UPDATE: Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez’ new detainer policy went into effect on February 1, 2017.
A spokesperson for the office tells Fox 7 that since February 1, they have denied 200 I.C.E. detainers. 37 of those inmates have been released because they either made bail or the charges were dropped. An attorney who worked to help release more than half of the 37 says the majority of the charges range from alcohol offenses like drunk driving, to drug possession and/or assault.
The Sheriff's Office also tells Fox 7 they are honoring 32 detainers because the inmates in those cases are being charged with either capital murder, murder, aggravated sex assault or human trafficking.
A large crowd gathered at the state capitol today to hear testimony on legislation to ban sanctuary cities in Texas. Security was tight Thursday in the Senate Chamber where the committee hearing took place. Protesters still were able to make several outbursts and as a result were escorted from the chamber.
The sponsor of SB4, Senator Charles Perry ( R ) Lubbock, spent the morning defending his legislation to ban sanctuary cities in Texas.
"We all know on this table today, if you do not create or commit a crime even though you may be here illegally, getting passed that issue, if you are law-abiding citizen within the borders once here, you're not going to be affected with SB 4,” said Senator Perry.
Senator Perry tried to address fears of racial profiling raised by lawmakers who represent large immigrant communities.
"I support getting the bad criminal Violent people off the streets keeping them off the streets I support the back side of this idea I cannot support making local law-enforcement officers who are not trained in immigration to become immigration officials,” said San Antonio democrat Senator Jose Menendez.
SB4 was drafted to make local communities comply with federal immigration law. Local officials who do not comply with things like honoring federal ice detainers, risk losing state grant money. There's also a civil liability clause; if an undocumented inmate is released and commits another crime local officials can be sued by the victims.
The legislation gained traction in the Statehouse after Travis Co Sheriff Sally Hernandez announced a new ice detainer policy. It put Travis County at the forefront of the national immigration debate and prompted the Governor to withhold nearly $2 million in state grant money."
The sheriff says, as February 1st, her employees will only honor federal holds on undocumented inmates - if arrested for a major offense like murder. Those charged with things like assault, drunk driving and manslaughter can get out of jail if they make bail. During the hearing the head of the state sheriff's association, A. J. "Andy" Louderback, denounced the new Travis Co policy.
"253 sheriffs believe you don't take an oath to protect a political opinion,” Sheriff Louderback.
Brian Manley, Austin’s interim police chief along with the head of San Antonio's police department testified against SB4. They are worried the legislation will make it difficult for officers to work in immigrant communities.
"Once you break down that trust I just don't think the community will see you at the same and will see you at their local police departments are involved in undocumented enforcement,” said Manley
There was also a discussion about whether or not services and programs designed to help immigrant families could get communities in trouble.
"If you have a Sanctuary City that chooses to be charitable and offer safe haven for homeless, that's a sanctuary City in that definition, but it's not violation of SB4,” said Senator Perry.
Almost 500 people signed up to make public comment about the bill. Most voiced opposition.
"So I would like to ask you to make a decision not only with your knowledge but also with your heart and see us as your people your friends and those that praying for you daily,” said Pastor Beto Prado, with the First Baptist Church of Paris, Texas.
The GOP has a majority in the Senate and SB 4 is expected to pass out of committee and when it reaches the Senate floor. Similar legislation did not get out of the House last session, but this year there seems to be strong support on the House side.