ICE drops detainer for Austin woman who was jailed after mental health call 


Federal immigration officials on Friday dropped their request to detain an Austin woman who was jailed and charged two weeks ago with assault on a public servant while she was experiencing a mental health crisis.

Tania Silva, 21, was released on a personal recognizance bond, which does not require payment, Travis County sheriff’s office spokeswoman Kristen Dark said. She still faces the assault charge. 

Silva’s immigration attorney, former Texas House candidate Chito Vela, negotiated with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials to drop the detainer, according to people with the Austin-based Workers Defense Project.

Silva’s father is a member of that workers rights and immigration reform organization, and its members had been urging state and local leaders to fight for her release. Silva has schizophrenia, members with the group said. 

Silva’s attorney and family have declined to share her immigration status, but ICE officials said she is from Mexico.

Silva is now in a hospital, where her immediate family got to see her for the first time since her arrest, said Emily Timm, a senior organizer with the Workers Defense Project.

“This is a clear example of how people have the power to fight back against SB4 and other attacks on immigrant families,” Timm said, referring to Senate Bill 4. “We are grateful for the support of the community, and we applaud local elected officials like Sheriff (Sally) Hernandez and Rep. Lloyd Doggett for standing up against these anti-immigrant policies that go against our local values.”

Timm said Tania was “back with her family and getting the medical care she needs.”

Dark confirmed that Sheriff Hernandez did speak to ICE officials about Silva’s situation. 

Senate Bill 4, which bans so-called sanctuary cities from restricting assistance to federal immigration agents, became law last year.

Before SB 4’s passage, Hernandez had sought to limit cooperation on detainers to violent crimes such as sexual assault and murder. Hernandez would not have honored Silva's ICE detainer had SB 4 not been law, Dark said. 

Silva was arrested July 19, court documents show. After several people reported Silva was having a mental health crisis, Silva told police she wanted to hurt herself. One of the officers who responded began calling local hospitals to find a bed for her, police said. 

Officers decided to handcuff her based on Silva’s earlier aggressive behavior described by 911 callers, Austin police said. After she was handcuffed, she kicked one officer twice in the midsection, then dug her nails into the officer’s forearm, causing a small cut, Silva’s arrest affidavit says. 

As a result, she was charged with assault on a public servant, a second-degree felony,

After she was arrested, members of the Workers Defense Project said they wished police had stuck with the original plan to take her to a hospital. They said they were concerned about how someone in the midst of a mental health crisis would fare in jail.

Dozens of organizations joined the campaign to demand that ICE drop the hold and get Silva into hospital care, Timm said. They held a vigil and rally outside of the Travis County Jail, made phone calls and sent petitions to ICE’s San Antonio Field Office Director Dan Bible.

U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, also urged ICE to immediately release her to hospital care.


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