More than three dozen people suspected of being unauthorized immigrants posted bail and were released from Travis County Jail on the first day of a new county policy limiting cooperation with immigration authorities.
Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez’s policy ending blanket compliance with federal immigration detention requests for suspected undocumented immigrants in custody at the county jail went into effect Wednesday. That day, the sheriff’s office declined 196 detention requests from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials. Thirty detention requests were honored, according to the sheriff’s office.
Once the so-called ICE detainers were removed, 37 people were able to bail out Wednesday. Had the detainers remained in place, inmates would still have been able to post bail, but they would have been released into ICE custody for possible deportation.
Under the new policy, the sheriff’s office will only comply with ICE detention requests if presented with a warrant or judicial order, though it will continue to automatically honor requests for inmates charged with or convicted of a narrow scope of major crimes like capital murder, murder and aggravated sexual assault.
The policy has placed a spotlight on Hernandez and Travis County that has attracted ire from state lawmakers and a vow from Gov. Greg Abbott to oust Hernandez from office if she doesn’t reverse course. Abbott cancelled $1.5 million in state grant funding to Travis County on Wednesday for criminal justice programs in retaliation to the policy taking effect.
Some local immigration activist groups worry that the issue might bring new-found attention to the county and make it a target of federal immigration authorities.
Since Hernandez’s policy began, several Austin immigration activist groups have been on high alert as rumors of sweeping raids from federal immigration authorities have swirled. The growing thought is that ICE officials are planning new operations in response to the Travis County Jail’s new policy.
“There is a fear that the Trump administration may turn to retaliation,” Grassroots Leadership executive director Bob Libal said. “It is par for the course for an administration run by Steve Bannon. … This is part of the playbook. Attack people that provide any critique or resistance.”
When asked Wednesday about any increased enforcement in Austin, an ICE spokeswoman said the agency requires information about the date and time of specific actions before providing details.
American Gateways interim executive director Robert Painter said they are focusing on getting information to immigrants about what they should do if they come into contact with ICE agents.
“There is some concern that Travis County has attracted a lot of attention for taking this stand in Texas,” Painter said. “If someone is in fear of being targeted, they should probably come to our office.”
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