Gov. Greg Abbott cuts $1.5 million in funds for Travis County for sheriff’s immigration policy

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Gov. Greg Abbott speaks at a press conference following his victory over Wendy Davis in 2014. Abbott is cutting $1.5 million in Travis County criminal justice grants following Sheriff Sally Hernandez’ new jail policy.

Photo Credit: Marshall Tidrick | Daily Texan Staff

Gov. Greg Abbott is cutting $1.5 million in Travis County criminal justice grants after Sheriff Sally Hernandez enacted a new jail policy Wednesday related to federal immigration enforcement. 

Hernandez’s policy does not allow immigration agents to detain undocumented immigrants held in local jails without a warrant. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents make detainer requests to investigate jailed undocumented immigrants, and Hernandez said in a video last week these requests only ask but do not require local law enforcement to fulfill them. 

“We are in a legislative session — we are working on laws that will, one, ban sanctuary cities, remove from office any office holder who promotes sanctuary cities and impose criminal penalties as well as financial penalties,” Abbott told Fox News last week. 

The county has used $300,000 out of $1.8 million it was set to receive in state funding for criminal justice grants, resulting in a $1.5 million loss for the county. In addition to the funding cuts, Abbott said last week he would seek a bill to remove elected officials who do not comply with federal immigration enforcement. Hernandez said she will comply with detainer requests without warrants from a judge only for undocumented immigrants who commit sexual assault, murder or human trafficking, according to the Austin American-Statesman.

“I will not allow fear and misinformation to be my guiding principles as a leader sworn to protect this community,” Hernandez said in a statement from the Travis County Sheriff’s Office on Thursday. 

UT clinical law professor Elissa Steglich is a faculty member of the UT Immigration Clinic, which legally represents low-income immigrants. Steglich said Hernandez is not required by federal law to honor detainer requests by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents.

“In their current form, they’re just a request (saying) we’re interested in this person please hold them,” Steglich said. “Sheriff Hernandez’s policy says that they will not honor detainer requests unless they are accompanied by a court order or a judicial warrant that clearly establishes probable cause of a violation of immigration law.”

Steglich said local law enforcement may violate someone’s Fourth Amendment right to not be unreasonably seized if they allow ICE agents to detain someone not based on criminal conviction without a warrant.

“Complying with detainers always puts the county at risk of violating someone’s Fourth Amendment protection, because detainer requests are not accompanied by any assurance of probable cause,” Steglich said.

Steglich also said Abbott’s claim that Hernandez is violating federal law may be derived from a provision in the Immigration and Nationality Act. The provision states that federal, state and local law enforcement cannot restrict its sharing of information with the Department of Homeland Security on those it investigates.

Steglich said Hernandez’s policy is not limiting information shared with DHS, and therefore her policy is not violating any law.

On Tuesday, during his State of the State address, Abbott made banning sanctuary cities an emergency item to discipline those protecting undocumented immigrants from federal immigration enforcement.

“Elected officials cannot pick and choose which laws they will obey,” Abbott said. 

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick filed Senate Bill 4 banning sanctuary cities in November, and the bill is set for a public hearing Thursday at 8:30 a.m..