Gov. Greg Abbott, having newly re-minted himself as the bane of so-called “sanctuary cities” in Texas, has gone a step beyond just complaining about places that won’t hold all unauthorized immigrants in their jails long enough for federal officials to deport them.
He’s decided to hit those places in the pocketbook. It’s a serious escalation of his new campaign on immigration, one that some Democrats say is anti-immigrant. But some conservative Republicans say Abbott hasn’t been tough enough on the issue.
The plan has its ironies and faults, but Abbott apparently has all the power and authority he needs to withhold money. Under the state budget, his office administers criminal justice grants, which have amounted to about $4 million so far this calendar year.
The governor says there will be no grants for counties where sheriffs don’t honor all federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement requests to hold certain arrested immigrant suspects in their jails.
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Abbott has pointed his new policy at Dallas County, where Sheriff Lupe Valdez has said she’ll look at the federal requests on a case-by-case basis. Her office says she has not turned down any of the nearly 1,500 “immigration hold” requests it has received from ICE this year.
The irony of Abbott’s new plan is this: He has been among the loud Republican complainers about President Barack Obama’s executive orders to establish immigration policies not approved by Congress.
Legislation against sanctuary cities has been on state lawmakers’ agenda in regular and special sessions since 2011 and has not passed. Now Abbott says he’ll take matters into his own hands, as did Obama.
Some activists want the governor to call a special session to consider such legislation again. That would carry costs that would quickly exceed $1 million, and Abbott shouldn’t do it.
There’s been ample opportunity for the Legislature to act. The issue can wait until the next regular session, which is scheduled to begin in January 2017.
A fault in Abbott’s plan has been cited by none other than Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley, a 19-year veteran of county government. It’s a conservative Republican argument.
Withholding grant money from the county doesn’t penalize the sheriff, Whitley points out. It penalizes county taxpayers who must provide the funds to make up the difference.
Sheriffs are independent elected officials. County commissioners and county judges like Whitley can’t alter the sheriff’s policies.
Tarrant County Sheriff Dee Anderson says he has no problems with the governor’s new policy. His office already honors all ICE detention requests.
Anderson says state grant money helps pay for things like deputies’ body armor and body cameras and for task force operations.
No matter the wisdom of the immediate action on state grants, Abbott clearly has launched a campaign to increase his bona fides on immigration and even to enhance the issue’s staying power for conservatives going into the March 1 primary elections and beyond.
It serves conservative candidates well to have this issue as a campaign punching bag.
People in immigrant communities see it differently. Many are tired of being punching bags.
Their best response, of course, would be to register to vote and then actually vote in next year’s elections — and convince their friends and neighbors to do the same.
Abbott is betting that they won’t, and he knows that tough-on-immigration conservatives will.