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Congressional 'border crisis' hearing includes Tarrant County sheriff, no one from the border

Sheriff Bill Waybourn answers a question during a town hall about the deaths at the Tarrant County Jail on Thursday, Jan. 18, 2024, at the Tarrant County Sub-Courthouse in Arlington.
Yfat Yossifor
Sheriff Bill Waybourn answers a question during a town hall about the deaths at the Tarrant County Jail on Thursday, Jan. 18, 2024, at the Tarrant County Sub-Courthouse in Arlington.

Tarrant County Sheriff Bill Waybourn was one of two sheriffs at a Congressional "border crisis" meeting on Tuesday, but neither were from border counties.

The House Oversight and Accountability subcommittee meeting, which was billed as a look into how the Biden administration's border policies impact public safety, also included Sheriff Mike Chapman of Loudon County, Virginia, former Trump homeland security official Ken Cuccinelli and David Bier, director of immigration studies at the libertarian think tank the Cato Institute.

In his opening statement, Waybourn spoke in favor of dispatching resources to the border to stem what he characterized as the dangers of allowing migrants to cross the border unchecked.

"The sheriffs in Texas agree that securing the border and reforming immigration are entirely two different issues," he said. "We first must secure the border."

During the hearing, Waybourn said Tarrant County residents are concerned about the open border and the "plethora of drugs" that come across it.

Congressional members went back and forth with Waybourn and three other witnesses about immigration, drugs, and crime.

U.S. Rep. Jasmine Crockett — who represents parts of Tarrant and Dallas counties — prepared a board showing the violent crime rate in Tarrant County within the last year.

Crockett asked Waybourn whether the rates of homicide, manslaughter, rape, robbery, assault and theft went up or down between 2022-2023. Waybourn confirmed all six violent crimes listed decreased in the last year.

"The one thing that we know from the data," Crockett said, "is when it comes to migrants in the state of Texas, specifically in Tarrant County, if anything, it looks like the numbers have gone down as far as crime overall instead of going up."

Crockett also mentioned overcrowding in Tarrant County jails and the $40 million worth of contracts with private prisons the county has used to send local prisoners to Garza County.

Tarrant County Commissioners voted to end the contract with the Giles W. Dalby Correctional Facility in September, three months early. The early contract termination follows a state inspection that found problems like medical neglect, a lack of safety training, and missing documentation at the private prison.

"That is concerning to me. It is concerning because as a former public defender, I actually had clients that died in the jail," Crockett said. "And most people don't understand that the main job of a sheriff is usually to make sure that they're taking care of the jail population."

As sheriff, one of Waybourn's main jobs is to run the county jail. In 2017, he signed up for a federal program allowing jailers to take on the responsibilities of immigration agents, like flagging people for deportation.

The program, called 287(g), is a voluntary agreement between local law enforcement agencies and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

As of May 2023, Tarrant County’s 287(g) agreement was inactive because of understaffing in the Tarrant County jail system, according to ICE.

Waybourn has previously visited Washington D.C. to speak on immigration issues. During a 2019 White House briefing, he was criticized for comments he made about releasing undocumented immigrants with criminal convictions from jails.

“If we have to turn them loose or they get released, they’re coming back to your neighborhood and my neighborhood," Waybourn said during the White House briefing. "These drunks will run over your children, and they will run over my children."

When Senate Bill 4 — which would make crossing the Texas-Mexico border without authorization a state crime — was allowed to go into effect earlier this year, Waybourn said it would allow Texas to do “what the federal government won’t.”

However, at the time, he said he didn't believe it would impact North Texas.

“It is unlikely that law enforcement in North Texas will have knowledge of an individual’s illegal entry status to enforce SB 4, due to this being primarily an on-view offense," he wrote in a statement at the time.

KERA News reporter Miranda Suarez contributed to this report.

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Megan Cardona is a daily news reporter for KERA News. She was born and raised in the Dallas-Fort Worth area and previously worked at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.