Federal Judge Confirms Heightened Austin ICE Action Is Payback For Softened Immigration Policy

March 21, 2017
Downtown Austin patch

The recent sweeps for undocumented immigrants in Austin by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents were done in retaliation for the new sheriff's policy ending a close partnership with the federal agency over a preference in focusing on high-level felons for deportation, according to a published report.

As first reported by the Austin American-Statesman Monday, federal agents privately alerted two magistrate judges in late January they would target Austin with heightened a heightened immigration crackdown.

The reason: A more nuanced policy by Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez that doesn't cooperate with ICE in honoring so-called "detainers," 48-hour holds placed on any arrested person suspected of being undocumented to allow an agent plenty of time to arrive (usually from San Antonio) to fetch the detained person and follow up on deportation.

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“We had a briefing … that we could expect a big operation, agents coming in from out of town, that it was going to be a specific operation, and at least it was related to us in that meeting that it was the result of the sheriff’s new policy that this was going to happen,” Austin said, as quoted by the Statesman.

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What followed less than three months later was unprecedented in Austin, with people being pulled over on roadways or visited at homes and workplaces as ICE agents descended on Austin to root out undocumented immigrants beginning in early February. ICE agents' efforts undoubtedly were fueled by Hernandez's more softened approach but buoyed by Donald Trump and Greg Abbott, both eager proponents of wholesale deportations from their presidential and governor's perches, respectively. 

Immediately, suspicions emerged that the crackdown never before seen (the undocumented before detected largely during times of arrest, not personal visits by ICE agents) was sort of payback against Hernandez. The revelation made in court on Monday seems to support those suspicions.

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Bob Libal, executive director of Grassroots Leadership in Austin, reacted angrily to the revelations, calling out past missives by ICE positing enforcement action as routine to have been outright lies.

“This revelation in open court proves what immigrants and advocates have known for years — that ICE regularly lies to immigrants, local officials, and the media,” Libal said. “Now more than ever, officials at every level of government should rethink their relationship with this agency, and cut ties with an entity that used its power to terrorize our community and then lies to elected officials about the reason for its operation.”