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Showdown brewing over sanctuary cities in Texas

27 January 2017

Governor Greg Abbott covered a couple of controversial topics in an interview on "FOX & Friends" and discussed voter fraud and his escalating standoff with Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez over sanctuary cities policies.

In a letter to Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez, Abbott said her new policy puts at risk $1.8 million in grants from the Texas Criminal Justice Division, money that is contingent on a county cooperating with federal immigration officials.

Hernandez has not yet commented on the governor's statement.

But Texas Republicans have filed multiple bills that would punish local governments for not arresting or detaining undocumented immigrants who are living in the country illegally. Monday's letter states Travis County received nearly $1.8 million from the office over the past year "based upon the commitment that federal immigration law would be enforced". And he said on Fox if she doesn't capitulate to his threats and reverse the policy, "we'll remove her from office".

The sheriff's office reportedly has a $169 million budget and $1.8 million would be about one percent of the total.

Under the new policy, the Travis County Sheriff Department would only comply with voluntary detainer requests from ICE under court order, or if the inmate was charged with either murder, aggravated sexual assault, or human trafficking.

At this time, the only funding Gov. Abbott can stop comes from the CJD, which is controlled by his office. "We respectfully urge you to allow the sheriff of Travis County to do her job". Travis County got nearly $1.8 million from the division over the past year "based upon the commitment that federal immigration law would be enforced", according to the letter. Her new policies strive to hold everyone accountable for violations of the law, rather than scapegoating and singling out immigrant communities. "Our jail can not be perceived as a holding tank for ICE or that Travis County deputies are ICE officers". In 2015, he threatened to withhold state funds from Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez, a Democrat, after she mades change to her department's detention policy.

Now, many conservative lawmakers believe it should be applied to the Austin City Council when they pass a law banning "Sanctuary Cities".

When asked directly if that policy would qualify it as a "sanctuary city" in the eyes of the Texas Conservative Coalition, one of its leaders, Rep. Jason Isaac, R-Dripping Springs, said "more and more so, yes". "It's still not very clear, besides an election, how or why the governor is recklessly threatening to remove our elected officials for trying to serve and protect our communities".