The claim: “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 percent of the DUIs on Interstate 35 are from illegals. Ninety percent of the 50 percent 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.” — U.S. Rep. Roger Williams, R-Austin.
Williams made the statement during a panel on the border crisis hosted by the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank.
PolitiFact ruling: Pants on Fire. 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.
Discussion: 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.
PolitiFact is a fact-checking project to help you sort out fact from fiction in politics. Truth-O-Meter ratings are determined by a panel of three editors. The burden of proof is on the speaker, and PolitiFact rates statements based on the information known at the time the statement is made.
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.
After speaking with officials at five law enforcement agencies in Texas and reviewing 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 shared revealed that a small percentage of all arrests for people driving while intoxicated are suspected of being in the country illegally.
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.
John Etue, chief of staff to Williams, said 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.
PolitiFact sought information from 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.
None of the entities were able to provide the exact information requested, due to discrepancies in how records are kept across agencies. Open records policies also limit what information can be released about federal detainers. Only one agency was able to provide any information about whether individuals arrested for DWIs had identification.
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 Travis County jail on new DWI arrests. Of those arrests, 7.4 percent of the individuals had detainers placed on them by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, indicating they were suspected of being in the U.S. illegally.
Also in Travis County, of all the DWI cases that went to court in fiscal year 2018, about 20 percent involved people who were not U.S. citizens. It’s unclear what percentage of that group were people who were in the country illegally.
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 federal immigration detainers. Of those three people, one did not have identification.