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During a panel on the border crisis hosted by the Texas Public Policy Foundation, U.S. Rep. Roger Williams, a Republican from Central Texas, answered questions alongside Ken Cuccinelli, the acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
Williams said he is frustrated when he hears people characterize the situation at the border as a "homemade crisis" or a "made-up crisis."
"We’re doing everything we can do to help these folks, but at the same time, we’ve got to get back to defending our borders and the rule of law," Williams said at the August event. "I had a meeting with law enforcement in my district and they said, here’s a fact for you — we’re all familiar with Interstate 35 — they said 50% of the DUIs on Interstate 35 are from illegals. Ninety percent of the 50% have absolutely no identification. So you give them a ticket, you can’t put them in jail because the jails are full here ... so you send them on their way."
There are a lot of problems with Williams’ claim.
First of all, he appears to be conflating DUIs and DWIs. He referenced DUIs, an offense reserved for minors who are found to be operating a motor vehicle with any detectable amount of alcohol in their systems, but then went on to discuss placing offenders in jail.
When minors in Texas are apprehended by law enforcement, they are taken to a juvenile processing office and then, if they are not released to a parent or guardian, to a juvenile detention facility.
Also, his claim that individuals pulled over for DWIs are sent "on their way" with a ticket because jails in Texas are full is inaccurate. Jails across the state are at varying levels of occupancy and have different practices in place to handle capacity issues.
Williams also did not specify which parts of the freeway he was considering and he did not offer a timeframe for his claim.
After speaking with officials at five law enforcement agencies in Texas and reviewing different records related to arrests and immigration status, it is clear that there is no evidence to support Williams’ claim.
None of the agencies we contacted could provide data to directly inform Williams’ statement. The information they could share revealed that a small percentage of all arrests for people driving while intoxicated are individuals suspected of being in the country illegally.
No official figures on this claim are maintained by law enforcement
Interstate 35 is a roughly 1,600-mile freeway that stretches from Laredo at the Texas-Mexico border to Minnesota. The road runs through Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri and Iowa. About 504 miles of the freeway are in Texas.
Williams represents the 25th Congressional District, which includes multiple non-connected stretches of the interstate. In Austin, his district includes more than 3 miles near downtown. It also includes about 55 miles of Interstate 35 West from Abbott to Burleson and about 9 miles of Interstate 35 East outside of Milford.
John Etue, chief of staff to Williams, said that the numbers came from law enforcement officers within the 25th Congressional District "regarding their personal experiences while performing their duties within their areas of operation."
"These are not official Texas or DPS stats," he said.
Etue declined a request to provide information about the officers who provided the information, including the agency where they work.
I-35 is part of the state highway system and is maintained by the Texas Department of Transportation. Various law enforcement agencies enforce traffic laws on these roadways, including the state’s Department of Public Safety, which houses the State Highway Patrol.
Local law enforcement officers also enforce traffic laws on portions of the highways that are within their jurisdiction.
We first turned to the Texas Department of Public Safety for its figures on drunken driving arrests on I-35, but a spokesperson said: "The data you’re requesting is not something the department tracks."
Williams said he spoke with officers in the 25th Congressional District, so we turned to four law enforcement agencies with coverage areas that overlap with the portion of I-35 that runs through the district — the Austin Police Department, the Travis County sheriff’s office, the Hill County sheriff’s office and the Hillsboro Police Department.
In Texas, local officers are allowed — but not required — to ask about the immigration status of any individual they detain, including during traffic stops. Local jails also are required to comply with requests from federal immigration authorities to detain people suspected of being in the country illegally.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement places detainers on people who have been arrested on criminal charges and "for whom ICE possesses probable cause to believe that they are removable from the United States."
When a detainer is placed on an individual, local law enforcement must hold the individual for up to 48 hours, giving ICE agents time to respond and take custody of the individual.
