Travis DA, ICE agree on lo­cal case res­o­lu­tion

Felony charges would be ad­ju­di­cated be­fore any de­por­ta­tion ac­tion.

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Tony Plo­het­ski tplo­het­ski@states­man.com

Travis County prose­cu­tors and fed­eral im­mi­gra­tion of­fi­cials have de­vel­oped a pro­ce­dure to en­sure suspects charged in pend­ing felony cases face jus­tice be­fore pos­si­bly be­ing de­ported, Dis­trict At­tor­ney Mar­garet Moore told the Amer­i­can-States­man and KVUE-TV on Thurs­day.

Of­fi­cials for U.S. Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment have agreed to no­tify prose­cu­tors if they learn a sus­pect ar­rested by ICE agents in Travis County has an un­re­solved lo­cal mat­ter, al­low­ing prose­cu­tors to take the case to court or pos­si­bly fi­nal­ize it with a plea deal.

Im­mi­gra­tion agents also have promised to do the same if they re­al­ize a de­fen­dant, who al­ready has gone through the de­por­ta­tion process, is about to be ex­pelled from the coun­try. Prose­cu­tors could then file court mo­tions to have that in­mate re­turned to Travis County.

“They have agreed to be wholly co­op­er­a­tive with us,” Moore said. “It was a very pos­i­tive ex­change, and I think we iden­ti­fied is­sues that are of mu­tual con­cern to us.”

The is­sue arose as a sep­a­rate mat­ter in dis­cus­sions over a new pol­icy by Sher­iff Sally Her­nan­dez in which she dra­mat­i­cally lim­ited co­op­er­a­tion with ICE, say­ing that she will only hold a Travis County Jail in­mate for im­mi­gra­tion of­fi­cials if the in­mate is charged with one of a hand­ful of crimes, or if im­mi­gra­tion agents ob­tain an ar­rest war­rant.

Moore, who has been in of­fice about two months, said that in meet­ings with prose­cu­tors, it came to her at­ten­tion ICE had de­ported suspects with pend­ing crim­i­nal cases in some in­stances,

al­low­ing them to es­cape pun­ish­ment on their charges. Sim­i­larly, she cited a case in which a man charged with felony drunken driv­ing was be­ing held at a de­ten­tion fa­cil­ity in Pearsall and that lo­cal prose­cu­tors were hav­ing dif­fi­culty get­ting him re­turned to Travis County to face that charge.

Moore asked for a meet­ing with Daniel Bible, ICE field of­fice di­rec­tor for San An­to­nio, which cov­ers Cen­tral and South Texas. He met in Austin with her staff this week.

Moore said First As­sis­tant Dis­trict At­tor­ney Mindy Mont­ford still is work­ing with Bible to draft writ­ten pro­ce­dures for han­dling such cases, but that of­fi­cials hope to soon have the de­tails fi­nal­ized.

For years, ICE of­fi­cials have re­moved from Travis County all in­mates who were sub­jected to so-called ICE de­tain­ers once they posted bail and were el­i­gi­ble for re­lease.

Im­mi­gra­tion agents then trans­ferred them to a de­ten­tion fa­cil­ity to be­gin the de­por­ta­tion process.

Of­fi­cials said a lack of com­mu­ni­ca­tion of­ten re­sulted in in­mates be­ing de­ported be­fore their crim­i­nal cases were re­solved, de­priv­ing vic­tims and their fam­i­lies of their day in court.

Moore stressed that how Her­nan­dez chooses to han­dle ICE de­tain­ers has noth­ing to do with re­solv­ing the un­der­ly­ing charge, and that her in­ter­est is in mak­ing sure de­fen­dants are held ac­count­able for their crimes and that vic­tims feel jus­tice is served.

Un­der Her­nan­dez’s new pol­icy, she is only au­to­mat­i­cally hon­or­ing de­tain­ers in cases when a sus­pect is charged with cap­i­tal mur­der, mur­der, ag­gra­vated sex­ual as­sault or con­tin­u­ous hu­man smug­gling.

That pol­icy prompted sig­nif­i­cant back­lash, with Gov. Greg Ab­bott pulling about $1.5 mil­lion in state grant fund­ing from Travis County.

State law­mak­ers also are con­sid­er­ing a law re­quir­ing po­lice and sher­iff ’s de­part­ments to fully com­ply with ICE.

The meet­ing be­tween Moore and ICE rep­re­sen­ta­tives comes at a time of strain be­tween many Austin-area of­fi­cials and ICE that be­gan with Her­nan­dez’s pol­icy. It con­tin­ued af­ter the agency con­ducted a ma­jor op­er­a­tion in the Austin area that re­sulted in the ar­rests of 51 im­mi­grants, 28 of whom had no crim­i­nal his­tory.

In re­cent days, Bible has also met with Travis County Judge Sarah Eck­hardt, Com­mis­sioner Ger­ald Daugh­erty and Austin City Coun­cil Mem­ber Ellen Trox­clair.

Eck­hardt said Bible de­nied that ICE is tar­get­ing Austin be­cause of Her­nan­dez’s pol­icy, and Daugh­erty said ICE of­fi­cials told him that they aren’t con­duct­ing ran­dom sweeps and are strate­gic in their ap­proach.

Asked about the meet­ing with Moore and prose­cu­tors, ICE of­fi­cials Thurs­day would only say in a state­ment, “ICE of­fi­cers rou­tinely meet with lo­cal and state law en­force­ment of­fi­cials as we fur­ther our part­ner­ships within the San An­to­nio Field Of­fice.”

RALPH BARRERA / AMER­I­CAN-STATES­MAN

Travis County Dis­trict At­tor­ney Mar­garet Moore has said she was con­cerned about in­mates be­ing de­ported by ICE be­fore they faced the lo­cal crim­i­nal charges that led to their ar­rest.

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