On Monday, Gov. Greg Abbott denounced Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez’s promise to not detain undocumented immigrants for deportations by federal agents without warrants, according to the Austin American-Statesman.
Abbott’s letter was in response to a video that was released last Friday in which Hernandez said she will not comply with Immigration Customs and Enforcement agents without warrants seeking to deport undocumented immigrants booked in local jails come Feb. 1.
“It is my policy to focus on local, public priorities and to leave it to federal immigration officials to focus on federal immigration enforcement,”
When Hernandez campaigned for sheriff in November, she promised her office would not hold onto undocumented immigrants until ICE agents can detain them. Abbott said in his letter it is Hernandez’s duty to comply with ICE agents to protect public safety.
“ICE has an opportunity to collect and remove criminal aliens already in custody before they have the opportunity to commit additional crimes against the citizens we are sworn to protect,” Abbott said in his letter.
Abbott said Travis County received $1.8 million in grant money last year from the Criminal Justice Division, one of Abbott’s offices which provides funds for public safety initiatives. Travis County would lose the grant money unless Hernandez reverses her position, Abbott said.
“Unless you reverse your policy prior to its effective date, your unilateral decision will cost the people of Travis County money that was meant to be used to protect them,” Abbott said in his letter.
In the video, Hernandez said she will only abide by ICE agents who are given a warrant from a judge because detainer requests only ask rather than force local law enforcement to turn them over. Hernandez said it is unconstitutional to hand over undocumented inmates before a trial or after their sentence is over, even with high-profile crimes.
“Everyone arrested in Travis County will be treated the same as under the law,” Hernandez said.
Executive director Bob Libal of Grassroots Leadership, an advocacy organization championing immigration rights, said he has been waiting for such an official announcement for a policy by Hernandez.
“This is a tremendous victory for immigrant community members who have been pushing for years to put an end to the county’s voluntary compliance with immigration detainers of the jail,” Libal said.
According to the Texas Tribune, former Travis County Sheriff Greg Hamilton criticized Hernandez’s campaign promise and often complied with ICE agents.
Government freshman Vanessa Rodriguez, who is a member of University Leadership Initiative, an organization made up of mostly undocumented students advocating for immigrants rights, said Hernandez’s policy does not completely protect undocumented immigrants.
“She’s not saying that we’re in a safeguard,” Rodriguez said. “She does say that certain crimes committed by certain undocumented people will lead into a connection between ICE (and deputies), and so it just protects the most vulnerable people who sometimes get stopped and don’t commit anything really big.”
Rodriguez said UT students often fear their parents being deported after being stopped for low-profile crimes, and the policy gives students reassurance.
“To know that we don’t have to worry about getting a call from our parents because something happened to them while they were driving back home is something that we find comforting,” Rodriguez said.