New Report Shows How Non-Citizens in Harris County are Treated Unfairly by Courts; Texas GOP Bail Bill Adds to the Injustice

(Houston, Texas)—A report issued today by the Immigrant Legal Resource Center (ILRC) shows how non-citizens are treated unfairly by the Harris County criminal court system. Unfortunately, a bill supported by Republicans that is being considered in the Texas State Legislature special session will continue this injustice. 

The bill, SB 6, marketed as “bail reform,” is anything but. The bill expands the list of offenses prohibiting people from being released on cashless personal bonds, keeps people who have been accused of certain crimes in jail if they did not have enough cash to post bail, mandates that judges consider citizenship status in bail determinations, and places restrictions on charitable groups from posting bail for defendants. 

In our report, Justice for All? Unfair Outcomes for Non-Citizens in Harris County Criminal Courts, we find that non-citizens are 20 percent less likely to receive personal recognizance (“PR”) bonds than citizens. On average, non-citizens must pay significantly higher bail amounts to be released on equivalent charges as citizens, and this disparity is greater for felony charges. 

Several other key findings of the report include:

●      Arrests: Although non-citizens comprise approximately 20 percent of the Harris County population, they accounted for only 10 percent of arrests.

●      Charges & Disposition: Although U.S. citizens and non-citizens are most frequently charged for similar offenses, a higher proportion of citizens get their cases dismissed.

●      Sentencing: Non-citizens are 50 percent more likely to be sentenced to jail or prison time than citizens. Non-citizens are also, on average, sentenced to 18 percent longer periods of incarceration for the same offense. 

The ILRC focused on Harris County for this report since it is one of the largest and most diverse counties in the United States—it is home to 1.2 million immigrants who comprise more than 25 percent of the county’s population. Through this report, the ILRC seeks to raise awareness about how non-citizens are unjustly treated before Harris County criminal courts and to unify advocates, directly impacted communities, and policymakers in necessary and immediate action to address these inequities.

This unjust treatment of non-citizens in the criminal system is particularly significant as Texas Governor Abbott continues to wage attacks on people of color and immigrants, and Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez awaits confirmation by the U.S. Senate to lead Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Throughout his tenure, Sheriff Gonzalez has worked closely with ICE, and signaled during his confirmation hearing that he intends to continue such harmful entanglement between local law enforcement and ICE.