Widow of Houston Officer Says Immigration Policies Left by ICE Official Endanger Force

The widow of a Houston police officer killed by an illegal immigrant said Sunday that the policies left in place in her city by a top immigration official in the Obama administration continue to put officers in danger.

That official, former Houston Police Chief Harold Hurtt, is taking a job to oversee partnerships between federal and local officials with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. However, during his tenure in Houston he resisted enforcing immigration law and criticized ICE's key program that draws on local law enforcement's support. Hurtt is now facing a lawsuit over those policies filed by Joslyn Johnson, whose husband, Rodney, was killed in 2006 by a once-deported illegal immigrant who had been arrested three times.

Joslyn Johnson, herself a sergeant in the Houston force, told Fox News that the policies that kept local officers from checking the immigration status of suspects remain in place and pose a risk to her and her colleagues.

"It has remained the same. It has not changed," Johnson said.

Johnson is suing to seek a change in policy so that federal immigration databases are widely available to local departments. Johnson's original court petition -- naming Hurtt as well as the city and the police department -- claimed that the department's failure to discover the gunman's immigration status and report him to federal authorities enabled him to stay "at large" in the country.

She and her attorney link the way immigration law was handled in Houston directly to Rodney Johnson's death.

"We're suing the chief of police because he refused to implement a policy that allowed Sgt. Johnson to communicate with ICE when a police officer detained a suspect on the streets," attorney Ben Dominguez said.

Dominguez earlier told FoxNews.com his client was "shocked" that Hurtt had been tapped to coordinate programs he had criticized in Houston.

However, Johnson said Sunday that she thinks he can make positive changes.

"I think he's competent. I don't think President Obama would have chosen him had he not been competent," she said. "I don't know why he didn't change the policy (in Houston). I don't know if it was because of the prior mayoral administration that may have played a part."

Hurtt did not institute the city's immigration policy but mostly maintained it.

Years after the Johnson killing, Hurtt announced he would participate in the federal 287(g) program, which gives local police authority to initiate deportation proceedings against illegal immigrants linked to serious crimes. But then the city backed off the program and linked up with ICE on a separate one that has local officials run immigration checks on suspects once they are in jail.

Kelly Nantel, a spokeswoman for ICE, told FoxNews.com that Hurtt has always been a proponent of the jail model of the 287(g) program, but as a police chief, he didn't favor more proactive local enforcement because he didn't believe it was the best utilization of his resources.

"I think the critics are only talking about half of what he said," she said. "He's always been a strong proponent of every law enforcement agency making those decisions on their own."

Aside from the Houston case, Hurtt's policies have been blamed for enabling illegal immigrants to kill two police officers and seriously injure another in Phoenix before he left in 2005.

But Nantel dismissed such allegations.

"The responsibility of those homicides lies on the shoulder of the individuals who committed the crimes," Nantel said.