A federal judge revealed Monday that federal agents told him last month’s immigration enforcement raids in Austin were in response to a policy protecting undocumented immigrants.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Andrew Austin said Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents notified him and another judge about a specific operation during a meeting in late January. The mid-Feburary raids occurred after the Travis County Sheriff’s Office stopped allowing ICE agents to detain inmates without warrants space on Feb. 1.
“We had a briefing … that we could expect a big operation, and at least it was related to us in that meeting that it was the result of the sheriff’s new policy, that this was going to happen,” Austin said in open court.
Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez said she would not accept agents’ requests to detain inmates suspected of being undocumented without a warrant from a judge. Hernandez said in a video released in February that her policy is to maintain trust between local law enforcement and the immigrant community.
Austin said he was told a meeting between the ICE field director and Hernandez was contentious. Austin said the friction between the two is why ICE told him and the other judge about the raids ahead of time.
Austin questioned ICE agent Laron Byrant during the hearing and asked him if there will be future targeted raids on the city of Austin.
“As far as I know, this incident was an isolated incident,” Byrant said. “This wasn’t the norm, this is not something that’s going to become pattern or practice.”
Bryant also said he was not aware of any meeting between Hernandez and the field director. ICE issued a statement on Monday in response to Austin’s announcement.
“For operational security reasons, ICE does not discuss future operations,” ICE wrote. “However, ICE conducts daily operations nationwide targeting and arresting criminal aliens and other individuals who are in violation of our nation’s immigration laws.”
According to the Statesman, the Austin raids resulted in 51 arrests. Twenty-eight of those arrested had not committed previous crimes but were suspected of being undocumented. ICE officials released a statement in February saying the arrests are routine.
Sarah Eckhardt, Travis County District Attorney, met with ICE regional field office director Dan Bible in February, who told her ICE was not targeting Austin, according to the Statesman.
According to the Statesman, Hernandez declined to comment because she was not involved with the judges or ICE agents. The Daily Texan reported on Mar. 10 that 35 detainer requests to detain inmates after being released from Travis County jail were declined.
Bob Libal, director of immigrants rights advocacy group Grassroots Leadership, said ICE cannot be trusted given Monday’s announcement.
“It’s completely outrageous and appalling that ICE is choosing to terrorize the immigrant community in retaliation for a perfectly legal policy,” Libal said. “They are lying to local officials and to the press about what their activities are.”
State Rep. Dawn Buckingham, R-Lakeway, told KXAN in an artice dated Feb. 13 that the raids in Feburary are to protect the community.
“We want the criminals off of our streets,” Buckingham said. “We’ve seen a revolving door and so, this is truly about the safety of our community.”