No Texan, Republican or Democrat, should think of Gov. Greg Abbott as anything less than tough on illegal immigration.
Still, political realities being what they are, Republican officials like Abbott are pressured not only to be far to the right of center on such issues, but out among those who are as farthest to the right.
We can only hope that Abbott’s tough-talking Monday letter to Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez is as far right as he goes.
The governor called out Valdez on her recent decision that he says turns Dallas into a “sanctuary city” for immigrants here illegally.
Valdez has said that future U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement requests to detain incarcerated immigrants beyond their normal release dates will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis. The decision could mean some who are accused of only minor offenses might be released before ICE picks them up for immigration proceedings.
In his letter, Abbott huffed and puffed, saying the decision “poses a serious danger to Texans” and “will no longer be tolerated.”
He said Texas sheriffs should hold to “the strictest ICE standards,” which call for immigrants named in detention requests to be held for up to an additional 48 hours beyond the normal release time.
In fact, Valdez’s office told The Dallas Morning News she has received 1,469 such requests from ICE this year “and declined zero.”
ICE doesn’t send her a detention request unless the immigrant is accused of a serious crime, the sheriff’s office said.
But remember, this is a highly charged political issue, the sort where negative perceptions can easily outrun reality.
Some in Abbott’s party want him to call a special session of the Legislature to outlaw “sanctuary city” policies that go easy on any immigrants here illegally.
The governor can huff and puff all he wants, but he should not call a special session.
Abbott’s office says any action against sanctuary cities will wait until the next regular legislative session in 2017, about 14 months away.
Special sessions are costly, easily topping $1 million. Sanctuary city legislation has been on lawmakers’ agenda in regular and special sessions since 2011 and has not passed.
It’s difficult to see that putting that much taxpayer money into another attempt is a good investment.
In his letter to Valdez, Abbott listed several steps he said the state should take. They’re all very serious steps, and they would indeed require considerable legislative debate.
“At a minimum, Texas must pass laws that prohibit any policy or action like yours that promotes sanctuary to people in this state illegally,” the governor wrote.
Texas sheriffs should be allowed to speak to legislators about any proposed restrictions on how they run their jails.
“The state must also enact laws that make it illegal for a Sheriff’s Department to not honor a federal immigration detainer request,” Abbott wrote. Give sheriffs a chance to talk about that, too.
“Texas must also evaluate the extent to which local taxpayers should foot the bill for local decisions that increase costs for our health and education systems,” the letter says.
Allocating the healthcare and education costs of illegal immigration to individual local governments is of questionable utility at best, while administratively difficult if not impossible.
“Further, the state should consider amending the Tort Claims Act to ensure counties are fully financially responsible for the actions of any illegal immigrants who are released because the county’s sheriff failed to honor an ICE detainer request,” Abbott wrote.
That’s a mouthful from a governor whose party has spent years fighting for tort reform and limiting lawsuits.
Abbott is entitled to talk as tough as he wants on immigration. But when it comes to political pressure for a special session, he must resist.
The time to formulate any new state policy on sanctuary cities won’t come around again until 2017.