Texans demand local leaders stand up to Gov. Abbott’s bullying over immigration policy

January 26, 2017

The governor’s threats to withhold funds and remove local officials over common-sense immigration policies are undemocratic, betray the constitution, and undermine public safety

(AUSTIN, Texas) — Outcry from across Texas continues to grow after Gov. Greg Abbott vowed to punish communities whose local leaders uphold the constitution and keep their communities safe by limiting use of local law enforcement resources for deportation. The Governor announced during an interview that not only would he hold hostage public safety and social services funds from Travis County, he would also try to remove duly-elected Sheriff Sally Hernandez from office for her common-sense policy on limiting the county’s participation in deportations.

Forcing police to act as immigration agents undermines public safety for the entire community, making domestic violence and crime victims afraid to come forward and diverting police resources. Strong local policies that keep local police out of the deportation business not only uphold individual rights, but increase public safety. In fact, Sheriff Hernandez’s policy makes clear that the Travis County Sheriff’s office will comply with any ICE detainer that comes with a court-issued warrant, something that upholds principles of due process enshrined in the Constitution.

Two Texas counties, Bexar County and Dallas County, are facing ongoing lawsuits over their voluntary participation in the federal government’s deportation machine.  This legal liability comes as courts across the country have found that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainers violate the 4th Amendment. Local leaders have a duty to taxpayers to limit exposure to the liability that comes with violating constitutional rights by working with ICE.

Newly elected sheriffs in Travis and Harris Counties were elected specifically on their promises to limit cooperation with ICE.  Texas sheriffs are elected and therefore are loyal to their constituents, not to a governor interested in scoring political points by taking shots at immigrants.

Advocates and legal experts noted that Donald Trump lacks the constitutional authority to cut off funds from communities that enact policies to protect immigrant families and resist federal overreach. As Trump signs executive orders that fly in the face of constitutionally enshrined protections of due process and religious freedom, it is more important than ever for local officials to uphold the law as demanded by their constituents.

Reactions from Texas communities:

Travis County: “Everyone deserves the right to live safe and free from fear. We need strong local policies that separate police and immigration agents. What we know is that many victims of crime and witnesses don’t feel safe to come forward. Policies like Sheriff Hernandez’s seek to improve the already fragile relationship between communities and the police. The governor’s reckless and dangerous demand not only undermines local autonomy, but public safety,” said Sofia Casini, immigrations program coordinator, Grassroots Leadership in Austin.

Harris County: “As DACAmented youth, we, and our families, stand to face state and federal policies that will push us to the margins of society. We will promote, even protect, discrimination against us and other people of color.  Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez, who runs the Sheriff’s Office responsible for the most deportations in the country, has the power to protect us and our families now. He can either choose to stand with us or with President Trump and Governor Abbott,” said Oscar Hernandez, organizer, United We Dream Houston.

Bexar County: “Gov. Abbott wants to force law enforcement agencies to adopt policies they’ve rejected for decades because they run contrary to their primary mission: keeping our communities safe,” said Michelle Tremillo, executive director of the Texas Organizing Project. “Trust between police and the community is essential in keeping communities safe. The vast majority of police chiefs and sheriffs reject having their departments enforce immigration laws. Gov. Abbott should respect their judgement and let them do their jobs,” said Michelle Tremillo, Executive Director, Texas Organizing Project in San Antonio.

Dallas County: “The North Texas Dream Team (NTDT) urges Governor Greg Abbott to allow local police and sheriff departments to deal with their constituency at their own discretion. Local police enforcement deals with local communities on a daily basis, and they know what is needed to protect their department and the public. It is imperative for the Texas state government to allow those leaders to decide what’s best to ensure a symbiotic relationship with the community they serve. "It is time to allow local police departments to build relationships with local leaders to ensure the safety and peace for our families," said Marco A. Malagon, Press and Information Officer of the North Texas Dream Team.

“Workers Defense Project knows that our communities are safer when local law enforcement works to protect our communities rather to police and act as federal immigration authorities. These dangerous policies divert local law enforcement resources from crime and create safe communities. We urge Governor Abbott to stop playing games with our families and allow for local leaders to do what's right for their communities.” said DJ Garza, Dallas Campaign Organizer, Workers Defense Project.

Rio Grande Valley: “If Governor Abbott follows through on his threats to withhold funds and remove duly elected sheriffs from office, he will not only undermine public safety, but risk the very future of Texas’ democracy as well. Local voters and local elected officials know their communities far better than do state lawmakers hawking an anti-immigrant agenda,” said Astrid Dominguez, ACLU of Texas in Brownsville.

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Grassroots Leadership is an Austin, Texas-based national organization that works for a more just society where prison profiteering, mass incarceration, deportation and criminalization are things of the past.



Cristina Parker, cparker@grassrootsleadership.org, 512-499-8111