Delivered to press inboxes Monday was the first of many Weekly Declined Detainer Outcome Reports making public which counties failed to hand over undocumented immigrants for deportation. The report, published through the Department of Homeland Security, shows Travis County accounted for 142 of the 206 denials nationwide between Jan. 28 and Feb. 3, a remarkable 70%. That figure is a bit misleading, however: ICE notes the numbers aren't representative of the detainer issuance date, and indeed, most of the listed detainer requests out of Travis County were made prior to 2017. For instance, on Dec. 21, 2015, ICE requested detainment of an individual arrested for DUI, but ICE writes the county declined on Feb. 1 of this year, the day Sheriff Hernandez's new policies limiting cooperating with ICE took effect.
Major Wes Priddy, who oversees operations at the county jail, tells the Chronicle that because the week selected for review encompasses Feb. 1, the figures are largely inflated. All but three of the "decline dates" are listed as Feb. 1. Priddy says the public can expect smaller numbers in the future – more in line with the routine rate of weekly requests. Indeed, a press release sent out by TCSO on Tuesday evening indicated that in the six weeks since Feb. 1, the office has declined 11 detainer requests, out of 41 total submitted.
Such context didn't stop Gov. Greg Abbott, an advocate of ICE's deportation machine, from taking the opportunity to grandstand. In a Monday press release, he called the DHS report "deeply disturbing" and evidence for the "urgent need" for a statewide "sanctuary city" ban in Texas. "The Travis County Sheriff's decision to deny ICE detainer requests and release back into our communities criminals charged with heinous crimes – including sexual offenses against children, domestic violence, and kidnapping – is dangerous and should be criminal in itself," Abbott said.
Abbott also baldly lies about the numbers, implying that Travis County released 142 "criminally charged illegal immigrants" from custody during this one week – when in fact, that number represents only denied detainer requests. Those in custody still need to face local charges, regardless of whether the requests are accepted or denied – in other words, no one is simply walking free from their jail cells. (In fact, TCSO noted Tuesday, many remain in county or ICE custody). Priddy notes that of the 38 individuals facing felony charges who were released on bond between Feb. 1 and March 15, 37 came back to court as directed. "That's a pretty good number and really on par with any other group outside of undocumented folks," he said. "But we don't know if that will hold true over the course of the next few months because of the recent arrest at the courthouse by ICE. We suspect people will be more leery to go back to the courts now."
County Judge Sarah Eckhardt noted Monday that the crime rate in Travis County has steadily dropped in recent years, falling 30% since 2007. "ICE's mission is to enforce federal immigration laws. Travis County's mission is to enforce state criminal laws. If a person is suspected of rape, murder or any other serious crime, Travis County will bring them to justice irrespective of where the accused was born," Eckhardt said in a statement. "Questionable immigration status is not evidence in our state criminal justice system. If the accused is undocumented, that is a federal issue which ICE is free to pursue independently."
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