Here's what we learned about requests from ICE to pick up Travis County inmates

June 1, 2017
The Austin Monitor

Drunken driving. Property theft. Possession of a controlled substance.

These are some of the crimes for which the Travis County Sheriff’s Office did not honor requests from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to detain suspected undocumented immigrants past their sentences or dispositions.

Records obtained by KUT News show that while Sheriff Sally Hernandez’s policy regarding ICE detainers is largely being applied as laid out, in a couple of cases it was applied inconsistently, specifically when it concerned reoffenders.

On February 1, Hernandez’s policy went into effect: She would honor ICE detainer requests only if someone had been charged with murder, aggravated sexual assault or human trafficking, or had been convicted of these crimes in the past. She also maintained the ability to assess requests on a case-by-case basis. Later, the sheriff expanded her policy to include crimes committed against children and the elderly.

In a second case, an 18-year-old man was accused of organized criminal activity. Travis County declined the ICE detainer request placed on him, and he was released from jail on a personal recognizance bond, or no-cost bond.

A month later, in April, he was again booked into the Travis County Jail, this time on a home burglary charge. Travis County honored a second ICE detainer request placed on the man and he was released to federal immigration agents. Dark said the man’s escalating criminal activity might explain the decision to turn him over to ICE – but when she spoke with KUT she did not have the notes in front of her from the captain who made the decision.

Bob Libal, executive director of the immigrants’ rights group Grassroots Leadership, said he’s concerned by these inconsistencies.

“I do think that it raises concerns if the policy is not being followed,” he said.

“It’s really disappointing to hear,” said Amy Fischer, policy director at the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services, when told about the few inconsistencies in the application of Hernandez’s policy. “She’s gained a lot of political brownie points as someone who’s claiming to stand up for the immigrant community, and it shows that when push comes to shove that she’s laying down to the federal government.”

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While Hernandez’s policy states that she maintains the right to assess ICE detainers on a case-by-case basis, most of the charges for which people were released to ICE fell below the threshold Hernandez set in her policy. They included charges of DUI, home burglary, domestic violence, manufacture and delivery of a drug, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, and sexual abuse of a child.

An oft-overlooked portion of Hernandez’s policy is the consideration of criminal history. In the case that someone committed one of the three violent felonies she set – murder, aggravated sexual assault and human trafficking – the ICE detainer placed on them would be honored.

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Libal with Grassroots Leadership and Fischer with RAICES said they were concerned from the beginning to learn that Hernandez’s policy included the intent to honor any ICE detainers.

“Obviously, it’s good news that we have a dramatic reduction in the number of immigration detainers in our community,” Libal said. “But it doesn’t solve many of the issues that were raised by (detainers), including constitutional issues. It doesn’t matter what the criminal charge is. The sheriff is agreeing to honor a detainer that does not come with any backing of a warrant.”