Sheriff Sally Hernandez fires back at ICE, claims agency is lying

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez is speaking out about her stance on federal immigration detainers at the jail.

At a press conference on Wednesday, Hernandez is refuting statements from Immigration and Customs Enforcement stating her jail failed to honor a federal detainer on a known Mexican gang member. Hernandez said federal officials are not telling the truth about happened and she believes it’s politically motivated.

According to ICE, 33-year-old Julio Cesar Mendoza-Caballero was in the Travis County Jail on June 16 and, on that day, the agency issued a federal detainer on him. ICE says the jail released him despite the detainer request.

“We declined the ICE detainers and sent an email about the arrest. Six hours later he bonded out and ICE had not presented a warrant or order from a judge,” explained Hernandez. “He was able to leave after he bonded out.”

The sheriff’s office put out the names of four people at ICE who were notified of the declined detainer request at 2:41 p.m. on June 16. Because a federal warrant never arrived, Mendoza-Caballero was released at 8:52 p.m. He ended up being arrested by ICE agents on July 14.

In a clarification Thursday, the sheriff’s office said ICE did in fact send an email at 3:45 p.m. the day the detainer request was denied including Mendoza-Caballero’s criminal history. The sheriff’s office says ICE’s email also included a request that their decision to decline the detainer be reconsidered.

“Our agency deeply regrets that the message was missed due to a clerical error,” TCSO said in a statement, after initially saying they did not receive the man’s criminal history.

Either way, the sheriff’s office says, a judicial warrant or an order of removal signed by a judge — which the county did not receive — would have guaranteed the detainer request being honored.

Hernandez says she does not take into account how many times someone has been deported — in this case four times — only the crimes they’ve committed. In her view, if someone is deported numerous times and is still in the community committing crimes, deportations do not make the community safer.

Hernandez says her policy ensures victims can see criminals get punished, instead of just getting tossed out of the country. “They are tried for their charges and if convicted and sentenced to prison they go to prison.”

She accused ICE officials of playing politics with the issue. “Cooperating with immigration doesn’t necessarily mean doing their work but it really means treating them like any other law enforcement agency and that’s what we’ve done,” said Hernandez.

Matt Mackowiak, Travis County Republican Party Chair said, “Her position is illogical.” He says she might have a case if the man were arrested for jay-walking but not for a violent crime. Mendoza-Caballero was most recently in the Travis County Jail on a misdemeanor charge.

“She ran for the top law enforcement job in Travis county. Her job is to do that job and protect the public. Releasing a seriously, seriously dangerous person back into our community does not do that,” said Mackowiak.

A spokesperson for ICE says the agency followed the proper protocols to detain him, but when TCSO declined the detainer, “ICE asked TCSO to reconsider its decision to decline the detainer, again emphasizing Mendoza-Caballero’s criminal history and gang ties. However, despite ICE’s request, TCSO failed to notify ICE of Mendoza-Caballero’s impending release which would have afforded ICE the opportunity to detain and remove this dangerous criminal alien.”

Hernandez vs. Abbott

For most of this year, Sheriff Hernandez has been at the forefront of the sanctuary cities debate after she announced policy changes pertaining to federal detainers. Hernandez said her office complies with ICE detainer requests when the suspect is charged with an egregious crime, such as capital murder or aggravated sexual assault.

In response, Gov. Greg Abbott took swift action to cut state grants to Travis County, even threatening that Hernandez will lose her job unless she reversed her plan.

After Senate Bill 4 was passed into law in May, Hernandez said she will follow the law even though she believes the law “ties the hands of our law enforcement agency and pushes victims of crime into the shadows.”

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