Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

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October 4, 2022

Sanctuary city policy legally benefits Austin

Zoe Fu

Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez is following through on her campaign promise to no longer blindly honor all voluntary detainer requests issued by Immigrations and Customs Enforcement for individuals held in the county jail. Gov. Greg Abbott was not pleased, going so far as to say he would pass legislation allowing him to “remove her from office.” 

The only problem with Abbott’s plan is that it would require grounds for removal, so it must be embarrassing for him that, from a legal standpoint, those do not exist. 

It’s been stoutly determined that ICE detainer requests are indeed optional — a Freedom of Information Act request from the ACLU shows that ICE considers its detainers to be voluntary.

In 2011, Edward Dolan, the deputy chief of staff to the deputy director of ICE, wrote in an email, “It is a request. There is no penalty if they don’t comply.” Hernandez’s decision not to comply in all cases is well within her rights as a local sheriff. 

Although Hernandez said these detainers will no longer be automatically complied with, her department will still be in compliance with federal law that prohibits restriction of communication or information exchange between local and federal law enforcement.

“Immigration officials have access to information anytime someone is booked into our jail … Nothing we are doing will interfere with their investigation,” said Hernandez. 

Cutting back on detainer requests is also about avoiding liability. It’s expensive to carry out an ICE detainer. Voluntary detainers take up beds and services that the county must pay for and that ICE does not reimburse. Furthermore, when ICE makes a mistake, it can cost local government “hundreds of thousands of dollars,” Hernandez said. 

“Many state and local jurisdictions have decided to not honor (ICE detainers) out of fiduciary responsibility to their taxpayers,” explained Elissa Steglich, clinical law professor with the UT Immigration Clinic. 

In addition to compliance, Hernandez is trying to protect the constitutional rights of every person. Steglich stressed that these detainers may or may not be constitutional under the Fourth Amendment, because they do not meet the probable cause standard that would be necessary for a warrant. 

This lays the groundwork for effective community policing. A 2012 study found that, under Obama’s aggressive deportation policies, “a risk of such harsh enforcement is that immigrants will become alienated from the law, thereby undermining their willingness to cooperate with the law and even comply with the law.” 

It hurts a community more when members or victims are too afraid to report information to the police because they are afraid of being deported. Unauthorized immigrants are less likely than our native-born population to commit crimes, but bad things happen and people who are not afraid to call 911 when they are in danger, are inherently safer. 

A recent study on sanctuary cities by associate professor Tom K. Wong from the University of California San Diego found that communities are safer and community members are more engaged in the local economy when law enforcement focuses on issues directly in their jurisdiction. 

The same data found that sanctuary cities are more economically successful. The report noted that “consistent with higher median household income, the data also show that poverty is statistically significantly lower in sanctuary counties compared to non-sanctuary counties, and this generally holds true across the entire range of urban-rural classifications.”

While it’s too early to show causation, the economic strength of these communities may very well come from the fact that their
employment-to-population ratios are also significantly higher than non-sanctuary cities. 

On Jan. 20, now known as the National Day of Patriotic Devotion thanks to President Trump, Travis County announced that it would become a sanctuary county. With 62 percent of Americans supporting the establishment of policies to allow unauthorized immigrants currently here to stay legally, what could be more patriotic than working to maintain our community’s rights and safety?

MacLean is an advertising and geography sophomore from Austin. She is a senior columnist. Follow her on Twitter @maclean_josie.

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Sanctuary city policy legally benefits Austin