Abbott versus Travis County

This could get ugly.

Sheriff Sally Hernandez

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is formally demanding that Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez reverse her new policy on cooperation with federal immigration authorities or lose state dollars, further escalating a showdown over “sanctuary cities” that have been in the crosshairs of Republican officials.

“This is not a pronouncement of sound public policy; it is a dangerous game of political Russian roulette — with the lives of Texans at stake,” Abbott wrote to Hernandez — whose jurisdiction includes Austin — in a letter dated Monday.

The newly elected sheriff, who campaigned on the issue, announced Friday that her department would reduce its cooperation with federal immigration authorities when they request an inmate be flagged for possible deportation. Her office said it would continue to hold people charged with very serious crimes, such as capital murder.

But that was not enough for Abbott, whose letter calls the policy, which is set to go into effect Feb. 1, “shortsighted” and backed by “frivolous” justifications. He quickly reacted Friday on Twitter, saying that his office “will cut funding for Travis County adopting sanctuary. Stiffer penalties coming.”

Abbott’s threat targets Criminal Justice Division grant money that is administered by his office. Travis County got almost $1.8 million from the division over the past year “based upon the commitment that federal immigration law would be enforced,” according to the letter.

“Your policy is in violation of that commitment,” Abbott told Hernandez. “Unless you reverse your policy prior to its effective date, your unilateral decision will cost the people of Travis County money that was meant to be used to protect them.”

In the letter, Abbott also made clear that he intends to make an example out of Hernandez during the 85th Legislative Session that started earlier this month. Abbott is set to lay out his priorities in his State of the State address, which is scheduled for Jan. 31.

Let’s pause for a moment to marvel at the glory of Greg Abbott – Greg Abbott! – demanding that federal law be obeyed and enforced. It’s almost as if all of his previous blathering about “states rights” and “federal overreach” was based not on principle but crass partisan politics. I know, I’m as shocked as you are.

While basically everyone agrees that violent criminals who are undocumented should be deported, they represent a tiny fraction of the people who have been expelled from the country. The vast overwhelming majority are just ordinary people, including a lot of children who get swept up with their parents; many others get left behind without one or both parents. The Chron goes into some of the issues.

Though Travis County could be the first jurisdiction in Texas to lose funding over its immigration detainer policy, it’s not the first time Abbott has threatened to cut money over the issue. After Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez made minor changes to her county’s policy last year, he also promised to slash funding. It ultimately stayed in place because the county never declined an immigration detainer.

Harris County Sheriff-elect Ed Gonzalez has said that he is also concerned about holding inmates without pending charges for immigration enforcement, but will continue working with the federal government while he studies the issue.

Political fighting over so-called sanctuary cities has waged for years.

Though it is strictly the federal government who enforces immigration law, Washington and local entities began cooperating on the issue in 2008. The program matches the fingerprints of every person booked into jail against a sweeping law enforcement database, including immigration information from the Department of Homeland Security.

After they determined someone was here illegally, federal officials could request that local authorities detain those immigrants even if they were otherwise eligible for release, say by posting bond or having their criminal charges dropped.

Roughly one-sixth of the record 2.5 million immigrants President Barack Obama deported between 2008 and 2015 were removed through this program, many of them after being booked into jail on misdemeanor crimes.

Critics said it encouraged racial profiling and deported immigrants accused of minor crimes such as traffic offenses rather than focusing the government’s limited resources on violent immigrants. Several federal courts, none in Texas, also found that it could violate the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure.

Five states and more than 500 counties have scaled back on cooperating with the federal government on the issue, according to a tally by the National Immigration Law Center, an advocacy group in Los Angeles.

Though the Obama administration overhauled the program in 2015 to try to address constitutional concerns, they remain. Last summer, the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office was sued for holding a man for more than two months after officials dismissed the misdemeanor assault charge that had him flagged by immigration officials to begin with.

Lena Graber, an attorney for the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, a national immigrant advocacy group in San Francisco, said federal detainer requests are civil orders, not arrest warrants meeting Fourth Amendment requirements.

You know all those arguments we’ve been having about why bail reform is needed to ensure our county jail isn’t stuffed full of people who aren’t a threat to anyone and who in many cases have never been (and never will be) convicted of a crime? The same is true for immigrant detention centers, and the stakes are a lot higher. That doesn’t even get into the whole sordid private prison industry, which has been the driving force behind the construction of many of those detention centers. Requiring local police to enforce federal immigration law is a huge drain on their resources, and has been devastating to a lot of people who have done nothing harmful. And as Sheriff Hernandez fights this battle in Travis County, Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez made his own promises about 287(g), which he says he is still working on. People are going to expect an answer soon. Campos and Stace have more.

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13 Responses to Abbott versus Travis County

  1. Bill Daniels says:

    So Sally is going to take it upon herself to decide which crimes it’s OK to subject the residents of Travis County to, and which ones it is not OK to subject them to. She’s willing to turn over murderers to get them out of the country. Great. Not so great is all the people who get hit by drunk illegal alien drivers, who get their houses robbed by illegals, who get their cars stolen by illegals, etc.

