(CNSNews.com) -- Texas Governor Greg Abbott has warned newly sworn-in Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez that if she does not reverse her “reckless” and “dangerous” sanctuary policy before it goes into effect on Wednesday, she will forfeit nearly $2 million in state funding conditioned on her cooperation with federal immigration authorities.
On January 20th, Hernandez announced that Travis County will not honor Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainers – which hold illegal aliens in jail until ICE agents can take them into federal custody - unless they are accused of capital murder, aggravated sexual assault or "continuous smuggling of persons".
In addition, county employees are not allowed to inquire about “any person’s immigration status” either “in the jail, on patrol, or elsewhere” or even “request backup or interpretation assistance from ICE or U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents.”
They are also forbidden from providing any information on an inmate’s incarceration status or release date to ICE. Anyone accused of violating the sanctuary policy will themselves be subject to an investigation by the Travis County Sheriff’s Internal Affairs Division.
"It is my policy to focus on local public safety priorities and leave it to fed[eral] immigration officials to focus on fed[eral] immigration enforcement," Hernandez, who was elected last November and took her oath of office on January 4th, told KVUE Local News.
“This is not a pronouncement of sound public policy; it is a dangerous game of political Russian roulette – with the lives of Texans at stake,” Abbott said in a strongly worded letter he sent to Hernandez three days later.
“We’re going to crack down on this and ban sanctuary cities in Texas,” Abbott said last week on Fox & Friends, adding that he will also be working with the Texas legislature to pass laws that “remove from office any office-holder who promotes sanctuary cities [and] impose criminal penalties as well as financial penalties.”
In his letter, Abbott pointed out that “since 2011, over 200,000 undocumented aliens have been booked into Texas jails. These undocumented aliens were charged with more than 559,000 criminal offenses."
Those offenses ranged from homicide (1,132), assault (66,687) sexual assault (5,903), and kidnapping (682) to burglary (16,304), drug charges (66,289) and obstructing police (43,723).
“Of the total undocumented aliens arrested in that time frame, over 139,000, or 66 percent, were identified by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security as being in the United States illegally at the time of a previous arrest,” Abbott stated.
“As sheriff, your primary duty is to ensure the safety of the residents of Travis County,” the governor reminded Hernandez. “However, your recent policy directive forbidding Travis County Sheriff’s Office employees from cooperating with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement – except in the most limited of circumstances – betrays your oath and the residents of Travis County….
“I, too, have taken an oath to ‘preserve, protect and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States and of the State of Texas’. And my primary duty as Governor is to ensure the safety and security of Texans,” Abbott said.
The governor characterized Hernandez’ justifications for not complying with ICE detainers as “frivolous... by your own admission, [you] will honor some ICE detainers…you have the exact same legal authority to honor ICE detainers for capital murder cases as you do for crimes that you personally deem unworthy of enforcement.”
He also criticized the sheriff’s statement that she wanted to focus resources on public safety and leave immigration enforcement to the federal government.
“That ignores, of course, that the individuals subject to ICE detainers pose grave threats to public safety. The whole point of ICE’s detainer program is to ensure that the worst of the worst do not walk free and further jeopardize public safety,” Abbott told her.
In response, Hernandez said in a statement that “I will not allow fear and misinformation to be my guiding principles as a leader sworn to protect this community,” adding that “our community is safer when people can report crimes without fear of deportation.”
“Our office has not heard from Sheriff Hernandez,” a spokesman for Abbott told CNSNews.com on Monday, two days before the county's sanctuary policy is scheduled to go into effect.
In November 2015, Abbott informed all Texas sheriffs that Criminal Justice Division (CJD) funding was contingent on their “full compliance with ICE detainer requests….
“As Governor, I simply will not allow CJD grant funding administered by this office to support law enforcement agencies that refuse to cooperate with a federal law enforcement program that is intended to keep dangerous criminals off Texas streets,” the governor warned at the time.
After a similar showdown with Abbott in 2015, Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez backed down and certified last July that her agency “participates fully” in federal programs “related to illegal aliens in the custody of the department.”
President Trump has also signed an executive order withholding federal funds from jurisdictions that provide sanctuary to illegal aliens.
“Sanctuary jurisdictions across the United States willfully violate Federal law in an attempt to shield aliens from removal from the United States. These jurisdictions have caused immeasurable harm to the American people and to the very fabric of our Republic,” the executive order stated.
The Trump administration will “ensure that jurisdictions that fail to comply with applicable Federal law do not receive Federal funds, except as mandated by law,” the executive order stated.
In FY2016, ICE "removed or returned" 240,255 individuals. “The vast majority were convicted criminals who fell within ICE’s civil immigration enforcement priorities,” according to the federal agency.