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Dallas County Worries New Law Could Crowd Jails, Increase Costs

The proposed legislation, which is waiting for a signature from the Texas governor, could cost taxpayers almost $380 per arrest if unlawful entry into the country by undocumented migrants becomes a state law and is locally enforceable.

The Texas-Mexico border wall
The Texas-Mexico border wall photographed, on Wednesday, April 13, 2022, in Granejo, Texas.
(Juan Figueroa/The Dallas Morning News/TNS)
Dallas County, Texas, commissioners say new state legislation allowing arrests of undocumented migrants could lead to a crowded jail as well as increased costs to taxpayers and the community.

The bill, waiting to be signed into law by the governor, would make it a state crime to illegally cross the border and would allow any law enforcement officer to make an arrest. Unlawful entry already is a federal felony, but this bill would also make it a state crime.

County Commissioner Elba Garcia said Tuesday, Nov. 21, in the regularly scheduled meeting that the legislation encourages racism, disparity and discrimination.

“Laws like this are put forward to create division, discrimination, and for political purposes, against the community that the only thing they want is to work and have an opportunity to do it,” she said.

Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw told the senate committee on border security that such legislation could lead to about 72,000 arrests statewide per year.

Dallas Commissioner Andrew Sommerman said the county is estimated to see about 10 percent of those arrests. He totaled up the costs of jail, attorneys and any additional resources, saying that one person arrested on this new charge could cost taxpayers almost $380.

“This will break the county financially,” Sommerman said.

When signed, Senate Bill 4 would allow any law enforcement officer in the state to jail someone if they are unable to provide proof of legal temporary or permanent residency within 48 hours. An undocumented migrant can be charged with a misdemeanor for a first-time offense or a felony if the person has a criminal record or has repeatedly entered the country illegally.

Assistant County Administrator Charles Reed briefed commissioners Tuesday, saying the legislation doesn’t appear to allow those who are arrested for this charge to bond out of jail.

County Judge Clay Lewis Jenkins said incarcerating people who have crossed the border illegally means less room for those who have been accused of other crimes.

“There’s not room in the jail anymore for people who steal your television set and break into your garage or worse,” he said.

The county may resort to paying for bed space elsewhere. This summer, Dallas County was able to avoid spending millions of dollars by contracting for jail beds with another county.

It is unclear how the bill would affect those waiting for asylum who do not have documentation of temporary or permanent residence, Reed said.

Commissioner John Wiley Price said he is not that worried about the bill’s impact on Dallas County.

“The problem is – maybe if you’re on the border you may have some issues, but not this far up,” Price said.

Commissioner Theresa Daniel disagreed, saying Dallas County is a destination for many who cross the border.

Other commissioners said the bill would increase the total number of people waiting in a jail that peaked at 98 percent capacity over the summer.

Commissioners began to discuss the ramifications beyond the jail.

If a child involved has no other family members to care for them, Reed told commissioners that they could go into the foster system or even be arrested themselves.

“We could be filling up the juvenile system with kids who did nothing wrong. All they did was follow their parents and that’s it,” Sommerman said.

Reed told commissioners if the county hires a contractor to transport or care for those charged with this crime and something happens, the county could be on the hook for any legal costs.

“It’s unlike any provision that’s ever existed, but increased liability significantly,” he said.

Garcia said organizations will likely challenge this bill, seeing as similar laws have previously been overturned. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2012 against Arizona, saying the federal government holds the authority over immigration.

©2023 The Dallas Morning News. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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