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Travis County Sheriff Questions Likely Successor’s Immigration Policy

Outgoing Travis County Sheriff Greg Hamilton said Saturday that his likely successor's promise to get U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement out of the county jail would be “dangerous.”

Jay Root, reporter for The Texas Tribune, moderated the “Immigration and the Cities” panel featuring Greg Hamilton and Lupe Valdez at The Texas Tribune Festival on Sept. 24, 2016.

The departing sheriff of Travis County warned Saturday that his likely successor's promise to stop cooperating with federal immigration authorities would be "dangerous."

During an onstage interview at the Texas Tribune Festival, Travis County Sheriff Greg Hamilton questioned the wisdom of campaign promises by fellow Democrat Sally Hernandez, a constable considered all but certain to win the spot in November.

Hamilton, who is not seeking re-election, has faced criticism for cooperating with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement by holding onto immigrants in the county jail so the agency can pick them up.

“I have taken a lot of heat, but I have a moral compass. I think we’re keeping the community safe,” he told Tribune reporter Jay Root. 

Last month, during a sit-down interview, Hernandez told the Tribune that she doesn’t think “you solve the criminal justice process by deporting them.” Should she beat her Republican opponent, Joe Martinez, in November – as expected – such a policy would make Austin the first true “sanctuary city” in Republican-dominated Texas.

There is no standard definition for “sanctuary city,” but ICE tracks local law enforcement agencies that have policies limiting cooperation — the majority of which are in California.

The Legislature is already gearing up to pass a bill banning sanctuary city policies, an initiative that failed in previous sessions. 

Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez joined the pair on stage to largely dispute the characterization by Gov. Greg Abbott, and others, that she’s operating a sanctuary city.

“We have no issue, we have a good relationship [with ICE]. I want to give you what nobody wants. No one wants those criminals,” she said. “When you’re turning over the largest number of undocumented in North Texas, how can you say we’re not cooperating?”

Asked about Hernandez’s campaign promise to not cooperate with federal authorities on immigration, Valdez deflected. “I don’t know if she’s going to allow them. But who wants violent offenders in the community? None of us do.”

In Dallas County, ICE has personnel in the jail, whereas in Travis County, Hamilton said, the agency comes to the jail twice a day – once in the morning and afternoon. Hamilton made clear that his deputies do not ask anybody’s immigration status, adding that that’s ICE’s job. But he reiterated that not having a relationship with the agency is not an option.

“I will tell you, that’s a dangerous move. ICE has a job to do, and I think their job is very important. If you’re not following the laws of immigration, then what other laws are you disregarding?”

Read the Tribune’s related coverage:

  • With the likely election of a new Democratic sheriff in November, Austin is poised to become the first true “sanctuary city” in GOP-ruled Texas if Travis County stops cooperating with federal immigration policies.
  • Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump used a trip to Houston to address families of victims of crimes committed by undocumented immigrants — and blast Democratic rival Hillary Clinton as unsympathetic to their concerns.

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