Dallas County Judge blasts controversial immigration bill and says it will make communities less safe

“It may be politically popular, but logistically and financially it’s dumb," Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said.

dallas county judge blasts controversial immigration bill and says it will make communities less safe
dallas county judge blasts controversial immigration bill and says it will make communities less safe
Credit: WFAA Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins.

DALLAS — Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins says the controversial legislation that makes it a state crime to enter Texas illegally from a foreign country will make Dallas County less safe, while doing nothing to fix the country’s broken immigration system.

Jenkins says it will be up to cities and various law enforcement agencies to enforce it, because the county is primarily responsible for running the jail.

“So, they might go to a place where it’s well known that the workers are undocumented and scoop up 40 people. And then we’re stuck having to house them in a jail that’s nearly at capacity now, which means that when officers arrest someone for stealing something out of your garage, there may not be room for them,” he told us on Inside Texas Politics.

Jenkins says Senate Bill 4, which was passed by the Republican-led majorities in the state House and Senate and is expected to be signed into law by Governor Greg Abbott, will cost Dallas County taxpayers tens of millions of dollars a year just to house anyone arrested under the law.

According to his math, Dallas County has 98,000 county jail beds and there are also 3,000 Operation Lone Star border beds, so there won’t be enough beds for everyone.

“The head of DPS estimates that there are 75,000 people who would be offenders under this law, that is they’re here without papers and they’ve been here for less than two years,” said the Democrat. “That’s all the beds. We’re currently, across the state, at 72% bed capacity. In our urban areas, it’s much higher.”

While Jenkins says lawsuits will be likely be filed against the law, his focus is on figuring out to avoid the unintended consequence of having to release those accused of violent crimes and property offenses back onto the street where they might commit more crimes, all because of a lack of space at the jail.

The bill’s author, State Rep. David Spiller, R-Jacksboro, told us he doesn’t think the number of arrests will skyrocket under the law, particularly in areas far away from the border.

“All this mass hysteria and fear mongering, in my view, and telling folks hey, it’s going to be another ‘show me your papers’ and we’re going to be locking people up right and left, I just don’t think that’s going to happen,” Rep. Spiller told us on Inside Texas Politics. “I think most of the enforcement is going to be on the border where officers see people coming across and they’re going to handle them accordingly.”

Spiller argues that 95% of enforcement of SB 4 will happen within 50 miles of the border, with most involving “on view” observations of people breaking the law.

And he points to the fact that all misdemeanors in Texas have a two-year statute of limitation, meaning an indictment must be presented within two years of the offense.

“We’re not going after someone that’s been here longer than two years, three years, five years, ten years. We’re not going after someone’s grandmother that’s been here for 50 years,” the Jacksboro Republican said. “There’s no way that a law enforcement officer that would make a stop can prove that, or meet the element to that sufficient to arrest someone and charge them with illegal entry.”

To learn more about what Rep. Spiller says the controversial legislation will – and won’t – allow head here.

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