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Battle Over Sanctuary Cities Heats Up in Texas

Texas is debating "sanctuary city" policies, in which local law enforcement often refuses to turn over undocumented immigrants to federal officials. (arfo/iStockphoto)
Texas is debating "sanctuary city" policies, in which local law enforcement often refuses to turn over undocumented immigrants to federal officials. (arfo/iStockphoto)
January 27, 2017

AUSTIN, Texas - The fight over sanctuary cities in Texas has become a high-profile political battle between a county sheriff in Austin and Gov. Greg Abbott.

The governor has vowed to withhold millions in state funds under a proposed "Sanctuary Cities" bill if Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez keeps her election promise to not enforce most federal immigration policies. Add to that President Trump's executive order this week to withhold federal funds from sanctuary cities, and Cristina Parker, immigration programs director for the immigrant-rights group Grassroots Leadership, called the threats "political grandstanding."

"The governor has issued two main threats," she said. "One is to withhold state funds from Travis County - these are things that fund stuff like homeless programs, public-safety programs, needed money - to the tune of about $1.8 million."

Abbott's other threat is to remove Hernandez from office for not enforcing immigration policies. Parker said no law allows the governor to do that. Senate Bill 4, with a legislative hearing next week, would define sanctuary cities as those that do not cooperate with federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE.

Parker said state officials - and now the president - are trying to make an example of cities such as Austin, Dallas, Houston and others, for opposing ICE requests for immigration holds.

"I've heard many other people describe it as the feeling that the governor is bullying our community and our local officials, who are putting in place policies that we demanded of them," she said. "Sort of an overreach, a little overstepping of bounds, to try to come and tell us what we should do in our community."

She said Hernandez mainly wants ICE to follow the same rules as any other law-enforcement agency.

"She will work with ICE if they come with a warrant. They come with a warrant for someone, she'll honor that," Parker said. "And every other law enforcement agency, they come with a warrant. And so really, Sally's just saying she wants ICE to have to follow that kind of due process."

The Immigrant Legal Resource Center lists 15 cities and counties in Texas among the 400 across the country it has identified as sanctuary cities.

The sheriff's statement is online at tcsheriff.org. SB 4, the Sanctuary Cities bill, is at capitol.state.tx.us.

Mark Richardson/Dallas Heltzell, Public News Service - TX