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New sheriff defiantly reverses course on ICE cooperation

Friday, January 20, 2017 by Caleb Pritchard

Travis County’s brand new Sheriff Sally Hernandez has thrown down the gauntlet at the feet of President Donald Trump.

Late Friday afternoon, Hernandez officially announced, effective Feb. 1, the end of her office’s cooperation with federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement authorities when it comes to detaining suspected undocumented immigrants.

“This office will not increase our liability or set unwise public safety priorities simply to ease the burden of the federal government,” Hernandez said in a YouTube video posted to the Sheriff’s Office website shortly before 4:00 p.m.

In the eight-minute video, Hernandez says her office will continue to work with other law enforcement agencies on the local, state and federal levels. However, she will no longer honor ICE requests to notify the agency about potential undocumented immigrants in advance of their release and detain them for federal investigation.

However, she said, “If they get a warrant to lawfully detain that person, we will honor it.”

A formal policy paper published alongside the video also states that Hernandez will honor warrantless detainer requests if the inmate has been charged with or convicted of capital murder, aggravated sexual assault or human smuggling.

The paper also states that, “No TCSO personnel in the jail, on patrol, or elsewhere may inquire about a person’s immigration status.”

With the adoption of the new policy, Hernandez has fulfilled a longstanding promise that she first made as a candidate in last year’s Democratic primary (her three rivals in that race made similar promises). It also represents a swift change of direction from her predecessor, former Sheriff Greg Hamilton, whose adherence to the voluntary detentions rankled civil rights activists and immigration advocates.

Shortly after the revelation of the new policy, City Council Member Greg Casar posted a statement calling the changes “a victory for public safety and civil rights in our community.” Casar also pointed out that the new direction will likely draw fire from state Republicans and even Trump, who made a campaign promise to deport millions of undocumented immigrants from the country.

“It is not Sheriff Hernandez, but rather anti-immigrant leaders like (Gov. Greg) Abbott and Trump who are advocating for policies that have been found unconstitutional: namely, the mass detention of immigrants without any criminal warrants,” Casar said.

Despite the probable pushback from state and federal officials, Hernandez framed her decision as a local imperative.

“Our public must be confident that local law enforcement is focused on local public safety, not on federal immigration enforcement,” Hernandez said. “Our jail cannot be perceived as a holding tank for ICE or that Travis County deputies are ICE officers.”

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