Travis County on Monday was once again thrust into the spotlight of the state and national fight over so-called sanctuary cities after a Department of Homeland Security report pointed to dozens of local inmates suspected of living in the U.S. illegally who, in defiance of federal detention requests, would not be released from the county jail to immigration authorities.
The report from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement drew renewed ire from Gov. Greg Abbott, who used it as a rallying cry in an effort to pass laws that would make policies that limit cooperation with immigration authorities illegal in Texas.
“The Travis County sheriff’s decision to deny ICE detainer requests and release back into our communities criminals charged with heinous crimes — including sexual offenses against children, domestic violence and kidnapping — is dangerous and should be criminal in itself,” Abbott said. “Texas will act to put an end to sanctuary policies that put the lives of our citizens at risk,” Abbott said in the statement.
The DHS report showed that Travis County declined 142 ICE detainers to hold immigrants suspected of being in the country illegally. From the list, Travis County had by far the highest number of detention requests refused in the weeklong period from Jan. 28 to Feb. 3, making up 69 percent of the 206 refusals marked nationally.
Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez declined to comment on the report Monday.
Its release comes as a federal judge on Monday acknowledged in open court that a recent ICE sweep in Travis County was retribution for Hernandez’s recently enacted sanctuary policy.
President Donald Trump mandated the report, titled “Declined Detainer Outcome Report,” in a Jan. 25 executive order designed to crack down on illegal immigration. The report is the first of the weekly updates from ICE that will show which local government entities are not complying with immigration detention requests.
Travis County showed a high number of refused detention requests in part because the report examined operations during the first days of the sheriff’s office’s new policy limiting cooperation with ICE. All other counties listed in the DHS report showed fewer than 10 detention requests refused by other local authorities.
When the sheriff’s policy began, it undid detention requests on dozens of inmates who had been in Travis County for months and would have been released if not for ICE detainers. More than three dozen inmates were released within the first 24 hours of the policy coming into effect.
Federal authorities responded to the new policy by filing warrants for the arrest of some 40 inmates with the intent of forcing them to be released into federal custody if they were set free from the county jail.
In response to the new policy, Abbott has publicly vowed to “hammer” Travis County and any other local jurisdiction refusing ICE detainers. Already, the governor has pulled $1.5 million in state grant funding to criminal justice programs in Travis County such as for the Veterans Court and the Phoenix Court.
The DHS report also showed that Bastrop and Williamson counties had refused three and four detention requests, respectively. However, the sheriffs of those two counties told the American-Statesman that their counties were erroneously included.
Both Williamson County Sheriff Robert Chody and Bastrop County Sheriff Maurice Cook said the inmates mentioned in the report were actually Travis County inmates who were arrested in Williamson and Bastrop counties but were later transferred elsewhere.
“Williamson County has and always will honor ICE detainers,” Chody said. “That has never changed and never will.”
Cook said the three inmates in the report were transferred to Travis County, where ICE detainers were refused. Chody could not confirm that those inmates were sent to Travis County.
“We were assured from the federal sources that those records would be corrected,” Cook said.
By the numbers
142: Detention requests refused in Travis County between Jan. 28 and Feb. 3
206: Detention requests refused in the U.S. between Jan. 28 and Feb. 3
51: People arrested in recent ICE sweep
28: People arrested in recent ICE sweep deemed “non-criminals”