Posted on July 13, 2004

Sheriff’s Protest Delays Release

Karen Gleason, Del Rio News-Herald (TX), July 12, 2004

Seventeen Brazilian immigration prisoners are slated for release in Del Rio today, over the protests of Val Verde County Sheriff A. D’Wayne Jernigan.

Federal immigration officials Friday delayed the release of the 17 Brazilians after Jernigan called U.S. Rep. Henry Bonilla and the Del Rio News-Herald in protest.

Jernigan said Friday the 17 Brazilians were detained in Abilene Thursday, then transferred to the Val Verde County Detention Center. They were to be released at the Del Rio Regional Transportation Center early Friday afternoon.

Late Friday afternoon, Jernigan said the release was delayed so that the Brazilian prisoners could be interviewed by officers of the U.S. Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (BICE).

“I called Bonilla’s office, and he’s been making calls and now, instead of just releasing them, they’re at least going to interview them,” Jernigan told the Del Rio News-Herald Friday afternoon.

“What are my concerns about these releases? They’re the same as yours. These people are unknowns, they were arrested in a different part of the country and transported to Del Rio. They can’t enter Mexico, so they are turned loose in Del Rio without any visible means of support and intent on going north to New York, Detroit or Chicago or west to Los Angeles,” Jernigan said.

He added, “What are they going to turn to, to get money? When people are desperate, they turn to crime. Even good people will turn to crime when they are desperate. And I don’t want to subject our local citizens to this potential for stealing and robbing,” Jernigan said.

“Another thing that concerns us: Are they criminals? Are they terrorists? We don’t know who they are,” Jernigan said.

The sheriff, who retired from the U.S. Customs Service after serving as the resident-agent-in-charge of enforcement, said interviews of federal immigration prisoners can provide officers with valuable information.

“They need to sit and visit with these people, and it needs to be someone who speaks the language and the dialect and who can make sure that the languages and the dialects these people are speaking are correct for that part of the world they claim to be from,” he said.

Jernigan said recently a group of north Korean nationals were recently arrested by the Border Patrol and claimed to be south Koreans.

Jernigan said a Border Patrol agent fluent in Korean and in the difference between dialects spoken in the north and south detected the difference.”

Jernigan said he feels his protests to the county’s elected representatives, especially Bonilla, are making inroads.

The release of immigration prisoners into the community leaves the sheriff between a rock and a hard place.

It is Val Verde County’s contract with federal immigration agencies that brings these prisoners into the area in the first place, but the contract is lucrative and provides a steady stream of revenue to the county.

Jernigan said Friday the county currently receives $57 per prisoner per day for housing federal prisoners like the 17 Brazilians.

Last year, that contract meant about $250,000 in revenue to the county.

Short of damming that stream, there is little the sheriff can do to prevent immigration prisoners from being released here.

“I raise the issue with our elected officials, so they can then question agencies at the headquarters level. The agency officials at this level here locally, I truly believe, are just as much against these releases as I am. They feel betrayed. They’re thinking, ‘We work hard to apprehend these people and then the next day someone at the Washington level orders their release. Why are we apprehending them in the first place?’” Jernigan said.

“They turn these people loose with a piece of paper that tells them to report (to an immigration hearing) at an unknown time and date, to an unknown place,. . .and there’s no way for the agency to get in touch with them again. Are they going to show up at those hearings? Will the agency ever be able to find them? Let’s be realistic. It’s ridiculous. A war on terrorism? land security? Hah!” Jernigan said.