Donors give $133,000 to Travis County to offset ‘sanctuary city’ cuts

12:18 p.m Thursday, June 29, 2017 Local
Texas State Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt and Texas Sen Kirk Watson held a joint press conference for Stronger Together Thursday morning June 29, 2017. They have raised $135,000 in funding to help offset money lost from Governor Abbott’s cuts.

A crowdfunded donation account will give $133,000 to Travis County to keep specialty court, victim services and juvenile justice programs in operation through November, officials announced Thursday.

State Rep. Eddie Rodriguez’s office helped create the Travis County #StrongerTogether fund in February to raise money from the private sector after Gov. Greg Abbott yanked $1.5 million in state grants from local court programs. The fund is being overseen by the Austin Community Foundation.

Abbott pulled the grants after Sheriff Sally Hernandez announced a new policy limiting the jail’s cooperation with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

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“In just a few short months, we were able to raise over $135,000, in mostly small donations. That speaks volumes about the people here in Travis County,” Rodriguez said at a press conference Thursday.

In May, commissioners approved the use of departmental funds to cover about $800,000 of the court program costs from the beginning of February, when the cuts took effect, to the end of September.

The $133,000 from the community fund will cover program costs from October through Nov. 15.

Beyond that, county officials will have to find a long-term solution during the fiscal 2018 budgeting process, as they brace for the possibility that Abbott could continue to withhold those grants.

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Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt applauded residents for rallying for the cause.

“When the governor created a problem, the people of Travis County stepped up with a solution,” Eckhardt said. “The generosity of Travis County residents and the dedication of the Stronger Together team are inspiring and reflect the spirit of our community.”

Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, also expressed his gratitude to the community, and said he was proud of Austin and Travis County for fighting in court against Senate Bill 4. The measure, which bans so-called “sanctuary cities,” requires local jails to honor requests by immigration officials to detain inmates who are otherwise cleared for release, but are suspected of being in the country illegally.

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Judge Mike Denton, who presides over the county’s Veterans Court, one of the program’s hardest hit by the grant cuts, said the donation will “go a long way.” The diversion program connects veterans charged with nonviolent misdemeanor offenses related to military trauma to treatment, counseling and other resources.

“Every time that we ask veterans to step up … they have our back,” Denton said. “Well, they should be able to count on every level of government to have their back, and this check will help us do that.”

He also announced that the county learned Thursday that it will receive a $50,000 award from the Texas Veterans Commission for substance abuse, counseling and other support issues in the Veterans Court.

Knowing that the community fund will be nearly cleaned out after this donation, Rodriguez said leaders will continue to raise money.

“Our job’s not done,” he said.

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