Sheriff candidate wants ICE out of Austin jails

Austin poised to become first sanctuary city in Texas

AUSTIN - Could Austin be on its way to becoming what critics call a "sanctuary city?"

The federal government asks local jails to hold onto undocumented immigrants so U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) can pick them up and deport them once the county is done. The Democrat likely to become the next Travis County sheriff is making headlines with her plan to stop honoring ICE detainers.

If all goes as usual, Travis County Constable Sally Hernandez will be the next county sheriff. She wants ICE out of Austin.

"What we're trying to do is just redefine that relationship," Hernandez told KVUE Thursday. The Democratic nominee for sheriff argues holding and deporting people busted for minor offenses, such as traffic tickets, is expensive and erodes community trust.

"It's a matter of criminal justice. It's a matter of public safety and it's a matter of very limited resources," said Hernandez.

There is competition.

"It's a bad idea," Republican nominee Joe Martinez told KVUE. "The sheriff's job is not to make the law. The sheriff's job is to enforce the law."

A longtime law enforcement officer, Martinez has been in his share of real life shoot outs. He wants to cut a deal with ICE to get the county off the hook for the cost of holding undocumented immigrants for the federal government, and his policy for detainers is very different from his counterparts.

"I will enforce the law for each individual that is not in this county legally, that needs to be removed, and has been convicted of a felony, a crime," said Martinez.

"We're not going to let criminals out of jail running wild," Hernandez said. "If somebody commits a violent crime, they will go through the process. They'll be tried. They'll be convicted. They'll go to prison and then they'll be deported."

In 2015, Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez walked back a similar proposal after Gov. Greg Abbott (R-TX) threatened to withhold criminal justice grants to counties that refused to honor ICE detainers. In Travis County, those grants were worth about $130,000 over the last two years. So-called "sanctuary cities" is expected to be a major item during the next legislative session, but Hernandez doesn't want a fight with the legislature -- or anyone else.

"I'm looking forward to working towards solving these issues," said Hernandez. "I can't predict what the legislature would do, but I know that I need to stick to my policy, I mean because it's the right thing to do, and for the right reason."

(© 2016 KVUE)


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