Texas — Friday evening, the Fuerza Texas Collaborative—made up by eight racial and social justice organizations—hosted a non-partisan candidate forum featuring five sheriff candidates from Bastrop County, Dallas County, Harris County, and Tarrant County.
The two-hour virtual event aimed to inform Texas voters on key concerns shared across the collaborative regarding immigrant rights and criminal justice, such as law enforcement brutality, agreements between local law enforcement and ICE, reducing jail populations, and re-imagining public safety. The event had a reach of over 5,000 people on social media and was available to listen both in Spanish and English.
Community members from the mentioned counties had the opportunity to ask both live and pre-recorded questions around topics involving immigration, criminal justice, workers’ rights, and infrastructure. Many of the questions at the forum were focused on how community members can hold elected officials, including Sheriffs, accountable to the people they represent.
This forum comes following a significant reduction in jail population due to the pandemic, attempts to divert funds from police departments into community-based care, and a continuing collaboration between law enforcement and ICE in Texas.
During the Q&A portion of the event, all candidates pledged to enact immigrant-friendly policies within their departments, such as ending the practice of asking individuals for their immigration status and releasing information regarding collaboration with ICE. One notable exception was from Harris County Republican candidate Joe Danna, who declined to end voluntary contracts with ICE.
All candidates present also pledged to enact policies that would significantly reduce jail populations and discretionary arrests, such as eliminating unnecessary arrests for Class C misdemeanors, oppose the creation of new jails, eliminating cash bail, and supporting pre-trial release for people charged with misdemeanors and low-level felonies.
“Currently, ICE has unrestricted access and space at the Joint Processing Center, where they often use harmful racial profiling practices to interrogate individuals who are arrested in Harris County. This unrestricted access and entanglement is not required by SB4 and only results in more immigrants facing deportation and tears families apart. Local authorities and law enforcement must further help ICE facilitate deportations. They must end agreements with ICE in order to get them out of the JPC.” – Daniela Melendez, Hotline Coordinator at United We Dream
"Sheriffs have major impacts on immigration enforcement and you can see their influence as they have advocated to build and expand jail capacity to house greater numbers of people. Officials can no longer commit local resources to Sheriffs' budgets unless they work to reject cooperating with ICE, treat all community members with compassion and humanity, and work hard on being accountable to the communities they serve." – Carolina Canizales, Senior Texas Campaign Strategist at the Immigrant Legal Resource Center
“Tonight was a demonstration of a pillar in our democracy: an informed electorate. Sheriffs have broad power and discretion to define what ‘public safety’ looks like in our counties. Their views on whether and how we will decriminalize poverty, reduce prison populations, and their commitment to end the arrest to deportation pipeline are critical to the safety and security of immigrant communities. Working families throughout Texas were watching tonight and paying close attention to the policies that will most impact their lives and are ready to vote for the Sheriff candidate that most reflects their values.” - Laura Perez-Boston, Organizing Director for Workers Defense Project
“The current practice of the Bastrop Sheriff is to arrest people for minor offenses that according to state law require nothing more than a citation. These unnecessary and excessive arrests have caused fear and mistrust in our community. It was this very practice that caused my arrest and put me in the hands of immigration officials. This has caused me to live daily with uncertainty and anxiety. This is not how anyone should have to live their life.” Jorge, ICE Out of Austin member
“Sheriffs directly impact the lives of the people in their communities. We have seen more and more sheriffs join anti-immigrant groups to push the white supremacist agenda. We need to redefine public safety and make change to racist, unjust policing and mass incarceration. We have the power to make change in our local community through the sheriff election.” - Sindy Mata, Community Organizer for RAICES
“Our unjust immigration and justice systems impacted me firsthand, putting me on a path to deportation that was fortunately resolved. The people we elect to lead as sheriff need to fully grasp how decades of over-policing in Black and Latino communities has led to the over-incarceration of people of color. This has devastating effects on our lives, separating families and making it harder to secure jobs as well as housing. These candidates must reimagine public safety in a way where everyone’s dignity is ensured and rights are upheld.” -- David Maroquin, immigration campaign member of Texas Organizing Project in Houston
# # #
José Alonso Muñoz | email@example.com
Arianna Rosales | firstname.lastname@example.org
Juan Benitez | email@example.com
Maria Reza | firstname.lastname@example.org
Sindy Mata| email@example.com
Mary Moreno | firstname.lastname@example.org