By Laura Nicholes
TAC Legislative Staff
Texas' first statewide U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) "Partnerships for Public Safety Symposium" took place in San Antonio Oct. 12-14.
Travis County Sheriff Greg Hamilton and ICE Assistant Director Harold Hurtt, formerly police chief of Houston, thought it would be beneficial to join sheriffs and ICE representatives together to learn how the agencies can work to improve public safety.
Bexar County Sheriff Amadeo Ortiz generously assisted in welcoming and hosting the gathering of approximately 100 law enforcement participants to the city.
Hamilton said although his Travis County office has a close working relationship with ICE, he frequently hears from smaller counties that they do not know much about the federal agency.
“There’s just so much that these agencies can do together,” Hamilton said. "The main goal was for sheriffs to learn what ICE does.”
ICE field office leadership was on hand to outline its priorities and share information about its various departments and programs. Among the many topics on the agenda were: human trafficking/victim’s witness coordinators, Secure Communities, detention standards, bulk cash smuggling/financial crimes, asset forfeiture, intellectual property rights enforcement, information sharing and communication and “what’s working well in Texas.”
During discussions of what is working well in Texas, many attendees agreed that Secure Communities tops the list and has significantly contributed to the identification and removal of criminal aliens from the state. What is not working so well is communication and sharing of intelligence between the various federal, state and local agencies and regional communication posts along the Mexican border.
While the goal of this first symposium was to provide an introduction to ICE and the resources it can provide to local agencies, there are plenty of topics still to be addressed. Issues sure to be revisited by the next Legislature include immigration reform, maintaining security along the border and the specific law enforcement and incarceration challenges that counties and local law enforcement face when dealing with undocumented persons.
Having a better understanding of the roles, missions and responsibilities of the stakeholders will be an asset when those legislative discussions begin.
Hamilton and Hurtt indicated they intend to make the Partnerships Symposium an annual occurrence. Hamilton also said the next symposium may include non-governmental organizations. “I’ve gotten positive responses from the sheriffs who attended,” Hamilton said. ”They say they learned a lot and they are asking that this be an ongoing event.”