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Sheriff candidates turn cold on ICE

Tuesday, July 28, 2015 by Caleb Pritchard

A candidate for the Democratic nomination for Travis County sheriff publicly declared his opposition last night to a controversial partnership with the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.

John Sisson told a packed house at Polvos restaurant on South First Street that he would end incumbent Sheriff Greg Hamilton’s policy of complying with ICE requests to detain potentially undocumented immigrants on the agency’s behalf.

“When you have ICE in your jail, and you have an entity like that — that people are afraid of — what that does is it disrupts the community,” Sisson told the Austin Monitor.

It’s not an unfamiliar position for the former Austin Police Department lieutenant, who unsuccessfully ran for sheriff in 2012 pitching the same message.

Nor is it, for that matter, a position that will bring him much distinction in the four-man race for the Democratic nod. On Monday night, Lakeway Police Chief Todd Radford and Travis County Sgt. Don Rios both told the Monitor that ending the Travis County Sheriff’s Office’s relationship with ICE would be among their top priorities if elected.

“It’s not my job to do ICE’s job,” Radford said.

“It causes the immigrant community to mistrust law enforcement,” Rios explained.

The fourth candidate, Travis County Chief Deputy Jim Sylvester, could not be reached Monday evening.

A potential fifth candidate, Precinct 3 Constable Sally Hernandez, has also criticized TCSO’s cooperation with ICE. It is the only specific issue featured on a website for a draft campaign encouraging her to enter the race.

Sisson also voiced his intent to bring back in-person visitations for inmates at the Travis County Correctional Complex. Under Hamilton’s administration, inmates can communicate with family members via video conferencing technology only.

Sisson’s position against that controversial program is another that doesn’t allow too much sunlight between him and his three opponents. Radford, Rios and Sylvester have previously told the Monitor that they’re eager to re-examine the video visitation policy.

On Monday evening, Sisson acknowledged that he and his opponents see eye to eye on general issues.

“When some people talk about keeping our community safer, putting more cops on the streets, that’s a gimme. Every sheriff’s going to do that. Everyone is going to do that. That’s just a gimme. It will be done,” Sisson told the Monitor before planting his argument for what ultimately makes him more qualified for the office.

“The thing is it’s somebody that’s gonna have compassion for other people. I feel like I have more compassion than all the other candidates.”

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