In 'sanctuary' fight, a new question of justice emerges

February 18, 2017
Austin American-Statesman

When Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore was alerted to the case against Hugo Gallardo-Gonzalez, accused of repeatedly sexually assaulting a young girl and targeted by federal immigration agents, she had a clear vision for his future.

She wanted to take him to trial on the most serious felony charge possible.

Then see him do time.

And then — and only then — possibly see him expelled from the country.

As the battle over so-called sanctuary cities continues, Moore’s pursuit exposes what has been a largely unexamined dimension of whether Texas sheriffs should be bound to hold inmates for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement for possible deportation: What happens to the original cases that landed those suspects in jail?

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Bob Libal, executive director of the criminal justice reform group Grassroots Leadership, said, “The immigration system actually can interfere with the criminal justice system. Not having immigration involved helps the criminal justice system carry out its duties, whereas when you mix immigration and criminal justice, you end up not doing justice by anybody.”

After collecting inmates from local jails across the state, federal authorities often offer suspects a chance to leave the country voluntarily, and many immigrants, especially those without adequate legal representation, do so, said Jose “Chito” Vela III, an immigration and criminal defense attorney in Austin.