
The department told Nguyen there were about 146 people who were on retainer for ICE and their recidivism rate is 90%, he said.
The Fort Worth Report has contacted the office for these records to verify. As of Jan. 25, the Report has not received these documents.
“A very important part of my job is to make sure that our families, our neighborhood, our school, and our communities, our highways are safe, despite a very high political talk,” he said. “As long as it improves the safety of our families and will continue to support it, but the moment it turns into harassment in any form for our families and neighborhoods or residents, then I will work to reject it.”
Ramirez shared similar thoughts about ensuring the program does not lead to racial profiling.
“This program is not intended to be disparaging toward any community. This program truly is there to root out violent offenders, and I’ve seen it work firsthand in the field,” he said. “I know that there’s been a lot of controversy surrounding this program and a lot of, on both sides of the aisle, a lot of big hyperbole spewed about it. But being somebody that’s Hispanic myself and somebody who comes from that community, I’ll tell you that I think that, overall, my community’s in favor of this program because it holds people accountable who’ve committed violent offenses in our county.”
Nguyen, a refugee from Vietnam, said he understands the plight of immigrants, documented or undocumented, but is still committed to safety.
Nguyen’s opponent, Democratic candidate Alisa Simmons, said she stands with the Latino and immigrant community and is against the agreement.
“Our sheriff’s deputies are not paid by the federal government to be ICE agents. They are paid by Tarrant County to be local law enforcement agents,” Simmons, who also is president of the Arlington NAACP chapter, said. “It’s singled out people of Hispanic descent for enforcement action.”
If she is elected, an annual review would include a closer look at legal implications, cost and consequences, she said.
“The effects of those enhanced enforcement actions have a tendency to break up families,” she said. “That causes stress on children, young children. It’s just bad, bad public policy in my estimation. And we don’t need to be involved in it from a Tarrant County standpoint.”
She also wants to see more data to see if this is even an issue.
“If we stopped being political and look at the data, I think it will show that we could put our focus on a lot of other real issues affecting constituents here in Tarrant County,” she said.The Fort Worth Report attempted to interview all candidates for Precincts 2 and 4 for this story, but some did not reply by deadline. The Report was unable to contact Democrat Precinct 2 candidate Ruby Faye Woolridge and Democrat Precinct 4 candidate Cedric C. Kanyinda.
Kristen Barton is an enterprise reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.