UPDATE 2:20 p.m.: Travis County sheriff’s officials said they will review their internal policies to ensure they are aware of all possible charges against an inmate before declining federal immigration detainers.
“We intend to review the matter and consider possible policy modifications,” Maj. Wes Priddy said.
Travis County sheriff’s officials Tuesday are explaining why a man charged with sexually assaulting a 9-year-old girl was not initially held for an immigration check by ICE.
Led by state Sen. Dawn Buckingham of Lakeway, Republicans have pounced on the case of Hugo Gallardo-Gonzalez, 31, who was charged in January with “continuous sexual abuse of a young child,” a first-degree felony for which he faces life in prison.
They criticized Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez for her policy of limiting the county’s cooperation with federal immigration authorities following reports that Gallardo-Gonzalez, whom ICE had requested be held in the county jail so immigration officials could seize him, was slated to go on free on bail.
Gallardo-Gonzalez remains in the Travis County jail and is now being held on an ICE detainer that sheriff’s officials agreed to on Tuesday morning.
Sheriff’s Maj. Wes Priddy said jail staff did not initially honor the ICE detainer on Gonzalez because it was not immediately clear that Gonzalez was being booked on one of several charges for which Hernandez has agreed to honor a federal hold.
Therefore, they denied the ICE request. However, Priddy said once jail staff received and reviewed records in the case, including a probable cause affidavit, it became clear that the charges against Gallardo-Gonzalez fit Hernandez’s policy for holding an inmate for the federal government.
Priddy said that although Gallardo-Gonzalez had posted $50,000 bail, authorities were waiting for a GPS monitor to be placed on him before releasing him. He was never released from jail.
“We have him in custody and he will remain in custody,” Priddy said. “It was not immediately apparent” that Gonzalez should be held on an ICE detainer.
Hernandez’s policy on how to handle requests to hold inmates for federal immigration checks has been under fire from Gov. Greg Abbott and other Republican lawmakers since she took office in January. Most recently, Abbott folllowed through on a threat to withhold $1.5 million in state grant funds from Travis County.
Buckingham on Tuesday held a press conference in which she played a local TV news report on the Gallardo-Gonzalez case, gave a brief statement and declined to take questions.
“Hear me, Travis County residents,” she said. “Sheriff Sally Hernandez needs to hear your voice about how you disagree with her policies, how you think she’s making Travis County unsafe and how she’s jeopardizing the viability of your community.”
The state Senate has approved a bill by state Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, that aims to ban so-called “sanctuary cities” by making it a crime for sheriff’s to adopt policies like Hernandez’s and allowing victims of crimes committed by unauthorized immigrants in “sanctuary cities” or counties to sue to jurisdiction, among other provisions.
Every Senate Democrat opposed that measure, but two of them attended Buckingham’s news conference and said afterward that they believe Hernandez needs to make her policy more strict in light of the Gallardo-Gonzalez case.
“That detainer should have been, from my vantage point, honored. So I would ask that the sheriff rethink her policy as it relates to the type of offenses she’s going to recognize,” said state Sen. Royce West, D-Houston, who was joined by state Sen. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio.
Both said they still oppose Senate Bill 4 and think cases like Gallardo-Gonzalez’s distract from the more important issues at play, like the potential for racial discrimination in local policing.