The Travis County Jail released 37 immigrant inmates on bond Wednesday, inmates who under an old policy would have been held if requested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Travis County Sheriff’s Spokeswoman Kristin Dark said there were 191 immigrant inmates under ICE detainer requests on Feb. 1, when Sheriff Sally Hernandez’s policy went into effect. ICE agents asked the county to detain five immigrants who were arrested Wednesday, but the sheriff’s office declined both requests under the new policy. The sheriff’s office also declined an ICE request to be informed when four other immigrants were released from the jail.
Hernandez’s new policy states it will comply with ICE detainer requests if the inmate is being held on murder, sex assault or human trafficking charges. The sheriff’s office said 30 inmates fall into those categories and are being held, as well as complying with request to notify ICE when two other inmates charged with those offenses are released.
Hernandez’s policy has been the point for controversy between her and Gov. Greg Abbott, who on Wednesday ordered funds to be withheld from the county. Abbott said he would seek stronger punishments and legal means to remove Hernandez from office or end the policy.
Some worry that because of this new policy, ICE agents are preparing to conduct a round-up of undocumented immigrants in the area.
But several Austin lawyers told KVUE that for now, those are just rumors. They say ICE officials are only looking for anyone with an outstanding order of deportation or a warrant for arrest.
"With all that's going on with the current administration, and what's happening in our county with the sanctuary cities and Senate Bill 4, it's a time that immigrants are very scared and people in Austin want to make sure that they're getting help," said immigration lawyer Kate Lincoln-Goldfinch.
Lincoln-Goldfinch said people should know that ICE agents can't enter your home unless they have a warrant signed by a judge. If they do not, she said you don't have to talk to them, and you have the right to request a lawyer. She suggests even slipping a note under the door that you want to request an attorney.
"It's a very scary and upsetting thing to even consider, but unfortunately in this day and age it's necessary," said Lincoln-Goldfinch.
She also said you don't have to sign any documentation. But, she suggests that people who are undocumented should have a plan in place for where their children can stay if they are apprehended.
"One thing that happens when fugitive operations occur is that even though those specific individuals are targeted, other people can get swept up, other individuals who might be at a house or address where ICE goes, so it's really important that the community knows what they can do, what their rights are," said Lincoln-Goldfinch.
The Austin Bar will hold a seminar next week for Austin lawyers to discuss how they can get involved. The event sold out in one day, but people can still stream the event online.
"The Austin Bar is really interested in equal access to justice," said Lincoln-Goldfinch.
Another lawyer told KVUE they have a group text of lawyers who are ready to represent immigrants if needed.
Lincoln-Goldfinch feels there is a positive side, looking at all the people who want to help the immigrants.
"What we're seeing is actually heartwarming up swell for the immigrant community and so although it is a scary and upsetting time I think it's important to remember and witness all the people who are coming out in support of refugees and immigrants, and know there's a whole lot of people on their side, and are glad they're here, and appreciate diversity in our community," said Lincoln-Goldfinch.