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Gregg County sheriff: Citizenship policy under review at jail

By Glenn Evans
Aug. 18, 2011 at 10 p.m.

Gregg County Sheriff Maxey Cerliano is reviewing his department's policy toward learning the citizenship status of people brought to his lockup.

Speaking to the Republican Club of Gregg County Thursday, the sheriff said it is illegal to stop someone simply to determine citizenship.

"What you can do is, if they have committed a criminal offense or traffic offense, that can be asked," he said, responding to a question. "Once you arrest them on that state charge, then you can contact (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement). And ICE determines ... whether that person is an illegal alien."

That is what's being done now, he said, adding that arrest reports include a space for an arrestee's place of birth.

The volume of arrests and necessity of getting patrol deputies back on patrol leave it up to the county officer's discretion whether to pursue a determination of citizenship, Cerliano said.

"We currently have it under review whether we should adjust that policy," he said, describing a potential shift of citizenship determinations from arresting deputies to jail staff.

He added that shift would hinge on factors, including whether there are enough jailers and how much of their time it could take. Such a change also would mean his staff would be responsible for inmates brought in by other law enforcement agencies

The sheriff later said Immigration and Customs meets its 48-hour deadline to pick up a person it says is here illegally about 99 percent of the time. If they don't, that person is free once all state charges have been settled, he said.

"Every two or three months, one has to be released because ICE hasn't picked them up," he said. "I don't like to do it, but I know what the law is."

The sheriff's impromptu citizenship status comments followed a presentation showing the jail netting $4.2 million in revenue over expenses through its contracts to house out-of-county prisoners since 2007.

From then up to so far this year, Gregg County Jail operations have drawn $15.3 million in revenue, he said.

Those monies derive, mostly, from contracts to keep inmates from Harrison and Cass counties.

Of 712 inmates in the county's three lockups Thursday, Cerliano said 80 were those contract inmates.

Another 104 were being held for the U.S. Marshall's Service under federal charges.

Though not always the primary charge, drug or alcohol abuse are a factor in about 85 out of every 100 of the 10,519 inmates booked into jail last year, he added.

The same holds for the 6,089 so far this year, Cerliano said.

Despite any revenue, the sheriff added, law enforcement is not a profit-maker.

"I wish I could tell you that," Cerliano said. "The sheriff's office is not a money-maker, but contract jail services have been a money maker."



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