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.

County commissioners split on jail grant for unauthorized immigrants


Upon arriving at what might have been a routine agenda item, Travis County commissioners wrestled this week with the potential implications, politically or otherwise, of accepting federal money for holding unauthorized immigrants in its jail.

Ultimately, the majority of commissioners voted to accept the money, but their heated discussion might foreshadow the debates to come as immigration becomes a policy focus on the state and national stages.

At issue was a $400,955 grant from the U.S. Justice Department’s State Criminal Alien Assistance Program requested by the Travis County sheriff’s office for holding 665 inmates between June 2014 and July 2015. Commissioners voted 3-2 Tuesday to accept the money, with Commissioners Brigid Shea and Margaret Gómez dissenting.

The grant program provides federal payments for jail costs for unauthorized immigrants who have at least one felony or two misdemeanor convictions for violations of state or local law, and who are incarcerated for at least four consecutive days.

Travis County Sheriff Greg Hamilton has long cooperated with requests by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents to hold inmates who are suspected of being in the U.S. illegally so the agency can begin deportation proceedings. But that might change under Sheriff-elect Sally Hernandez, who has been critical of that policy.

County Judge Sarah Eckhardt said she did a “gut check” and voted to accept the grant because she doesn’t see it as an incentive for the county to honor ICE detentions. Plus, she said, the detentions the grant covers “we would have been doing anyway,” noting these inmates were arrested for other crimes.

“(Rejecting the grant) would send no message other than we’re stupidly rejecting money that has no policy effect on us,” she said. “If I’m going to reject money, it’s going to be because it was having a policy effect on us.”

Eckhardt emphasized that she would take a hard line against other levels of government in the future seeking to use their discretion over grant funding to influence policy.

Earlier this month, Gov. Greg Abbott warned that he intended to withhold funds from local governments adopting “sanctuary” policies. And President-elect Donald Trump has promised to deport millions of immigrants and cut off federal funding for local governments that do not cooperate.

“If they’re going to force us into a policy position that isn’t resonant with our community, we’ll reject the grant,” Eckhardt said, later clarifying her belief that “yes, our community standards would be violated by a broad detainer and deportation policy at the federal level.”

Travis County has participated in this reimbursement program since 1998, according to county documents.

The sheriff’s office plans to use $100,000 to cover jail staffing overtime costs and $300,955 to buy additional security cameras at the Travis County Correctional Complex, according to a memo. There are several areas within the jail that lack cameras and some areas that need upgrading or replacing, the memo said.

Votes to accept grant funding are typically handled on the consent agenda, a group of uncontroversial items passed on a single vote. But Commissioner Gerald Daugherty pulled this item for discussion to express concerns about the implications of accepting or rejecting the funds.

“I think it’s pertinent to consider what is seeming to be something in this community about some sort of designation as a sanctuary community,” Daugherty said. “This might be premature. … I’m just trying to make a point we’re going to have to get out in front of some of this.”

Daugherty and Commissioner Ron Davis said they worried about the strain on the county’s general fund if commissioners one day choose to forgo grants.

Whether these grants were directly related to immigration policy or not, Shea and Gómez said they couldn’t bring themselves to vote for the item.

“We’ve heard from our president-elect … he’s talked about deporting millions and millions of people, and I don’t want our local arm of government to be used as a tool in that,” Shea said. “I don’t want any part of this.”

Gómez acknowledged that the money had already been spent but still disagreed with the ethics of taking it.

“The community that it has affected has a terrible taste in their mouth about this … and I want to listen to the community,” she said.


Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Local

Policía: Reportes de crímenes en Austin bajan entre hispanos, otros
Policía: Reportes de crímenes en Austin bajan entre hispanos, otros

El número de crímenes reportados por los habitantes de Austin – incluyendo los hispanos – ha bajado en lo que va del año, algo que los oficiales del Departamento de Policía dicen es una “fluctuación normal” y no necesariamente una reacción a las recientes operaciones migratorias en la...
STORMS HEADING EAST: System produces half-inch of rain in parts of Hill Country, weakening as it nears I-35
STORMS HEADING EAST: System produces half-inch of rain in parts of Hill Country, weakening as it nears I-35

2 a.m. update: A fast-moving band of thunderstorms pushing across Central Texas early Wednesday has produced at least a half-inch of rainfall in parts of the Hill Country west of Austin, according to rain gauges monitored by the Lower Colorado River Authority. Some parts of Blanco and Burnet counties have seen at least half an inch of rain, including...
New development deals bring two regional headquarters to Pflugerville
New development deals bring two regional headquarters to Pflugerville

Two new regional headquarters are coming to Pflugerville after the Pflugerville City Council approved two economic development deals at Tuesday night’s meeting. An agreement with Accent Food Services Inc. to build the company’s new regional headquarters at 2919 A.W. Grimes Blvd. was approved, said Amy Madison, executive director of the...
Study: 10,000 steps might not be enough for healthy life
Study: 10,000 steps might not be enough for healthy life

The standard for a healthy amount of exercise has widely been accepted as 10,000 steps a day. However, new research shows this might not be enough.  Researchers in Scotland looked at postal workers and tracked how many steps a day they took — their average was 15,000, according to The New York Times.  Those who achieved...
UPDATE: Eight people hospitalized after new spike in K2 calls
UPDATE: Eight people hospitalized after new spike in K2 calls

8:45 p.m. update: Eight people were taken to the hospital over a roughly one-hour period this evening after Austin medics responded to multiple 911 calls regarding people having negative reactions to the synthetic drug K2, also known as Spice, in areas throughout Austin, EMS officials said. In total, medics tended to 12 people this evening who...
More Stories