Candidates tackle immigration
By 01/24/2008 00:00:00
The Ellis County Press
ELLIS COUNTY - Republicans are debating illegal immigration at the state and federal level, and locally, the debate is shaping up in races for sheriff and constable.
Johnny Brown, one of three candidates vying for sheriff, said he would investigate criminal activity for legal and illegal residents.
'My goal as sheriff is to be proactive in the investigation of criminal activity, and the arrest of suspects involved in criminal activity regardless whether or not the suspects are illegal immigrants,' Brown, a resident of Midlothian, said. 'I will actively seek those who sell drugs to our children and those who transport drugs to and through our county.'
Brown was the only sheriff candidate to submit comments and answers for this immigration story. Despite a two-week notice, opponents James Ledbetter and Steve McKinney did not submit answers.
Questions, however, over what role Ellis County law enforcement plays in the immigration debate were answered by constable candidates as well.
'Currently, local law enforcement is not allowed to enforce any federal laws, especially immigration,' said Constable Ben Fry, who faces a primary challenge from Ellis County Fire Marshal Jim Pharr. 'Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison [R-Texas] tried to introduce federal legislation which would have given Texas law enforcement the right to enforce immigration laws; this effort was defeated.'
Pharr did not respond to questions on this issue either, but Fry said illegal aliens could be apprehended through routine traffic stops or as part of a wider effort to combat drug trafficking.
'While we may not have the authority to arrest individuals for ‘illegal immigration,' people trafficking in illegal immigrants are stopped everyday by local law enforcement for traffic violations,' said Fry, who was first elected in 2002. 'This gives us an opportunity to investigate. Networking with federal law enforcement gives us the connections we need to help build a case against those who are involved in illegal immigration by providing information. We have a great deal of power when we all work together.'
There are differences of opinion in the race for Precinct 4 in west Ellis County, the precinct that includes swaths of Red Oak, Ovilla and Midlothian.
'The U.S. Supreme Court consistently has ruled that the federal government has exclusive power to regulate immigration,' said Midlothian resident and former Midlothian police officer Kyle Neal.
'The courts have also ruled that state and local laws that attempt to regulate immigration violates the supremacy clause of the U.S. Constitution.'
Neal's opponent, Precinct 4 Chief Deputy Mike Jones, has a different stance.
'The role of the constable is to provide civil and criminal law enforcement within each precinct of each county,' said Jones, who works directly under Constable Steve McKinney, who is vying for sheriff.
'However, the issue of illegal immigration as we practice it here in Ellis County is as follows: should a police officer arrest an individual who is in this country illegally, then a request for disposition is sent to the Immigration and Customes Enforcement. ICE will then turn in either put an immigration hold on the individual and send someone to pick up the person, or ICE will send a release authorization.'
Jones noted that most counties face funding shortages to deport illegal aliens. Jones said the situation needs more federal support, 'so we can do more at the local level.'
Neal, however, said if requested, the constable would work with the U.S. Border Patrol.
Despite an opposing view some hold, the commissioners court is not responsible for immigration enforcement.
'How illegal immigrants are processed is the sheriff's decision,' said Commissioner Dennis Robinson, who is seeking a second four-year term in his eastern Ellis County precinct. 'That type of program would be up to the sheriff and I believe that they already do something similar [to 287(g)].'
Brown, the sheriff candidate, said a proposed Citizen's Crime Commission would help address programs such as 287(g), the federal-local imitative that facilitates the identification of illegal aliens.
'My plan for the sheriff's office is to establish [the crime commission],' said Brown, a former narcotics officer at the sheriff's office who is still employed there. 'Once a problem has been identified then there are many avenues that can be used to prevent and/or fix the problem. I am familiar with the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, specifically Section 287(g). The act provides many different resources from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for state and local agencies to include training and special equipment for local officers…
'However, I do not think the sheriff's office should embark on a policy to enforce federal immigration laws as a routine,' Brown said. 'These laws and 287(g) should be used as tools to help protect the citizens of Ellis County.'