None of the entities we contacted were able to provide the exact information we requested, due to discrepancies in how information is recorded and maintained across agencies. Open records policies also limit what information can be released about ICE detainers. Only one agency was able to provide any information about whether individuals arrested for DWIs had identification.
Other data highlights problem with Williams’ claim
The Austin Police Department provided figures about all arrests for driving while intoxicated on I-35, but could not provide information about immigration status.
The department has made 3,904 DWI arrests on I-35 from January 2014 through the end of August this year, according to records provided by the department.
The Travis County sheriff’s office tracks people booked into the county jail with DWI arrests who had been flagged by federal immigration authorities, but they do not filter the information by the location of the arrest.
The jail houses individuals arrested across the county by many different law enforcement agencies.
From Aug. 1, 2018, to Aug. 31 of this year, there were 6,182 bookings into the county jail on new DWI arrests. Of those arrests, 7.4% of those individuals had an ICE detainer.
Also, in Travis County, the court tasked with handling DWI cases had information about DWI arrests and the percentage of people arrested who were from a different country, but court officials were not able to zero in on people here illegally or the location of the arrest. They also could not provide information on whether an individual had identification or not.
Of all the DWI cases that went before the court in fiscal year 2018, about 20% involved people who were not U.S. citizens. It’s unclear what percentage of that group were people who were in the country illegally.
Travis County Attorney David Escamilla, whose office prosecutes misdemeanors like DWIs, said he was not familiar with the figures cited by Williams.
"I’ve never seen that type of metric and I find it highly improbable," Escamilla said.
The Hillsboro Police Department was able to provide information about DWI arrests within its jurisdiction and the number of people arrested who were in the country illegally at the time of the arrest, but they could not limit the arrests by location.
From 2011 through 2019, the department made 180 DWI arrests. Of those, three people had ICE detainers. Of those three people, one did not have identification.
Finally, Capt. Justin Motherspau at the Hill County sheriff’s office said the details in Williams’ claim are "not something that we even have the ability to track."
Williams said, "50% of the DUIs on Interstate 35 are from illegals. Ninety percent of the 50% have absolutely no identification."
There is no evidence to support Williams’ claim, which an aide said was based on a meeting he had with law enforcement officers in his district. The aide did not identify the officers or the agency where they worked.
Data shows that small percentages of those charged with DWI in jurisdictions along I-35 within the 25th Congressional District lack legal immigration status.
We rate this claim Pants on Fire.
PANTS ON FIRE – The statement is not accurate and makes a ridiculous claim.
Texas Public Policy Foundation, Ending the Border Crisis: Urgent Solutions from Washington and Texas, Aug. 22, 2019
Email interview with John Etue, chief of staff for Roger Williams, Aug. 22, 2019
Interstate-Guide, Interstate 35, accessed Aug. 22, 2019
Email interview with Anna Sabana, spokesperson for the Austin Police Department, Aug. 28, 2019
Email interview with Department of Public Safety Communications Team, Sept. 5, 2019
Phone interview with Jessica Haakinson of the Hillsboro Police Department, Sept. 5, 2019
Phone interview with Captain Justin Motherspau at the Hill County Sheriff’s Office, Sept. 5, 2019
Phone interview with David Escamilla, Travis County Attorney, Sept. 6, 2019
Phone interview with Kristen Dark, spokesperson for the Travis County Sheriff’s Office, Sept. 6, 2019
Email interview with Jessica Haakinson of the Hillsboro Police Department, Sept. 10, 2019
Data from the Austin Police Department responsive to an open records’ request, received Sept. 13, 2019
Email interview with Travis County Court-at-Law Judge Elisabeth Earle, Sept. 10, 2019
Email from Travis County Sheriff’s Office with information responsive to an open records’ request, Oct. 1, 2019
El Paso Times, Federal appeals court upholds Texas’ ‘sanctuary cities’ ban, March 13, 2018
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Detainers, accessed Oct. 2, 2019
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