    I hope Sally gets sued personally the next time someone who should have been deported that was previously in her custody goes out and commits another crime. If I lived in Travis County, and had my car stolen by an illegal alien she let go, I’d say she was part of the conspiracy to steal my car. A reasonable and prudent person wouldn’t unleash mayhem back on the community when there is an easy way to NOT unleash mayhem.

    Isn’t that how our civil justice system works? You get robbed at a grocery store, you sue the store, not the person who robbed you, because the store has deep pockets? How deep are Sally’s pockets?

  2. voter_worker says:

    I’m confident that President Trump will put our money where his mouth is and do the Federal hires (currently suspended) needed to get the job done without having to coerce local authorities into doing the Feds’ job for them.

  3. Ross says:

    @Bill, Sally has immunity from such suits. Keep in mind that the requests from the Feds are civil in nature, and that we shouldn’t be keeping people charged with petty misdemeanors in jail for long periods of time(or at all) for civil issues. If the Feds really want someone, they need to come pick them up immediately, not weeks or months later.

  4. Bill Daniels says:

    The Donald just minutes ago, ordered the end of catch and release. And yes, Voter, he did just say he was going to beef up ICE and the Border Patrol. That doesn’t mean that he does not need the assistance of other law enforcement agencies to put a stop to catch and release. If Travis County catches an illegal, then the duty of ICE seems clear… come get that illegal in a timely manner, to be processed for deportation. I agree that someone here unlawfully should be detained any more than they have to be to get them removed. However, the good people over at ICE aren’t mind readers. Someone needs to let them know that an illegal needs to be picked up.

    What does this say when the policy on the border is catch and return, but if someone makes it to Austin, as long as they don’t kill anyone and stick to car theft, robbery, shoplifting, drunk driving, etc., they get a free pass?

  5. Joel says:

    the sheriff’s position is consistent with the constitution. it is not only *not* the job of county law enforcement to enforce federal law, it is actually *unconsititutional* for the federal government to ask her to do so.

    sorry to puncture your indignation, bd.

    as for what role the governor is supposed to have in forcing a county official to enforce federal law at the expense of enforcing state law, you can probably guess.

  6. Pingback: Abbott goes authoritarian – Off the Kuff

  7. brad m says:

    “Send in the Feds!!!” – Donnie J Trump

    Problem solved.

  8. Bill Daniels says:


    I’m assuming he meant federal law enforcement, since it would be illegal for him to send in troops. Although, considering the astounding level of violence in Chicago, I’d say the Illinois governor is remiss in not sending in the National Guard, and Rahm is remiss in not asking for the Guard. It’s like an ongoing Katrina, without the preceding natural disaster to break down order first.

    Trump ran on making America safe, and sending in federal law enforcement to Chicago is at least trying to do something about the problem, vs. just tossing his hands up and asking what kind of magic wand does the other guy have. Trump is a pragmatist. Chicago has a problem that Rahm and the governor can’t seem to solve, so that puts it on The Donald to solve the problem…you know, keeping those campaign promises and all.

  9. Ross says:

    So, how do the pro anti-sanctuary supporters think that it’s reasonable to detain someone in a county jail without a warrant signed by a judge or other probable cause? The Travis County Sheriff has already said she would detain anyone who has an outstanding warrant.

  10. Bill Daniels says:


    How do I draw up a warrant, the paperwork for an immigration hold, if I don’t know the particulars about who it is Sheriff Sally has caught? This is where that “we’re all on the same team to make America safe” thingy comes in to play. The information that an illegal has been caught for another crime committed in the US should be sent to ICE as soon as possible so that immigration hold paperwork can be started. San Francisco and other sanctuary cities have vowed to refuse to notify ICE that they have an illegal.

  11. Pingback: Sheriff Hernandez not backing down – Off the Kuff

  12. Ross says:

    @Bill, the way the system works now is that counties send the data to the Feds who then request a civil hold without a warrant. The Feds need to get busy getting warrants ready if they want someone held past the time they make bail for whatever petty misdemeanor they were arrested for. And, after that, the Feds usually let the alien go, because you can’t just deport so me one immediately, theres a process for doing that with judges, etc. The only immediate deportations are of the folks caught crossing the border.

  13. Bill Daniels says:


    Hopefully, when Trump said he was ending “catch and release,” he meant he was ending catch and release everywhere, not just the border. Based on Trump’s other actions (other than not releasing his tax returns, LOL), I’d say Trump aims to do just that, which means ICE gets much busier “detaining and deporting.”

    Who knows, maybe Romney’s vision of illegals self deporting will come to fruition, as our illegal communities see that they are just one driving with no license arrest away from being jailed for a while, then deported, or just one employer raid away from being jailed while awaiting deportation.

    I’d love to see some sort of reporting of illegal aliens to ICE by hospitals, too. Hospitals are already required to notify the police if they get a gunshot victim, why not report people who are illegal as well? We can get those sick illegals temporary treatment, then expedite their return to wherever they came from, so their own country’s taxpayers can pick up the tab for them.

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