Texas governor blocks funds to Travis County
Moments after Lt. Governor Dan Patrick gaveled in the state senate, four emergency legislative items were read into the official record.
They were identified Tuesday by Governor Greg Abbott during his State of the State address. "This is the session when we will ban Sanctuary Cities in Texas," said Governor Abbott who got a standing ovation from most of the Chamber.
Wednesday morning, members of the Senate GOP caucus announced the emergency item to ban sanctuary city policies is moving forward as Senate Bill 4. "This Bill is not intended to define Sanctuary Cities, that's not the intent of the Bill at all, its rule of law, that's the principal," said the sponsor of the Bill Senator Charles Perry ( R ) Lubbock.
The Bill prohibits local law enforcement from inquiring about a person's immigration status and also requires agencies to comply with federal detainer requests on undocumented immigrations in a county jail. The bill would also make any official liable for refusing a detainer and releasing an inmate who commits another crime.
"And you don't get to be Chief Judge and executioner at a local level based on your whims or political ideologues of the day," said Perry. Perry's legislation is at odds with a new policy by Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez that took effect Wednesday.
Hernandez says, instead of honoring all ICE Detainers the way former Sheriff Greg Hamilton did she will do it on a limited basis. "The more violent offenders, we will honor the detainers, any other we are not going to honor. What about Assaults, aren't they dangerous, manslaughter cases, shouldn't they be honored too? I think you can get yourself into, really and truly we need to let out criminal justice system to handle these cases and I feel very confident in that."
Because Hernandez will not back down, Governor Greg Abbott is not releasing to Travis County almost $2-million in grant money. County Judge Sarah Eckhardt sent Governor Abbott a letter calming the sheriff's policy doesn't violate any federal law.
She also wrote that it appears, to her, the governor is trying to make deputies work for Homeland Security.
"It is retribution, for a lawful but political stance that is adverse to his political stance," said Eckhardt.
County staff members have 13 programs the funding cut will affect. They include the phoenix court, which helps women transition out of prostitution, the drug diversion court and the veteran's court. Also feeling the pinch: programs addressing family violence, providing alternatives to foster care, and juvenile justice.
Judge Eckhardt says none of the programs will be immediately shut down but each will undergo a review to determine if they are effective.
If they are, adjustments in the budget will be made to replace any money that's lost.
Senator Perry said Travis County officials have no one to blame but themselves.
"The governor did not withhold those funds, the actions of the local jurisdiction, the official that chose to be in violation of federal immigration law are the ones withholding those funds," said Perry.
Perry went on to say SB4 will not prevent a community from setting up charities and programs to help immigrants, regardless of their legal status. A hearing on the legislation will be held Thursday morning.