Abbott: Travis Co. ‘worst offender’ in releasing charged undocumented immigrants

Travis County Correctional Facility (Courtesy: TCSO)
Travis County Correctional Facility (Courtesy: TCSO)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Travis County released more criminally charged undocumented immigrants from custody than any other American county highlighted in a new report from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Gov. Greg Abbott called Travis County “the worst offender,” with 142 people released from custody between Jan. 28 and Feb. 3, amounting to nearly 70 percent of the nationwide total in the counties identified by ICE. “Today’s report from DHS is deeply disturbing and highlights the urgent need for a statewide sanctuary city ban in Texas,” Abbott said.

The governor placed blame for the releases at the feet of Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez and her policy of only approving ICE detainer requests for inmates with specific criminal charges.

Abbott promised to put an end to sanctuary policies “that put the lives of our citizens at risk.” The governor pointed to undocumented immigrants released from jail with charges including sexual offenses against children, domestic violence and kidnapping.

KXAN sat down with Travis Co. Commissioner Gerald Daugherty, Precinct 3, who said the governor’s remarks were not surprising.

“The governor has been consistent with what he has been saying,” said Daugherty. “I think that it’s damaging for Travis County. Personally, I think that it’s damaging to the sheriff’s department and I’m really saddened by the fact that the sheriff’s department really has to put up with this.”

Daugherty added that he, too, believes a law banning so-called sanctuary cities and/or sanctuary policies in Texas is the best option for the state.

“The best thing I think that could happen to us, is that we get this billed passed and hopefully the sheriff will do what she says that she will do, and if it becomes law, she will comply 100 percent. That can’t get here fast enough, as far as I’m concerned.”

In response to the ICE report, Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt said in a statement, “Questionable immigration status is not evidence in our state criminal justice system. If the accused is undocumented, that is a federal issue which ICE is free to pursue independent.”

In addition to the 142 from Travis County, three criminally charged undocumented immigrants were released from the Bastrop County Jail and four from the Williamson County Jail during the same period.

However, the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office says the ICE report is misleading in listing their department as an agency that “refuses to cooperate with federal requests to detain undocumented immigrants.” The sheriff’s offices says they honor all ICE detainers and will continue to do so. They say the four listed in the ICE report were arrested in Williamson County and then transferred to a jurisdiction, “where we believe ICE detainers are not honored,” an official statement said.

The Bastrop County Sheriff’s Office issued a statement along the same vein. Sheriff Maurice Cook said the three individuals that were arrested in his county were placed in the county jail on local and Travis County warrants. The three suspects were checked into the system and “ICE showed an interest by responding back to place a hold/detainer” on the suspects. The suspects were then transferred to Travis County Jail and when they were released there, “it appeared that Bastrop County did not honor the ICE detainer.”

Last month, the Travis County Sheriff’s Office said they would likely include additional criminal charges, involving children and the elderly, in their ICE detainer policy. The policy previously only accepted ICE detainers on undocumented immigrants charged with capital murder, first-degree murder, aggravated sexual assault and human smuggling.

On Feb. 1, the governor announced $1.5 million worth of cuts for the county in response to Sheriff Hernandez’s policy. The county launched an official fundraising account to make up the difference and eliminated 14 full-time equivalent positions that worked in grant-funded programs.

At the Texas State Capitol, Senate Bill 4, which would ban so-called sanctuary cities, is moving through the legislative process, having already passed the Senate. The bill is currently being reviewed by the House Committee.

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