Austin Mayor Steve Adler said based on his meeting with the U.S. Attorney General on Tuesday, Austin’s policy protecting undocumented immigrants is not violating federal law.
Adler met Attorney General Jeff Sessions and asked him if a sheriff, alluding to Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez, is breaking any law by not allowing federal immigration agents to detain inmates without warrants. Sessions said such action does not break any law, so Austin cannot be punished by being defunded.
“(Sessions) specifically talked about the detainer issue,” Adler told The Daily Texan on Thursday. “So from that, I conclude that Austin and Travis County won’t be listed as a sanctionable sanctuary city.”
Sessions met Adler and other mayors during a conference in Washington, and told them cities that willfully cut off communication with federal law enforcement over immigration matters are subject to violating the law, specifically law 8 U.S.C. Section 1373.
Their meeting came two days before the Texas House approved a bill outlawing “sanctuary cities,” which protect undocumented immigrants from federal immigration enforcement. Once Gov. Greg Abbott signs Senate Bill 4, such cities may be defunded and their elected officials ousted.
Adler said if Hernandez is asked to resign under SB 4, then the Austin City Council may consider legal action. Adler said he will also follow up with Sessions and the acting immigration and customs enforcement director, Thomas Homan, on the bill’s legality.
Adler met with Homan on Monday, and said based on their conversation, legislation like SB 4 gives the state power to enforce immigration law, which only the federal government can do.
The city of Austin and Travis County were among 36 cities and counties that challenged President Donald Trump’s executive order targeting sanctuary cities. On Tuesday, federal judge William H. Orrick sided with the plaintiffs and blocked Trump’s administration from defunding sanctuary cities.
“This is the Trump era,” Sessions said in a statement released Wednesday. “This will be the Administration that fully enforces our nation’s immigration laws.”
Hernandez enacted a jail policy Feb. 1 that no longer allows ICE agents to detain inmates suspected of being undocumented without approval from a judge. That day, Gov. Greg Abbott withheld $1.5 million in criminal justice grants, saying law enforcement officials are obligated to comply with federal law.
The Daily Texan reported that the Travis County Sheriff’s Office declined 35 ICE detainer requests the entire month of February.
Government lecturer Alan Sager said officials like Hernandez must pay the consequences for resisting federal immigration law.
“The officials have to be responsible for the consequences of their acts. If they’re willing to say this is more important to not enforce (the laws) than it is to get their money, great, stand up and say that,” Sager said. “Just say, ‘I’m not going to enforce the law, there are going to be consequences for my county.’”
Adler said he agrees with Sessions and Homan’s crackdown on dangerous people, but said they should not do so at the expense of undocumented immigrants who are not dangerous. According to KVUE and the Austin American-Statesman, 28 out of 51 people arrested by ICE during a recent sweep were not previously convicted of crimes.
“To the degree that we, as a society, start going after people who are not even suspected of any criminal offense … then what we are doing is not constructive to public safety,” Adler said.