Texas Gov Wants To ‘Remove’ Sheriff In Sanctuary City Fight

As debate over illegal immigration rages across the U.S., Republican Governor Greg Abbott has ramped up his attacks

The Texas capitol building — REUTERS
Jan 26, 2017 at 12:20 PM ET

Texas Governor Gregg Abbott upped the ante in a simmering showdown with Austin’s new sheriff, saying that he’ll force the liberal county’s top cop from office over her support of so-called sanctuary city policies.

The clash erupted last week after Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez formally announced that she would scale back her department’s cooperation with federal immigration officials, joining a wave of major cities and local governments that have vowed to defy President Donald Trump’s plans to deport millions of undocumented immigrants.

Calling Hernandez’s decision “a dangerous game of political Russian roulette — with the lives of Texans at stake,” Abbott, a Republican and vocal Trump supporter, first responded by threatening to withhold nearly $1.8 million in state law-enforcement grants from the sheriff. But on Wednesday, the governor broadened his plans for retaliation. In an interview with Fox News, Abbott said that he and the Republican-controlled state legislature would pursue legislation that would expel any officeholder who “promotes” sanctuary cities in Texas.

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“We will remove her from office,” Abbott said in the interview, referring to Hernandez, a Democrat who won election in November. It remains unclear how a state law could remove Hernandez from office. But Abbott is expected to prioritize the legislation in his State of the State address on Tuesday, the Texas Tribune reported on Wednesday.

Abbott’s claim came just hours before Trump signed an executive order directing the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security to begin looking for ways to slash federal funding from sanctuary cities, setting the stage for what is likely a bruising legal and political battle between the White House and local governments. Defiant mayors across the U.S., in cities large and small, said on Wednesday they would not reverse policies that tend to be lenient toward undocumented immigrants.

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While there’s no exact definition, immigrant sanctuaries — which number in the hundreds around the U.S. — generally refer to jurisdictions that do not cooperate fully with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Some cities, counties, and even college campuses do so by prohibiting local law enforcement from asking about a person’s immigration status. Others refuse to detain undocumented immigrants for minor offenses or honor all deportation requests made by the federal government.

Nearly all, however, work with federal officials to turn over illegal immigrants accused of violent crimes, contrary to frequent claims waged by critics. For example, Hernandez, Austin’s sheriff, said she will still honor all deportation requests for suspects that her office books on charges of capital murder, aggravated sexual assault, or human trafficking.

Hernandez’s office did not have an immediate comment on Abbott’s remarks.