- By Mark Wilson American-Statesman Staff
The Travis County sheriff’s office on Thursday confirmed that it had received an email from federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials in June, asking that it reconsider denying a request to detain a known gang member and four-time deportee who was released hours later.
The sheriff’s office initially told the American-Statesman on Wednesday it had no record of such communication after ICE announced that 33-year-old Julio Cesar Mendoza-Caballero had been arrested on July 14, about a month after he was freed from the Travis County Jail.
“It has been brought to the attention of TCSO that ICE did in fact send an email at 3:45 pm on June 16, 2017, that provided criminal history information about Julio Cesar Mendoza-Caballero,” the sheriff’s office said Thursday. “The message also requested that our decision to decline his ICE Detainer Request be re-considered.”
The miscommunication led to a heated public spat between the two law enforcement agencies after ICE on Tuesday scolded the sheriff’s office for releasing Mendoza-Caballero without notifying the federal agency.
The sheriff’s office said it notified ICE at 2:41 p.m. that Mendoza-Caballero would be freed, but said that it never received a warrant signed by a judge or a court order of removal to keep him locked up. By 8:52 p.m., Mendoza-Caballero walked out of the jail, the sheriff’s office said.
The sheriff’s office confirmed that they received Mendoza-Caballero’s criminal history, the request to reconsider the denial of release and an administrative warrant, which isn’t signed by a judge. But it didn’t receive a judicial warrant or order of removal signed by a judge, which the sheriff’s office said it would have honored.
Sheriff’s office spokeswoman Kristen Dark said authorities likely would have reinstated the detainer — a request to hold an inmate after they are legally allowed to be freed — if they had seen that information before Mendoza-Caballero’s release, but they still would have requested an order of removal.
“Our agency deeply regrets that the message was missed due to a clerical error,” the sheriff’s office said.
Mendoza-Caballero had been booked into the jail June 16 on a misdemeanor assault charge and a city ordinance violation, according to jail authorities.
Under Sheriff Sally Hernandez, Travis County has refused to hold defendants on immigration detainers unless they are charged with crimes such as murder, aggravated sexual assault or human trafficking, though Hernandez said authorities look at individuals on a case-by-case basis, and can decide to hold them on lesser charges if deemed appropriate.
That policy, and others like it, were made illegal with the passage of Senate Bill 4, Texas’ so-called sanctuary cities ban that will go into effect Sept. 1.
After that, police chiefs and sheriffs who discourage their officers from asking detainees about their immigration status can be charged with a crime or fined.
Such questions, Hernandez has said, erode trust between law enforcement and immigrant communities.
According to ICE, those who illegally re-enter the United States after a previous removal can face up to 20 years in federal prison, depending on the person’s criminal history.
Mendoza-Caballero had been removed four times before, and convicted of charges including prostitution, theft of a firearm, unlawfully carrying a weapon and illegally re-entering the United States, according to Texas Department of Public Safety and ICE records.
His most recent removal came in 2013.
During fiscal 2016, ICE removed or returned 240,255 people, 174,932 of whom were taken into custody while they were trying to come into the country, or just after doing so. More than 65,000 others were arrested in the interior of the United States, ICE said.