Dallas County concerned about jail costs with proposed Texas law – NBC 5 Dallas-Fort Worth

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Dallas County officials voiced concerns Tuesday about the cost to taxpayers for a new state immigration enforcement law already approved by the Texas Senate.

The law would make it a Class A misdemeanor with jail time to be in Texas without proper immigration status.

There are an estimated 293,000 people in Dallas County without proper status according to county officials.

“Over a quarter million people that fit this criteria for this crime would then be held up to a year in our jail,” Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said.

State lawmakers estimated a far lower number, 72,000 individuals would be charged with offense statewide each year. But that still suggests many extra inmates at the Dallas County jail.

Senate Bill 11, sponsored by Granbury Republican Senator Brian Birdwell, received a committee hearing in the Texas House on Monday.

“That Senate bill is just unbelievable. We only have 7,100 beds,” Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price said.

Just 140 of those beds were open for new inmates Tuesday to avoid releasing criminals who belong in there.

County officials have been scrambling this year to add jail capacity.  About 200 temporary beds were recently approved by state jail regulators.

That is a fraction of the number of beds Dallas County officials fear they would need if a different part of state government forces police to bring immigration violators to the jail, with no additional state money to house them.

“It is already illegal to be in the state without authorization any way so really that extra law just punishes taxpayers all over the State of Texas,” Commissioner Elba Garcia said. “It means raising taxes because they’re not paying for the law that they’re passing. And it’s not only unfair. It’s discriminatory.”

Officials said law enforcement officers in Dallas County generally do not inquire about immigration status to foster trust with the community for cooperation in fighting violent crimes.

Commissioner Andrew Sommerman said the new law could overwhelm the criminal justice system and compromise violent crime enforcement.

“Could it be that we wind up with folks who are here trying to get a job filling our jails and as a result, we do not put murders and rapists in our jail,” Sommerman said.

County officials said that is the worst case that they fear.

Similar laws from other states have been struck down by the US Supreme Court since immigration enforcement is typically reserved for the federal government.

Supporters of the Texas proposal have said it could be different with the current Supreme Court.

A message for comment from Senator Birdwell was not returned Tuesday.

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