This post has been updated.
Religious leaders say residents of a Del Valle neighborhood are feeling targeted after more than a dozen people were turned over to immigration officials during a Bastrop County traffic sting last month.
Bastrop County Sheriff Maurice Cook confirmed in an interview with KLBJ News Radio that on June 23 his department stopped 63 cars in Stony Point, arresting 24 people. He said 13 people were turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement for deportation.
According to Edie Clark, a leader with Bastrop Interfaith, all but one of those arrested were Hispanic. She said many of the traffic stops were related to minor infractions such as having a muddy license plate and not using a blinker far enough away from a stop sign.
“When they couldn’t produce a drivers’ license, they were arrested and taken to the county jail,” she said.
Clark said her group had raised concerns with Cook three weeks ago about people speeding and illegally dumping trash in the neighborhood, but she was “absolutely stunned” to hear about the traffic stops.
During the KLBJ interview, Cook said a sit-down with “community leaders” was what prompted the crackdown. He said he had been “receiving complaints from that area.”
“I don’t know what community group he is talking about, but it is not us,” Clark said. “This is exactly the opposite of what we asked for. Our goal is to build trust.”
Since the arrests, residents of the Stony Point neighborhood said they have been scared of law enforcement officials.
“I am really sad because a lot of people got scared and they don’t want to go out because of what’s happening right now,” said Veronica Reyes, who has lived in the neighborhood for 25 years.
Reyes said one of her neighbors was among the 13 turned over to immigration officials for deportation.
“They deported him already, I think,” she said.
Reyes said she's never experienced anything like this in Stony Point before. She said it’s changed the relationship with police.
“If something really bad happened right here, they're not going to call the police because they're going to be scared of being taken away,” she said. “And the kids, they are really scared too of what is going to happen to their parents.”
Clark said her group held a town meeting Sunday night and that members of the community said they are afraid to drive – or even leave their homes.
“They are afraid to go buy groceries,” she says. “They are afraid even to go to the gas station here on the edge of Stony Point – to JD’s. So, there is a lot of fear.”
Clark said she’s asked to sit down with Cook, again, but he said he is busy.
KUT reached out to him for comment, but he did not reply before deadline. On Tuesday, he posted a statement on Facebook, saying the reason for the arrests was traffic violations and had "nothing to do with immigration."
When asked by KLBJ about backlash to the traffic sting, Cook said he hasn’t gotten a lot of resistance.
“I have had more people come in and encourage me than I have had backlash,” he said.
Reyes said she hopes Cook eventually sits down with community leaders.
“We need trust,” she said.