Travis officials don't fear Sessions' threat
Attorney general vows to withhold funds from sanctuary communities.
After U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Monday threatened to “claw back” Justice Department grants from so-called sanctuary communities, Travis County officials said they believe the county won’t be affected despite the sheriff ’s office’s refusal to turn jail inmates suspected of living in the country illegally over to federal agents.
Sessions renewed threats that were first made in President Donald Trump’s January executive order authorizing the attorney general to take action against cities and counties deemed “sanctuary jurisdictions” for not handing over unauthorized immigrants for deportation.
“I urge our nation’s states and cities to consider carefully the harm they are doing to their citizens by refusing to enforce our immigration laws, and to rethink these policies,” Sessions said. “Such policies make their cities and states less safe, and put them at risk of losing valuable federal dollars.”
One of the largest federal grants the county stands to lose is worth $650,000. The county has already received $418,000 from two other grants, including $400,000 that helps fund a program that reimburses state and local governments for the costs of incarcerating unauthorized immigrants.
Sessions’ announcement appears to affect only cities and counties that would violate U.S. code 1373, a law that prohibits law enforcement agencies from withholding information about a person’s immigration status from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. In a statement, Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez said the county remains in full compliance with the section.
“(The) Travis County sheriff ’s office is completely lawful and upholding the Constitution with our ICE policy,” Hernandez said. “Our ICE policy is in place to
uphold our status as one of the safest counties in the nation as well as to reduce Travis County’s liability by requiring ICE to provide warrants rather than requests.” Travis County Judge Sarah
Eckhardt also said the sher- iff ’s office remains in com- pliance with the immigra
tion laws Sessions cited, calling his announcement “thin cloaking for political retri- bution.”
“I am frustrated that Travis County resources and attention are continually diverted from public safety to address unfounded polit- ically motivated allegations of wrongdoing,” Eckhardt said in a statement.
Experts on both sides of the immigration debate said that Sessions’ announcement will have little impact on cities. Most, if not all, are in compliance with the statute.
“This is not really about enforcing the law; this is about driving policy through bullying and fear monger-
ing,” said Tom Jawetz, vice president of immigration policy at the Center for Amer- ican Progress. “It appears to be a change in conversa
tion from the big loss they suffered on Friday.”
Mark Krikorian, from the Center for Immigration Stud- ies, a conservative policy group, acknowledged that Sessions’ announcement did little but said it was just the beginning of the Trump administration’s promises to crack down on illegal immi- gration.
“It’s the first step on what is likely to be a long path,” Krikorian said. “You have to start somewhere, and that’s what they are doing.”
Travis County in particular has been a focal point in the immigration debate. The American-Statesman confirmed last week that ICE agents targeted the county in recent immigration sweeps
because of Hernandez’s new policy.
Travis County has also come under fire from Gov. Greg Abbott over a policy adopted this year that greatly limits cooperation with ICE detention requests made for county jail inmates sus
pected of living in the coun- try illegally. For years, ICE has used the jail as a way to intercept those suspected of illegal immigration.
Abbott pulled all state criminal justice grant fund
ing to the county, cutting $1.5 million for rehabilita
tion programs such as the Veterans Court and the Phoenix Court. Abbott welcomed Sessions’ announcement Monday.
“I applaud today’s bold action by Attorney General Sessions that aims to end sanctuary city policies that endanger American lives,” Abbott said in a statement.
During his press briefing, Sessions mentioned a report released last week from the Department of Homeland Security that showed more than 200 instances in which jurisdictions did not honor ICE detention requests in a single week.
That number was greatly inflated because it included about 140 inmates at Travis County whose detainers were retroactively refused when the sheriff’s office began enforcing the new policy Feb. 1.
The sheriff’s office has called that report “misleading.”
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions (right), speaking Monday during the daily briefing by White House press secretary Sean Spicer (pointing), said Justice Department grants would be denied to so-called sanctuary communities. “I urge our nation’s states and cities to consider carefully the harm they are doing to their citizens by refusing to enforce our immigration laws,” Sessions said.
Travis Sheriff Sally Hernandez said county is in compliance with a law cited by Sessions.