Gov. Greg Abbott is carrying out a promise, effective immediately, to withhold state grant money administered by his office to Travis County because of a new jail policy related to immigration, his office told the American-Statesman on Wednesday.
“This morning, the governor’s office is canceling all currently active Travis County criminal justice grants,” Abbott spokesman John Wittman said.
So far, the state has paid only about $300,000 of $1.8 million to the county, so the loss will total about $1.5 million.
Sheriff Sally Hernandez said in an interview with reporters Wednesday that she is following state and federal laws and has no plans to change her new policy.
Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt also responded Wednesday — in both a news conference and a two-page letter to Abbott.
She said the county will work to continue operating programs that were paid for by the grants.
“I am confident Sheriff Hernandez’s policy is well within the current law,” Eckhardt wrote. “I am certain you have come to the same conclusion; else you would not be seeking to change the current state law to put all Texas sheriffs in the service the United States Department of Homeland Security.”
However, Eckhardt said the county will obey any future state laws that may be adopted concerning the matter.
“We will comply by shifting our limited resources to federal responsibilities,” she wrote.
Also Wednesday afternoon, U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett released a statement condemning Abbott’s actions, saying, “Its vindictiveness is more like Russian President Putin’s authoritarian regime than our democracy. His anti-immigrant hysteria damages local law enforcement and our entire community.”
The grants support projects such as family violence education and a special court for veterans.
Abbott’s announcement comes as Hernandez enacted a new policy Wednesday under which she will detain inmates on behalf of federal immigration officials only when they are charged with murder, sexual assault or human smuggling.
The new policy changes a longstanding agreement that allowed agents from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to place “immigration holds” or “detainers” on Travis County inmates — no matter the seriousness of the crime for which they are arrested — when agents want to further investigate their status.
But critics have said the process results in deportations of people for relatively minor crimes. They also contend that suspects might be held indefinitely, only for agents to later discover they have legal permission to stay in the U.S.
Voters supported Hernandez in the Democratic primary after she campaigned on ending local cooperation with federal immigration officials at the Travis County Jail.
Abbott and his supporters say that such resistance amounts to sheriffs refusing to follow the law.
In a letter to Hernandez in late January, the governor vowed to work with the Legislature to “protect our citizens from misguided and dangerous sanctuary policies.”
“Texas must enact tough penalties that punish those who would put themselves above the law, and even above the community they purportedly serve,” Abbott wrote.
CORRECTION: This story has been updated to correct the nature of the grants. The money is administered by the governor’s office.