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Eckhardt weighs in on sheriff’s new ICE policy

Wednesday, January 25, 2017 by Caleb Pritchard

Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt has issued a blistering response to Gov. Greg Abbott’s threat to turn off the state funding spigot for Travis County programs over Sheriff Sally Hernandez’s decision to stop cooperating with federal immigration officials at the county jail.

On Friday, Hernandez announced that her office will no longer honor most requests from Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials to detain inmates suspected of being in the country illegally.

In a letter sent after the announcement, Abbott said the new policy “will jeopardize millions of dollars in funding from the Governor’s office to Travis County.”

On Tuesday, Eckhardt released a statement declaring her support of Hernandez’s policy and backed up the sheriff’s argument that only the judiciary can determine who can be held at the jail.

“The Governor seeks to punish communities that uphold the 4th amendment prohibition on unwarranted detainer by withdrawing funding for programs that help women, children and veterans,” Eckhardt said. “Gov. Abbott is engaging in fear at the expense of our deepest held values.”

Indeed, in his letter, Abbott warned that the shift in policy “is a dangerous game of political Russian roulette – with the lives of Texans at stake.” He also threatened to cut off the county’s access to Criminal Justice Division grant money if Hernandez carries through with her plan to begin denying ICE detainer requests on Feb. 1.

Last year, Travis County received $1.8 million in CJD grants. Among other things, the money funds a family violence outreach program, a prostitution prevention program, a drug diversion court and a veterans court program. According to a staff memo, most of the active grants are scheduled to expire at the end of August.

On Tuesday, the Commissioners Court’s agenda featured a discussion of the CJD grants as an executive session item. However, before Eckhardt took the commissioners into the closed-door conversation, she allowed the American Civil Liberties Union’s Matt Simpson to address the court.

Simpson spoke to Abbott’s assertion that not allowing ICE to investigate potentially undocumented immigrants will make Travis County less safe. He pointed out that the most serious violent offenders wind up in prison after first passing through the county jail.

“So if there are concerns that murderers are being let out, it’s a criminal law problem, not an immigration detainer problem. That’s not the problem here,” said Simpson.

After Simpson’s remarks, Commissioner Jeff Travillion bemoaned that the matter had become such “a huge discussion” and said he would rather see the conversation become “an operational discussion about what best practices are and what makes sense in communities, as opposed to, you know, you’re ugly and your mother dresses you funny.”

The court took no action after discussing the item further in executive session.

Photo by WhisperToMe.

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