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Travis County Sheriff's Candidates Divided Over Cooperating With ICE

Miguel Gutierrez Jr. for KUT

Travis County voters are set to elect a new sheriff for the first time in 12 years.

Among the four candidates running for Travis County Sheriff, a key issue is the Priority Enforcement Program, led by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, flags people booked into the Travis County Jail who may be in the country illegally, potentially leading to their deportation.

Credit Courtesy of the candidate
Courtesy of the candidate
Travis County Sheriff candidate Sally Hernandez

During the primaries, Democratic candidate and current Precinct 3 Constable Sally Hernandez campaigned on ending Travis County’s participation.

Now, it seems her position has softened. Hernandez doesn’t outright say she’d end the program.

“I’m very committed to treating everyone equally and fairly, and staying in compliance with state and federal laws, and again, I’m going to change that current ICE policy to reflect our community’s progressive values,” Hernandez said.  

Credit via Facebook
Travis County Sheriff candidate Debbie Russell

Green Party candidate Debbie Russell bills herself as a longtime community organizer. She takes a hard stance against the ICE program, and she has criticized Hernandez for “backpedaling.”

“My main goal in the race right now is to push her on that, to scare her with the few little Green votes that we might get, that she needs to reflect the values of this community,” Russell said.

Credit Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon / KUT
Travis County Sheriff candidate Joe Martinez

Republican candidate Joe Martinez is the only contender who plans to continue the ICE program. After an extensive law enforcement career, he now heads a private investigation firm. While Martinez is in line with some progressive policies, like increased transparency and beefing up mental health care, his stance on working with ICE sets him apart.

“People don’t know what they’re talking about when they say ‘Well, you know, we can’t break up these families,’” Martinez said. “This ensures us that we don’t have terrorists, murderers, or any other person that may have come through the jail that we were not notified about.”

Credit Miguel Gutierrez Jr. / KUT
Travis County Sheriff candidate Eric Guerra

Meanwhile, libertarian candidate Eric Guerra doesn’t believe ICE should exist in the first place. Though he doesn’t see the program as a black-and-white issue, Guerra said he doesn’t see himself cooperating with ICE “90 percent of the time.”

Guerra is a college student, finding time to campaign in between classes at the University of Texas. He wanted to help boost representation for his party on the ballot. A top policy priority for him is ending the war on drugs.

“We need to start moving towards treating drug abuse as a health issue as opposed to a criminal and legal issue,” Guerra said.

One issue all candidates agree on is reducing the Travis County Jail population. As of yesterday, the jail was housing 2,563 inmates, nearing 83 percent capacity. Early voting has already begun, and Election Day is Nov. 8.  

Syeda Hasan is a senior editor at KUT. Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on Twitter @syedareports.