Travis of­fi­cials don't fear Ses­sions' threat

At­tor­ney gen­eral vows to with­hold funds from sanc­tu­ary com­mu­ni­ties.

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Philip Jankowski pjankowski@states­man.com

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.”

WIN MC­NAMEE / GETTY IMAGES

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.

DAULTON VENGLAR / AMER­I­CAN-STATES­MAN

Travis Sher­iff Sally Her­nan­dez said county is in com­pli­ance with a law cited by Ses­sions.

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