Travis DA, ICE agree on local case resolution
Felony charges would be adjudicated before any deportation action.
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.”
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.