The First Big Fight Over Sanctuary Cities Pits a Latina Sheriff Against Texas’ Governor

Sally Hernandez says she won’t back down.

<a href="https://www.tcsheriff.org/inmate-jail-info/ice-video">Travis County Sheriff's Office</a>/YouTube

Facts matter: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter. Support our nonprofit reporting. Subscribe to our print magazine.


In the Democratic hotbed of Austin, Texas, newly elected Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez announced last Friday that her department would join hundreds of counties around the country in reducing its cooperation with federal immigration officials. Unless presented with a warrant or court order, the sheriff’s department would no longer comply with US Immigration and Customs Enforcement requests to hold inmates suspected of being undocumented or notify the agency ahead of their release.

Hernandez’s decision, which goes into effect February 1 and makes the county Texas’ first designated sanctuary, has prompted considerable backlash from Texas Republicans. And now, perhaps inspired by President Donald Trump’s threats to strip federal funding from “sanctuary jurisdictions,” Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has demanded that Hernandez reverse course—or risk millions of dollars in state funding.

Hernandez—who promised during her campaign to cut cooperation with ICE—has so far refused to stand down, saying she would not let “fear and misinformation” dictate her actions.

In an interview on Fox & Friends on Wednesday, Abbott called Hernandez’s actions “outrageous” and vowed to ban sanctuary cities in Texas. He promised to cut off state grants to cities, pursue legislation that would remove officials that promote the practice, and impose criminal and financial penalties. The Texas Tribune reported on Friday that Abbott’s office had requested a list of federal and state funding to Travis County from the state’s budget office.

In a letter to Hernandez, the governor noted that the county sheriff department received $1.8 million in grant money from the state’s Criminal Justice Division in 2015. Still, Hernandez—who promised during her campaign to cut cooperation with ICE—has so far refused to stand down, telling the Texas Tribune that she would not let “fear and misinformation” dictate her actions.

This isn’t the first time the state government has had a rift with a county sheriff over immigration enforcement. In 2015, Abbott vowed to withhold state funds from Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez when she said she would assess ICE hold requests on a case-by-case basis. (She later said her remarks were taken out of context and promised to comply with federal immigration officials.) In November, state Sen. Charles Perry introduced a bill that required county jails to comply with federal immigration officials and effectively banned sanctuary cities in Texas. The bill is currently in the Senate Committee on State Affairs and slated for a public hearing on February 2; a similar attempt at enacting a ban faltered in 2015.) And in December, when students at several Texas universities called on administrators to establish safe havens for undocumented immigrants on campus, Abbott promised on Twitter that he would slash funding for state universities that became sanctuary campuses.

Just this week, Trump signed an executive order that would slash federal funding to cities and counties that opted not to cooperate with federal deportation efforts. In Austin’s case, that would amount to $43 million in federal grants. It’s unclear to what extent the White House will be able to carry out the order, which will likely face stiff challenges in court.

THE TRUTH...

is the first thing despots go after. An unwavering commitment to it is probably what draws you to Mother Jones' journalism. And as we're seeing in the US and the world around, authoritarians seek to poison the discourse and the way we relate to each other because they can't stand people coming together around a shared sense of the truth—it's a huge threat to them.

Which is also a pretty great way to describe Mother Jones' mission: People coming together around the truth to hold power accountable.

And right now, we need to raise about $400,000 from our online readers over the next two months to hit our annual goal and make good on that mission. Read more about the information war we find ourselves in and how people-powered, independent reporting can and must rise to the challenge—and please support our team's truth-telling journalism with a donation if you can right now.

payment methods

THE TRUTH...

is the first thing despots go after. An unwavering commitment to it is probably what draws you to Mother Jones' journalism. And as we're seeing in the US and the world around, authoritarians seek to poison the discourse and the way we relate to each other because they can't stand people coming together around a shared sense of the truth—it's a huge threat to them.

Which is also a pretty great way to describe Mother Jones' mission: People coming together around the truth to hold power accountable.

And right now, we need to raise about $400,000 from our online readers over the next two months to hit our annual goal and make good on that mission. Read more about the information war we find ourselves in and how people-powered, independent reporting can and must rise to the challenge—and please support our team's truth-telling journalism with a donation if you can right now.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate