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National Immigration Law Center

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.

Hanen stays his sanctions


The Texas-based judge that last year put a hold on President Obama’s executive order on immigration decided on Tuesday to also suspend a controversial punishment he had recently issued to the administration’s attorneys.

U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen asserted in May that the federal government’s attorneys intentionally misled his court during last year’s proceedings over the Obama administration’s order on immigration, known as Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents.

As punishment, Hanen ordered the government’s attorneys to attend ethics classes in the 26 states that filed suit while directing the Department of Justice to turn over the names and confidential information of about 50,000 undocumented immigrants he said benefited from the administration’s plan prematurely.

On Tuesday, however, Hanen put his own order on hold and instead scheduled a status conference on the issue for August. The decision came after critics blasted Hanen’s order as a potential breach of privacy for the tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants.

“Judge Hanen was very thoughtful in the way he approached the idea that the 50,000 [deferred action] recipients are really innocent bystanders in this,” said Nina Perales, the vice president of litigation at the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, or MALDEF.


MALDEF has also asked the 5th Circuit to stop the order outright, a request the group said it would continue to pursue.

See here, here, and here for the background. A copy of yesterday’s order is here. I’m glad to see this, but I’ll be rooting for MALDEF to prevail in squashing it for good at the Fifth Circuit. The August status conference will come as we await a decision from SCOTUS as to whether the plaintiffs have standing to sue in the first place. If they don’t, this is all over pending any further sanctions from Judge Hanen. If they do, then we’re just getting started. Needless to say, I’m rooting for the former. A statement from the ACLU of Texas, which had joined with MALDEF and the National Immigration Law Center (NILC) in petitioning the Fifth Circuit to stay Judge Hanen’s sanction order, is beneath the fold.


Groups ask Fifth Circuit to block Judge Hanen order


A coalition of civil and immigrant rights groups on Friday asked an appeals court to stop a federal judge’s order that requires the Obama administration to turn over the confidential information of thousands of undocumented immigrants.

The filing in the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals by the National Immigration Law Center, the American Civil Liberties Union Immigrants’ Rights Project and the ACLU of Texas is on behalf of four undocumented immigrants, including two Texans. The immigrants say they are nothing more than pawns in a political game whose privacy will be breached if the order stands.

The petition is in response to a mandate issued May 19 by U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen of Brownsville. Hanen concluded that the Obama administration intentionally misled his court during the trial over the president’s controversial 2014 executive action on immigration, known as Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents, or DAPA. An expanded version of a 2012 action, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, was also included in the suit, although the original 2012 action was not.

Hanen said the administration’s attorneys knowingly misrepresented facts about when applications for the program were accepted and how many undocumented immigrants benefited prematurely from the program by receiving three-year work permits under the preceding 2012 program. In response, Hanen ordered the department to turn over the names, addresses and immigration information of about 50,000 immigrants. Hanen ordered that the information be turned over next week. He also ordered the government’s attorneys who want to practice in the 26 states that filed suit to take ethics classes.

“With these outrageous demands, Judge Hanen has unfairly and unnecessarily dragged a group of blameless individuals into this politically driven lawsuit, potentially compromising their privacy and safety with no legal justification,” Karen Tumlin, the National Immigration Law Center’s legal director, told reporters during a conference call.


The attorneys for the undocumented immigrants said they filed their own request directly to the Fifth Circuit because they are not parties in the original suit and because there is a time factor to consider.

“There’s just not enough time to really get relief in any other way except through a petition like this one,” said Omar Jadwat, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project.

See here and here for the background. A copy of the writ of mandamus is here, and a copy of the emergency motion for a stay is here. I don’t know what the legalities are for this, but I believe the plaintiffs are right on the merits and I am rooting for them to succeed. A statement from the ACLU on behalf of the petitioners is beneath the fold.