Sheriff candidate wants to end detainment of undocumented immigrants at county jail

Sarah Philips

Travis County Constable Sally Hernandez, the Democratic candidate for Travis County sheriff, hopes to make a vital immigration policy shift for the county, campaigning on the promise that she will no longer detain undocumented immigrants wanted by Immigration Customs Enforcement at the county jail. 

Currently, people can be detained by Travis County law enforcement if they are wanted by ICE. Hernandez said she wants to end that policy, separating from current Republican policy and even the Obama administration’s current policy on deportation.

“It’s costing us locally,” Hernandez said. “It’s costing us to house and keep people on civil immigration notices. It’s also costing us our community values and public safety. It’s breaking up families.”

Hernandez’s policy centers around the idea that she will not hold anyone without probable cause. Critics of the policy have said these actions would release criminals back into the community instead of deporting undocumented immigrants. 

Hernandez maintains deportation is a function of what she said is a “flawed immigration system.” She mentioned a recent Austin man who had been deported five times who was assaulting prostitutes in the Austin area.

“If our broken immigration system worked, then this man that’s been deported five times would not be out there violating all these women,” Hernandez said. “It just doesn’t work. It’s insanity, it’s the definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over and hoping it works.”

Hernandez said she wants to bring both sides of the argument to the table to create a policy regarding detainments. 

“When I become sheriff, we are going to bring all the stakeholders together, including those at ICE, and we are going to develop a fair and equitable policy,”
Hernandez said.

Hernandez’s policy differs from her Republican opponent, private investigator Joe Martinez, who opposes ending ICE detainments. 

“I understand that there’s millions of people coming to this country trying to find a better life,” Martinez said at a forum last February. “But if you obey our laws, then nobody is going to bother you.”

Unlike her GOP opponent, Hernandez also argues detaining undocumented immigrants for ICE actually affects public
safety negatively. 

Hernandez talked about a man who was attacked, stuffed into the trunk of a car and pushed into a lake. Hernandez said the man didn’t tell the police because he feared the police more. Because of situations like these, Hernandez said she hopes she will be able to enact the policy without pushback from GOP leadership, such as Gov. Greg Abbott.

“I hope not, because honestly I’m doing the right thing for the right reason,” Hernandez said. “I am hopeful that they realize we do need to promote public safety. We need to get victims coming forward, it’s breaking down the cooperation that we in law enforcement desperately need.”

The University Leadership Initiative, an organization of undocumented UT students, asserts criminal charges and immigration charges should be separate.

“Under Sheriff Hamilton, Austin was known for deporting an estimated 19 people per week through the Secure Communities program,” said Sheridan 

Lagunas-Aguirre, ULI operations coordinator and radio-television-film senior. “We simply cannot allow our immigrant community to live in a city where they are in fear of a deportation pipeline. No matter how or when we immigrated, we are here to stay, and our county must be humane in its treatment of immigrants.”