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Before SB 4, Travis County Saw Texas' Biggest Drop-Off In Immigration Detentions

Gabriel C. Pérez

The Travis County Jail saw a drastic reduction in the number of undocumented immigrants it transferred into Immigrations Customs Enforcement custody in the first part of 2017, according to a new study.

The study from the Migration Policy Institute shows the Austin area’s ICE numbers contrast those in other major jurisdictions in Texas – including Harris County, which saw the largest increase in ICE detentions. The report examined arrests and ICE requests to detain suspected undocumented immigrants from the first half-year of Trump’s presidency. It found a 37 percent increase nationally in deportations. 

Travis County’s drop in detainer requests between 2016 and 2017 was attributed to the county's adoption of a policy to limit compliance with ICE detainers, except in cases of capital murder, aggravated sexual assault, kidnapping and felony drug cases. 

Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez formally adopted that policy in January 2017, prompting the conservative Legislature to pass a law outlawing county and municipal lawmakers from instituting similar policies. Gov. Greg Abbott also withheld state grants to Travis County after the policy’s rollout.

During the study’s roughly six-month window, the Travis County Sheriff's Office transferred 83 percent fewer undocumented immigrants into ICE custody and saw a 46 percent in denials of ICE detainer requests.

While the study notes Travis County had the largest drop-off in transfers and an increase in denials to ICE, it said the numbers after August – when the county rescinded its policy to comply with state law – would be much higher.

Andrew Weber is a general assignment reporter for KUT, focusing on criminal justice, policing, courts and homelessness in Austin and Travis County. Got a tip? You can email him at Follow him on Twitter @England_Weber.
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