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Greg Abbott to County Sheriff: Texas Won't Tolerate 'Sanctuary Cities'

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Dallas County has changed its policy regarding immigration detention, by refusing to detain undocumented immigrants until federal agents can arrive.

From Texas Standard:

This summer, a 32-year-old San Francisco woman was shot and killed by an undocumented immigrant who had previous run-ins with law enforcement. The shooter had been released from a local jail, despite a detention request by immigration officials.

San Francisco prides itself on being a so-called "sanctuary city" – one which protects undocumented immigrants from being deported and declines to cooperate with hold orders from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The shooting sparked controversy when federal immigration officers accused the city’s policy of allowing a “preventable” crime to happen.

Last Tuesday, San Francisco reaffirmed its commitment to that policy, despite the controversy.

Yesterday, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott took a step in quite the opposite direction.

He sent a warning letter to Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez, stating that sanctuary cities would “no longer be tolerated” in the state.

Valdez recently changed the county’s policy related to holding immigrants in jail. People who are committed for a minor offense will no longer be held for an additional 48 hours so that immigration officials can pick them up.

Brandi Grissom is covering the story for the Dallas Morning News. She says jails across the country are beginning to make similar policy decisions.

While Gov. Abbott cannot legally force a county or city to honor immigration detainer requests, Grissom says he can use his position to make some noise.

"The letter doesn't sound like he's threatening any immediate action himself,” she says. “What he can do is use his office as a bully pulpit, to encourage the passage of legislation that he wants to see.”

She says Abbott plans to support anti-sanctuary city legislation during the 2017 legislative session.

"In some ways he's sort of laying down the gauntlet,” Grissom says. “What those bills generally would do is prevent local officials from refusing to cooperate with immigration officials."

The bills would also prevent local officials from adopting ordinances preventing police from asking anyone they detain about their immigration status.

Abbott also threatened to promote laws that make counties with similar policies financially responsible for healthcare and education costs incurred by undocumented immigrants who aren’t turned over to federal officials.

Valdez has responded to Abbott’s letter, Grissom notes.

“She says the change she made is relatively minor,” Grissom says. “During 2015, she hasn't refused to honor any request for detainers from ICE, because [ICE] actually changed their policies to be more like what the Dallas County has done – prioritizing those immigrants who have committed major crimes.”

Rhonda joined KUT in late 2013 as producer for the station's new daily news program, Texas Standard. Rhonda will forever be known as the answer to the trivia question, “Who was the first full-time hire for The Texas Standard?” She’s an Iowa native who got her start in public radio at WFSU in Tallahassee, while getting her Master's Degree in Library Science at Florida State University. Prior to joining KUT and The Texas Standard, Rhonda was a producer for Wisconsin Public Radio.
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