Governor Demands State Agencies Turn Over List of Funding Awarded to Travis County

Jan 27, 2017

The governor’s office has asked state agencies to send a list of funds, including federal money, directed to Travis County last year. In a letter sent Thursday, Budget Director Steven Albright said the list “should be complete with the amount of funds and the purpose of the agreement” and be submitted by Feb. 3.

The request follows a threat by Gov. Greg Abbott to cut off funding to Travis County over Sheriff Sally Hernandez’s new immigration policy, released last week, which limits participation in a voluntary U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) program to detain people booked into the county jail. 

On Tuesday, Abbott told Fox News he wants to penalize so-called "sanctuary cities" and remove elected officials with policies similar to Travis County's.

“We are working on laws that will, one, ban sanctuary cities, remove from office any officeholder who promotes sanctuary cities [and] impose criminal penalties, as well as financial penalties,” he said. “If she doesn’t, we will remove her from office.”

Hernandez last night responded to Abbott’s threat, saying she would not allow “fear and misinformation to be guiding principles as a leader sworn to protect the community.”

“Our community is safer when people can report crimes without fear of deportation,” she said in a statement.

In an interview with KUT's Nathan Bernier for All Things Considered, she reiterated that the fear of deportation makes it harder for law enforcement to gain the trust and cooperation of immigrant communities. 

Hernandez said she was concerned about funding being cut to state programs intended to keep people out of jail. But, she said, “if public safety is as important to our state leaders, why would they cut this funding?”

"This is not an issue of Sally against state leaders. It’s really not about Sally at all," she continued. "It’s about protecting our community and providing good public service. And what I’d like to see is we, who are elected officials and public servants, coming together and working toward solutions for a very tough and very complicated issue that affects millions and millions of people.”

Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt told KUT’s Audrey McGlinchy that she hopes the governor will reconsider his threat to cut funding to the county.

“We all have moments where we are afraid and we act out of fear,” she said. “But I know Greg Abbott to be a brave and principled man. I’ve experienced him as a brave and principled man, able to speak truth to power.”

Camille Cain, executive director of the Criminal Justice Division, rejected Eckhard's appeal. In a letter to the judge she said Hernandez’s policies are illegal.

“[O]ur office’s criminal justice grants must be used to uphold the justice system and cannot be wasted on local governments intent on undermining it.” 

It is not clear that Hernandez's policy is illegal, however. Stephanie Taylor, an immigration lawyer with Hansen & Taylor, PLLC, says a plain-language reading of the law suggests that complying with ICE’s detention requests is not mandatory.

Under the policy, which goes into effect next month, Travis County would still honor requests that come with a warrant or involve someone charged with murder, aggravated sexual assault or human trafficking. 

Austin Mayor Steve Adler said today that Hernandez is trying to follow the law and encourage immigrant communities to trust law enforcement so they will report crimes and serve as witnesses.

“We have officials that are telling us that if we are willing to affirmatively compromise our safety, we can get some money. So at what price do we choose to sell our safety?” he said.

Adler said Austin is one of the safest cities in the country because law enforcement officials focus on building trust in immigrant communities. 

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick told Fox News that all the state is asking sheriffs to do is detain for possible deportation “criminals that are terrorizing our cities.”

“Any sheriff that doesn’t want to do that is putting our citizens at danger,” he said, “and if those citizens are hurt, they’re going to be held responsible.”

Republican state Sen. Charles Perry, author of Senate Bill 4, which would clamp down on so-called “sanctuary jurisdictions,” said if the governor can withhold funds, he should.

“Absolutely, it doesn’t make any sense as a fiscal person for us to spend $800 million on border security to then go and reward cities that undermine that initiative as a state,” he said at the Texas Lyceum conference.

In response to Abbott’s latest move, U.S. Congressman Lloyd Doggett issued a statement saying the governor was “seeking to punish Travis County taxpayers to score political points.”

"This is an unlawful act of intimidation that would jeopardize the safety of all Travis County residents. There is no legal basis for Abbott’s continued anti-immigrant hysteria. I stand with our local elected officials who are upholding public safety and the U.S. Constitution.” 

This is a developing story.