Dramatically raising the stakes in the battle over so-called “sanctuary city” policies, Gov. Greg Abbott declared Wednesday that he and Texas lawmakers will seek new laws to remove sheriffs and local officials who refuse to cooperate with federal immigration officials.
Abbott’s pledge came hours before President Donald Trump signed an executive action to also crack down on immigrant-protecting sanctuary policies by cutting federal dollars.
Abbott, a Republican, already has plans to cut off some state grants by Feb. 1 because Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez says her jails in Texas’ most liberal city will no longer honor all detainer requests from federal immigration authorities. The detainers typically are requests to allow federal agents to further investigate whether a person who has been arrested is in the country legally.
We will remove her from office.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said of Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez if she doesn’t fully cooperate with federal immigration officials.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Star-Telegram
“If she doesn’t, we will remove her from office,” Abbott said of Hernandez, a Democrat, during an interview on Fox and Friends.
Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez, also a Democrat, has a policy similar to the one used by Hernandez.
Abbott said the Texas Legislature is working on anti-sanctuary bills that would remove officeholders and impose criminal and financial penalties. His threat goes beyond one prominent anti-sanctuary bill that proposes blocking taxpayer money as punishment.
It was not immediately clear how legislation would remove Hernandez from office. She won her election last year. Sanctuary cities opponents view such officials’ immigration policies as a violation of their oaths of office.
The Fox News interview appears to be the first time Abbott has suggested officials like Hernandez could lose their jobs under sanctuary cities legislation. Abbott is expected to prioritize the legislation in his State of the State address on Tuesday.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton also said Wednesday that Hernandez should go if she continues the new policy.
“I would agree with the governor,” Paxton told reporters during an event at the Governor’s Mansion. “I think, especially if they pass legislation as it relates to this issue — absolutely.”
Hernandez’s office did not have an immediate comment on Abbott’s remarks. The governor’s comments, however, quickly drew ire from other Democrats, with the state party saying in a statement that Abbott was “launching a new assault on the will of Texans.”
“I don’t know how the governor would suggest to do that,” state Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, said at a news conference that was called to push back on sanctuary cities legislation. “Unless the governor wants to be king and remove people from office unilaterally, then I think the people of Travis County will have an opportunity to speak on the sheriff, the governor and all other elected officials when they stand for re-election.”
Not only will these actions push undocumented immigrants back into the shadows, but they will also undermine local law enforcement’s ability to build trust in their communities.
U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth, said of Republican efforts to take action against officials who support sanctuary policies.
U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth, also criticized efforts by Republicans to crack down on sanctuary advocates.
“Not only will these actions push undocumented immigrants back into the shadows, but they will also undermine local law enforcement’s ability to build trust in their communities and fully carry out their local and state responsibilities,” Veasey said in a statement.
U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, suggested another remedy. “How about removing those from office who make up the law to suit their own political needs!” he said in a statement.
Hernandez, in a YouTube video released Friday that coincided with the inaugural celebrations for Trump, said she would end a longstanding blanket Travis County policy of honoring ICE detainers in most instances.
Under her new policy, Hernandez, who took office this month, said she will honor such detainers only in cases in which a suspect has been charged with murder, sexual assault or human smuggling or if federal agents get a court order or an arrest warrant.
“The public must be confident that local law enforcement is focused on local public safety, not on federal immigration enforcement,” Hernandez said in the video. “Our jail cannot be perceived as a holding tank for ICE or that Travis County deputies are ICE officers.”
Likewise, Valdez has said her policy in Dallas County is to cooperate with federal officials on people who commit violent crimes. “Gladly, I’ll turn those over,” she said this week in an interview with WFAA-TV. Beyond that, she contended that neither state nor federal officials have the facilities to hold all people that merely are undocumented.
“The truth is this is common sense justice,” Valdez told WFAA. “There’s no way that immigration can hold all of the people that are undocumented. There’s no way that I can hold all of them in my jail.”
Staff writer John Gravois contributed to this report, which includes material from The Texas Tribune, The Associated Press, the Austin American-Statesman and the Dallas Morning News.