You have reached your limit of free articles this month.

Enjoy unlimited access to myStatesman.com

Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks.

GREAT REASONS TO SUBSCRIBE TODAY!

  • IN-DEPTH REPORTING
  • INTERACTIVE STORYTELLING
  • NEW TOPICS & COVERAGE
  • ePAPER
X

You have read of premium articles.

Get unlimited access to all of our breaking news, in-depth coverage and bonus content- exclusively for subscribers. Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks

X

Welcome to myStatesman.com

This subscriber-only site gives you exclusive access to breaking news, in-depth coverage, exclusive interactives and bonus content.

You can read free articles of your choice a month that are only available on myStatesman.com.

Is ICE targeting Austin? Local leaders ask agency that question


Highlights

Mid-February ICE operation in Austin sparked fear that the city was being targeted for its immigration stance.

ICE officials said they don’t target Austin in meetings with Travis commissioners, DA, City Council member.

Two weeks after federal immigration agents conducted a major operation in the area, local leaders have started a series of closed-door meetings with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency regional officials, who insist they aren’t specifically targeting Austin.

Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt met with ICE regional field office director Dan Bible in Austin on Friday, as did County Commissioner Gerald Daugherty and Austin City Council Member Ellen Troxclair in a separate sit-down.

They said they invited Bible and his staff to explain the types of operations the agency conducts, who is generally targeted, and the issue of so-called “collateral arrests” — people who weren’t initially targeted by immigration agents but who might have been with suspects at the time of their arrest.

EXCLUSIVE: Austin No. 1 in U.S. — for noncriminals arrested in ICE raids

The officials also discussed a new controversial jail policy under which Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez has dramatically limited her cooperation with the agency and questioned whether her position might have fueled the agency’s focus on the area.

“He denied that there is a target on Travis County’s back,” Eckhardt told the American-Statesman and KVUE-TV.

Daugherty said, “I was interested to know, ‘Are you out doing these crazy roundups trying to snare people?’ … I was told that is absolutely not what they do. They are very strategic about what they do, and they aren’t into randomly going out and picking people up.”

ICE officials, however, provided no data to officials about how the number of arrests in Austin or Travis County this year compared with previous years or the identities of 51 people recently arrested in the Austin area as part of a sting called Operation Cross Check.

Eckhardt said she asked the agency to compile the number of collateral arrests in the past couple of years in Austin “to see if there had been a significant change.” However, she added that Bible told her he could only produce that data for his region — which extends from the border to near Waco — but that it wouldn’t be Austin-specific.

“It’s going to be very hard to extract information from that large of a sample,” she said.

The Statesman is seeking that and other information through a request under the federal Freedom of Information Act.

IN-DEPTH: Wave of deportations predicted as Trump changes immigration orders

Yet the meetings with local officials provide a measure of new details from an agency that almost entirely shields information about its operations from the public.

“It was an honest conversation,” Daugherty said. “I didn’t find them to be dodging me in any way. I thought they were straight-shooting me.”

District Attorney Margaret Moore and her staff also were meeting with Bible on Tuesday. Moore said she wants to better understand how her office can prosecute suspected felons on pending charges before they are possibly deported or taken to a federal holding facility.

ICE has been a local focus for weeks, beginning when Hernandez announced her new policy in January. She had said that she will only hold inmates for federal agents if they have been charged with murder, capital murder, aggravated sexual assault or continuous human smuggling.

The policy prompted Gov. Greg Abbott to strip $1.5 million in state grants from the county. State lawmakers are also considering legislation that would ban so-called sanctuary cities and require Texas sheriffs to fully comply with ICE or risk civil penalties and criminal charges.

Two weeks ago, the ICE operation in the Austin area also sparked fear that the city was being targeted for what many describe as its liberal immigration stance.

The Statesman reported last week that of the 51 people arrested, 28 were described by ICE as “non-criminal,” meaning they didn’t have a criminal history. The percentage was significantly higher than in other areas where officials were conducting similar operations, including Atlanta, Chicago, New York and Los Angeles.

Daugherty said he also asked Bible specifically about Hernandez’s new policy, which Daugherty opposes.

“Their answer was, ‘We think we are entitled to detainers regardless of why they are in the jail,’” he said.

Asked Tuesday about the meetings, an agency spokeswoman said, “ICE officers routinely meet with local and state law enforcement officials as we further our partnerships with the San Antonio field office.”



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Local

Austin kidnap suspect foiled by Facebook, caught at Iron Maiden show
Austin kidnap suspect foiled by Facebook, caught at Iron Maiden show

If you’re going to listen to Iron Maiden’s advice and “Run to the Hills” to avoid police, just don’t post it on Facebook. An Austin man who was wanted by police on a kidnapping charge got caught by the Bexar County sheriff’s office Saturday at an Iron Maiden concert in San Antonio after a friend of his posted images...
Attorney asks for change of venue in Crispin Harmel murder retrial

WILLIAMSON COUNTY Change of venue asked in murder retrial An attorney for a man accused of killing a woman in Cedar Park has asked for a change of venue for his second trial after the first ended in a mistrial. Crispin Harmel’s attorney, Kristen Jernigan, asked Wednesday for the new trial to be moved out of Williamson County because of the publicity...
Pastor arrested in SB 4 protest says he couldn’t stand on the sidelines
Pastor arrested in SB 4 protest says he couldn’t stand on the sidelines

Sharing a wooden bench at the Blackwell-Thurman Criminal Justice Center with criminal defendants in ball caps, shorts and ankle monitors was another defendant in a clerical collar. The Rev. Jim Rigby, pastor of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church of Austin, normally spends Monday mornings in planning meetings at the church, where he has worked for...
Monk parakeet nest sparks North Austin pole fire, cuts power to 3,200
Monk parakeet nest sparks North Austin pole fire, cuts power to 3,200

More than 3,000 Austin Energy customers were left in the dark Monday morning after a monk parakeet nest sitting on top of a utility pole sparked a fire in North Austin. Austin Energy spokeswoman Jennifer Herber said the fire began around 5 a.m. and left a large area of North Austin — stretching east to west from Lamar Boulevard to MoPac Boulevard...
SB 4 court hearing brings hundreds of protesters to San Antonio
SB 4 court hearing brings hundreds of protesters to San Antonio

As lawyers argued for and against a state ban on “sanctuary cities” inside a federal courtroom in San Antonio on Monday, about 600 immigrant rights advocates rallied nearby in protest of the law. The protesters are concerned that the law will lead to increased racial profiling and to families being torn apart as a result of deportation...
More Stories