Wednesday, March 29, 2017 by Jack Craver

Travis County backs lawsuit over Trump sanctuary city order

Travis County has joined nearly three dozen other cities and counties across the country, including the city of Austin, in the legal battle against President Donald Trump’s crackdown on sanctuary cities.

After a brief discussion of the lawsuit during a private executive session, the Travis County Commissioners Court voted 4-1 for the county to be a signatory to an “amicus” brief in support of the suit brought by San Francisco against the Trump administration.

The commissioners took the vote without any debate. Nor was there much discussion during the executive session, County Judge Sarah Eckhardt later told the Austin Monitor.

The suit, which was filed by San Francisco on Jan. 31, seeks to strike down an executive order issued by the president days earlier. Trump’s order instructed the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security to deny federal funding to jurisdictions that are deemed to be in violation of 8 U.S.C. 1373, which prohibits local governments from preventing the sharing of information regarding a person’s immigration status with federal immigration authorities.

Santa Clara County is also suing over the same issue. Travis County just missed the deadline to join the amicus brief on that suit, however, which was the same.

The brief argues that the executive order violates the 10th Amendment rights of local jurisdictions to deploy their local law enforcement as they see fit, violating what Eckhardt called “a basic tenet of our governmental structure.”

“It’s forcing local authorities to do federal work,” she said.

Commissioner Gerald Daugherty, who cast the lone vote against the motion, predicted that the county would “suffer” for defying demands from the state and federal government to change its policy. The county sanctuary policy would be a bad idea even in the absence of pressure from Trump and Gov. Greg Abbott, he later added.

“I don’t think any of us gave that much thought to some of the crimes that have been committed by some of those who have come here illegally,” he said. “I think that’s an issue for me. And I think that’s the reason that the majority of people do have a problem with that policy.”

Sheriff Sally Hernandez’s policy is that the county jail will abide by detainer requests from ICE only for those charged with capital murder, first degree murder, aggravated sexual assault or human trafficking. Later, after media reports highlighted the pending release on bail of a man accused of sexual assault of a child, Hernandez’s office said it would consider adding other offenses to the list, specifying those relating to abuse of children or the elderly.

Daugherty’s statement echoes comments made last month during a tense City Council debate by Council Member Ellen Troxclair, who argued that people in the community were rightfully alarmed to hear of undocumented immigrants charged with serious crimes being released from jail on bail.

Those remarks provoked a sharp rebuke from Council Member Greg Casar, who accused her of misleading the public by suggesting that undocumented immigrants were getting special treatment. Undocumented immigrants charged with offenses were being held to the same standards as others, he said, including the right to obtain bail while awaiting trial.

Commissioner Margaret Gómez similarly suggested that misinformation has played a role in creating negative perceptions of undocumented immigrants, but added that “sometimes we choose not to hear” the facts.

“Because the facts are out there,” she added. “They don’t cut in on our economy, they add to it. They don’t come over to purposefully break the law and be criminals.”

Daugherty rejected that reasoning, saying that being an undocumented immigrant is “itself against the law.”

Eckhardt said she didn’t know whether the lawsuit would succeed but that “it is an argument that needs to be had.”

Photo by John Flynn.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

Travis County Commissioners Court: The legislative body for Travis County. It includes representatives from the four Travis County Precincts, as well as the County Judge. The County Judge serves as the chair of the Court.

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