Austin Officials Are Willing to Risk $43 Million In Federal Grants to Keep Sanctuary Status

Tags: , , ,

“Elected officials do not get to pick and choose which laws they will obey…”

A Department of Homeland Security report detailed 206 federal immigration detainers that local entities denied from January 28th to February 3, 2017.  Travis County’s newly elected Sheriff, Sally Hernandez, declined 142 requests to hold unauthorized immigrants.

On her election website, she stated, “I will end the voluntary cooperation with ICE and the Priority Enforcement Program (PEP-Comm), the successor program to Secure Communities (S-Comm).”

Austin, the capital of Texas, is in Travis County.  Sheriff Sally Hernandez announced her department would join hundreds of counties around the country in reducing its cooperation with federal immigration officials.  Unless presented with a warrant or court order, the sheriff’s department would no longer comply with US Immigration and Customs Enforcement requests to hold inmates suspected of being undocumented. Nor would they notify the agency ahead of their release.

Hernandez’s decision, which went into effect February 1, makes Travis County the first designated sanctuary county in Texas.  Her actions have prompted considerable backlash from Texas Republicans.

Governor Greg Abbott has demanded that Hernandez reverse course or risk millions of dollars in state funding.  When she refused to reverse course, Governor Abbott followed through on his threat and cut off state funding for Travis County.

On Wednesday, Abbott’s office said it had voided criminal justice grants it usually administers to the County.  The move appears to target about $1.5 million in grants Travis County was due to receive this year from the criminal justice division of the governor’s office.  The division doled out $1.8 million to the county last year and had already paid out roughly $300,000 in 2017.

Hernandez, who promised during her campaign to cut cooperation with ICE, has so far refused to stand down. She says she would not let “fear and misinformation” dictate her actions.

In an interview on Fox & Friends, Abbott called Hernandez’s actions “outrageous” and vowed to ban sanctuary cities in Texas.  He promised to cut off state grants to cities, pursue legislation that would remove officials that promote the practice, and impose criminal and financial penalties.  The Texas Tribune reported that Abbott’s office had requested a list of federal and state funding to Travis County from the state’s budget office.

A Texas bill that withholds state dollars for sanctuary cities was cleared by the Texas Senate on Wednesday.  Under Senate Bill 4, law enforcement in cities, counties, and college campuses would have to hold an arrested person in custody while US Customs and Immigration Enforcement looks into his or her immigration status.  If the entities fail to do so, they could be denied state grant money.

“Elected officials do not get to pick and choose which laws they will obey,” Governor Greg Abbott said in a prepared statement after the vote, “Today’s action in the Senate helps ensure that Sheriffs and officials across Texas comply with federal immigration laws and honor Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainer requests that keep dangerous criminals off of our streets.”

The measure comes just days after President Donald Trump signed an executive order that strips sanctuary states and cities of federal funding if they “attempt to shield aliens from deportation.”  In Austin’s case, that would amount to $43 million in federal grants.

I met Sally Hernandez when I was running for Sheriff in Texas during the last election cycle.  She impressed me as a competent and caring individual and possessed a good law enforcement background.  During our meetings, I agreed with many of the initiatives she discussed. Except this one.  Her stance on immigration made no sense to me at all.  As a life-long law enforcement officer, I could not wrap my head around refusing to comply with Federal statutes and laws.

In my opinion, Governor Greg Abbott has it right.  Follow the law, which means all of the laws.  As law enforcement and certainly as law enforcement administrators, you don’t get to pick and choose which laws you follow.  Not following the law as written puts the entire system of criminal justice at risk.

Jon Harris is an OpsLens contributor and former Army NCO, civilian law enforcement officer, and defense contractor with over 30 years in the law enforcement community. He holds a B.S. in Government and Politics and an M.S. in Criminal Justice.

To contact or book OpsLens contributors on your program or utilize our staff for your story, contact [email protected]