Travis County sheriff answers her critics in ‘sanctuary city’ fight


Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez broke her silence Thursday after days of attacks from Republicans.

Hernandez defended a policy seen as making Travis County a so-called sanctuary community.

One expert said Hernandez wouldn’t be breaking the law, but should comply with federal detention requests.

After days of political attacks over a policy that would be the most liberal in the state on detaining jail inmates suspected of being in the country illegally, Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez broke her silence Thursday, stating that she will stay the course.

“I respect the job of our state leaders, but I will not allow fear and misinformation to be my guiding principles as a leader sworn to protect this community,” Hernandez said. “The voters, who elected state leaders and me, expect and deserve a collaborative effort to come up with solutions to this very complex issue. That is precisely what I’m committed to.”

Hernandez’s response came a day after Gov. Greg Abbott told Fox News that he would work to oust Hernandez and any other Texas sheriffs who refuse federal immigration requests to hold suspected undocumented immigrants for possible deportation.

Abbott previously threatened to cut off an estimated $2 million in grant money if Hernandez enacts her policy on U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement “detainers,” which would greatly limit cooperation with ICE and end its agents’ unrestricted access to the Travis County Jail.

Watch: Travis County sheriff announces change in immigration policy

Her critics say Hernandez would be acting illegally and breaking her oath of office. Not so, Hernandez fired back.

“I am following all state and federal laws and upholding constitutional rights to due process for all in our criminal justice system,” Hernandez’s statement said. “Our community is safer when people can report crimes without fear of deportation. I trust the court system and our judges to assess the risks and set appropriate bonds and conditions for all who are incarcerated.”

At question is whether ICE requests, known as detainers, to hold suspected undocumented immigrants are legally binding orders.

The answer is no, according to the nonpartisan Center for Immigration Studies. However, the center also said that not complying is inadvisable and is a partisan practice that came about under President Barack Obama’s administration when they were called optional.

“It’s not illegal, but it is not really optional,” said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the organization. “No law enforcement agency would consider a detainer from the U.S. Marshal’s Service or MPs (military police) optional. It only happens in immigration because, politically speaking, they don’t like immigration laws.”

Enforcing ICE detention requests has been called unconstitutional. In 2014, a federal court in Oregon found that the detention of an undocumented immigrant after her release from state charges violated her Fourth Amendment rights by holding her without probable cause.

Hernandez’s policy, which she announced last week on YouTube, calls for a judicial order or a warrant to enforce any ICE detention requests, with a few exceptions: inmates who have either been charged with or convicted of capital murder, murder, aggravated sexual assault or human smuggling.

Law enforcement in Suffolk County, N.Y., enacted a similar policy, and ICE officials cooperated by getting court orders for detentions, Krikorian said. It ultimately led his organization to cross the county off its list of more than 300 jurisdictions it says are “sanctuary cities.” Travis and Dallas counties are the only Texas communities on the list.

A state Senate bill that has been filed to force compliance with ICE detainers in Texas might become the framework for Abbott as he tries forge a way to remove any local politicians from office who don’t fully cooperate with federal immigration authorities.

An option for Abbott and his staff would be to ask Lubbock Republican state Sen. Charles Perry to amend his bill to include a proposal for penalties — or help draft another bill that would possibly be introduced by other lawmakers. Perry didn’t respond to requests for comment made to his office.

Watch: Abbott discusses ‘sanctuary cities’ on Fox News

The governor is widely expected to declare the issue an emergency item in his upcoming State of the State address, which would allow lawmakers to immediately begin debating such measures and possibly passing them into law.

For years, federal immigration authorities have relied on local jails as a place to locate and detain suspected undocumented immigrants for possible deportation. In Democratic-controlled Travis County, former Sheriff Greg Hamilton had sparked controversy by offering full compliance with ICE officials.

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Texas News & Politics

Texas special education chief fired after questioning no-bid contract
Texas special education chief fired after questioning no-bid contract

The state’s new director of special education was fired Wednesday, one day after she filed a federal complaint claiming the Texas Education Agency wrongly entered into a $4.4 million, no-bid contract with a Georgia company to analyze private records for children with disabilities. Laurie Kash asked the U.S. Department of Education’s Office...
Don’t forget safety while shopping on Black Friday, police say
Don’t forget safety while shopping on Black Friday, police say

Holiday shopping mania can make it easy to forget some common-sense rules to keep you and your belongings safe. Austin and Sunset Valley police recommend these tips before hitting the stores on Black Friday: 1. Remove valuables from view: After a successful shopping run, you should place and secure all holiday packages in your trunk, away from prying...
Federal judge tosses out Texas abortion law
Federal judge tosses out Texas abortion law

For the third time this year, a federal judge has tossed out an abortion-related regulation in Texas — this time a law that bans a common type of second-trimester abortion unless doctors first employ an added procedure to ensure fetal demise. In a ruling issued Wednesday afternoon, U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel of Austin said the law requires...
3 semis crash in Northeast Austin, cause closure on I-35

NORTHEAST AUSTIN 3 semis crash, cause closure on I-35 Three semis were involved in a collision in Northeast Austin on Wednesday, forcing authorities to briefly shut down the southbound lanes of Interstate 35 near the U.S. 290 interchange north of 51st Street on one of the busiest road travel days of the year. Diesel fuel spilled onto the roadway after...
Surprised by Austin SWAT near your home? It’s for safety, police say
Surprised by Austin SWAT near your home? It’s for safety, police say

When Austin police SWAT officers deploy, they can look intimidating. Team members wear beefed-up ballistic vests and armor, and they carry specialized weapons beyond what patrol officers typically carry. They roll into neighborhoods in armored vehicles, surround houses and block off streets, often prompting confused neighbors to call the media or seek...
More Stories