Abbott condemns Travis County sheriff who does not comply with immigration federal agents

Lisa Dreher

Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez said Thursday she will not reverse her policy to refuse to comply with federal immigration agents, despite Gov. Greg Abbott’s threat to remove her from office.

“I will not allow fear and misinformation to be my guiding principles as a leader sworn to protect this community,” Hernandez said in a statement from the Travis County Sheriff’s Office. “Our community is safer when people can report crimes without fear of deportation.”

On Wednesday, Abbott told Fox News he will work with state lawmakers on a law to remove state officials who do not comply with federal immigration enforcement. 

Abbott said under such a law, sheriffs would face civil and criminal charges if they do not accept Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents’ detainer requests to investigate and deport undocumented immigrants in local jails. Hernandez said she will accept the requests if they are for individuals who have committed sexual assault, murder or human trafficking, according to the Austin American-Statesman.

Abbott said Travis County will not receive up to $1.8 million in-state grant funds if Hernandez’s policy goes into effect. 

“We are in a legislative session — we are working on laws that will, one, ban sanctuary cities, remove from office any office holder who promotes sanctuary cities and impose criminal penalties as well as financial penalties,” Abbott told Fox News.

Abbott’s statement coincides with a state and federal crackdown on undocumented immigration. On Wednesday, President Donald Trump made an executive order to defund “sanctuary cities.” Austin currently receives $43 million in federal grants, according to the Austin Monitor. 

In Novemeber, State Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, filed a bill backed by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick to ban “sanctuary cities.” Perry filed a bill in 2015 requiring county jails to comply with ICE agents, but it did not pass, according to the Texas Tribune.

Several state officials and activists weighed in on Abbott’s proposals over the past few days. U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas, said in a statement on Wednesday he supports Hernandez’s fight to keep out ICE agents and that Abbott’s actions are unconstitutional.

“Neither Gov. Abbott nor the Legislature have any authority to remove a duly elected sheriff, whose office is established by the Texas Constitution,” Doggett said in the statement.

Earlier that day, four Democratic state representatives of Austin — Eddie Rodriguez, Donna Howard, Gina Hinojosa and Celia Israel — said in a joint statement they condemn Abbott’s proposed policy.

“While we support your commitment to protecting the people of our state, we strongly disagree with your strategy,” the statement said. “Threatening Sheriff Hernandez with removal from office and withholding much-needed funding … is a vast overreach of executive authority.”

Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt said Hernandez is respecting undocumented immigrants’ rights by not letting federal agents detain them without warrants in a statement Tuesday.

“Jailers and immigration agents do not determine probable cause to detain a person,” Eckhardt said. “Only a judge can make that determination. It’s called a warrant.”

Austin Mayor Steve Adler and several City Council members said they vow to protect undocumented immigrants but are hesitant to define Austin as a
“sanctuary city.”