A North Texas sheriff, as well as the acting director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement on Thursday morning criticized a judge's ruling barring his agency from relying solely on databases that have at times led to the wrongful detention of American citizens.
The ruling by U.S. District Judge Andre Birotte Jr. bars ICE from issuing requests known as "detainers" based solely on database searches considered to be unreliable. It applies to states that do not explicitly authorize civil immigration arrests using detainers.
Jennie Pasquarella, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, which helped bring the lawsuit, said the ruling was "critical to protecting the rights of everyone" and ensuring that ICE does not subject people to baseless arrests and detention.
Speaking Thursday at the White House, acting ICE Director Matthew Albence called the September ruling an example of "judicial overreach" that threatened public safety.
Albence spoke next to local sheriffs from around the U.S., including North Texas, who are cooperating with ICE. As the agency has faced resistance to its operations in some parts of the country, the Trump administration has held several White House events featuring local officials who support its immigration priorities.
Officials and supporters have also highlighted cases of crimes committed by immigrants in the U.S. without permission and used charged rhetoric to criticize illegal immigration.
Tarrant County Sheriff Bill Waybourn of Fort Worth said releasing jailed immigrants instead of turning them over to ICE would lead to more crime.
"If we have to turn them loose or they get released, they're coming back to your neighborhood and my neighborhood," he said. "These drunks will run over your children, and they will run over my children."
Pasquarella said Waybourn's statement was "fueled by xenophobia and racism."
"They're applying this narrative they would never apply to citizens just because they're not citizens," she said.
“Appalled but not surprised because these are the types of things we’ve heard from the sheriff toward our community for two years now,” said Jessica Ramirez of United Fort Worth.
The immigrant rights group is now demanding Waybourn resign.
“He does not need to be in a position of power at all,” she said. “And of course we are very concerned that now he puts us in a certain light that there will be retaliation from people. We’ve seen it happen in El Paso and it’s very concerning.”
Fort Worth state representative Ramon Romero Jr. accused the sheriff of not seeing the possible dangers of how that type of language can be used by extremists.
“It’s clear Sheriff Waybourn hasn’t learned the lessons of what happened in El Paso,” he said. “If he wants to snuggle up with Donald Trump and he wants to spend that time in Washington then he should relieve himself of the duties of sheriff of Tarrant County and allow the people of Tarrant County to elect someone that’s here to serve one people.”
On Thursday afternoon, Waybourn's office released a statement regarding his remarks.
"Sheriff Waybourn was not referring to all legal or illegal immigrants when making his comments about DWI/DWI repeat offenders. He was speaking toward the charges of DWI and DWI repeat offender in the context of illegal immigration.
We believe DWI is a very serious charge, and any time a person chooses to drive under the influence, they run the risk of killing or seriously injuring members of our community. By prosecuting repeat offenders to the fullest extent of the law, we help keep our communities safer.
With that being said, the last time we looked at the numbers, nearly 25% of the illegal immigrants in our jail have charges of DWI and/or DWI repeat offender.
Furthermore, we believe the men and women of law enforcement, who are choosing to serve our communities, are brave and noble individuals who should not be demeaned for enforcing the laws passed by our legislatures."
Vance Keyes, a Fort Worth police captain who hopes to be the Democratic candidate for sheriff in 2020, called Waybourn's comments an "embarrassment" for Tarrant County.
"The sheriff's comments undermine people’s confidence in law enforcement to be even-handed," Keyes said, noting: "All drunk drivers pose a threat to our communities," and it was wrong to label "an entire group of people with such rhetoric."
NBC 5 reached out to Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price. However, a representative said Price is out of town and not available for comment.
The League of United Latin American Citizens also released a statement, saying:
“It is appalling that a man with a badge and gun like Sheriff Waybourn would make such ignorant and twisted racist statements influenced by his far right-wing ideology. We know that in Texas, the data shows that native-born residents are much more likely to be convicted of a crime than immigrants. This sheriff needs to resign and apologize for his bigoted comments immediately. The domestic terrorist attacks in El Paso and Gilroy have shown that this rhetoric can have deadly consequences."
ICE uses information collected by other law enforcement agencies to check the legal status of people in jail. When it detects that a person is unauthorized to be in the U.S., ICE will issue a detainer asking the agency to hold the person until he or she can be taken into immigration custody.
Advocates allege relying on electronic databases alone to issue detainers is unreliable because they often have erroneous data and can lead to falsely accusing people of being in the U.S. illegally.
Citing ICE's data, Birotte wrote that 42 detainers between May 2015 and February 2016 were explicitly lifted because the person was a citizen.
Nearly 800 detainers out of almost 13,000 issued during that time were withdrawn because the person was a citizen "or otherwise not subject to removal," the judge wrote.
Asked about the detention of Americans, Albence said he could not speak about ongoing litigation.
"Many times, individuals that we come across that are United States citizens don't even know that they are because the laws around citizenship are so complicated," he said.