Travis County, Texas, declined dozens of requests from the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency to hold immigrant inmates while county officials wrestled with Gov. Greg Abbott over the county’s new "sanctuary" policy. A report by the White House, a first ever, on local jurisdictions that refuse to cooperate with federal immigration officials showed that between Jan. 28 and Feb. 3, Travis County sheriff deputies declined more than 140 requests – known as detainers – from ICE to surrender illegal immigrants for possible deportation. Austin, the state capital, lies within Travis County.
According to the report from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Travis County was tops in Texas for refusing detainer requests from ICE. The report mentioned just two other counties: Williamson County, which declined four recent detainers; and Bastrop County, which declined three.
In February, Abbott rescinded state grant funding for Travis County programs after Sheriff Sally Hernandez, a Democrat, said that she would only honor detainer requests from Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents on a limited basis.
The report from DHS came while Texas legislators are debating Senate Bill 4, which would ban “sanctuary” jurisdictions by withholding grant funding to them, while also making police chiefs, sheriffs, constables and other department heads subject to a class A misdemeanor – and potential removal from office — for violating the provisions of the bill. Senate Bill 4 would expand the immigration enforcement powers of local police and allow inquiries into the immigration status of persons at routine stops.
In a statement, Abbot that the report is “deeply disturbing and highlights the urgent need for a statewide sanctuary city ban in Texas.” Abbott added, “The Travis County Sheriff’s decision to deny ICE detainer requests and release back into our communities criminals charged with heinous crimes – including sexual offenses against children, domestic violence and kidnapping – is dangerous and should be criminal in itself.”
Travis county refused detainers on immigrants wanted and charged for crimes that include: sexual assault, robbery, possession of narcotics, driving under the influence, and indecent exposure to a minor. While all of the inmates were charged, the report indicated that not all of them were convicted. It shows that while the ICE detainers were issued at various times, including early and late 2016, all of the detainer requests were recorded declined on Feb. 1.
The majority of the inmates in the report are Mexican nationals, while some are from among the Central American republics.The report also shows that under Sheriff Hernandez, the number of detainers declined by Travis County skyrocketed. In contrast, Travis County declined only 72 requests between January 2014 and September 2015.
ICE officials will continue to compile a detainers list and release it weekly as part of a requirement in President Trump’s January 25 executive order on immigration, a DHS spokesperson said in a news release.