‘Sanctuary City’ Policies Could Lead Some Texas Counties to Lose Funding

Gov. Abbott says he’ll cut grant funding to any Texas counties that refuse ICE detainer requests.

By Rhonda FanningNovember 5, 2015 11:18 am|

Earlier this month, Gov. Greg Abbott warned Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez that he’d “no longer tolerate” Texas sheriff offices that don’t comply with federal immigration authorities on detainer requests. Yesterday Abbott made good on his threat: he says the state will withhold grant funding from any counties that refuse to cooperate with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Valdez has caught flak for saying she would begin making case-by-case decisions on whether to honor ICE requests for detainment. The requests ask county jails to hold undocumented immigrants with criminal records for up to 48 hours longer than their set release time so officials can take them into custody.

Valdez says Dallas County has yet to refuse a detainer request. Huyen Pham, a law professor at Texas A&M University, says Valdez’s new policy is actually in line with the Obama Administration’s own changes to ICE detainer request protocols.

“If you read the details of [Valdez’s] policies, it really very closely aligns with federal immigration priorities,” she says. “The Obama Administration in a series of policy decisions in 2014 and 2015 really narrowed the circumstances under which they would issue these detainer holds and, in fact, in their more recent pronouncement they said ‘Instead of asking for detainer holds, we’re gonna be asking for notification.’”

In most cases, ICE will request counties inform them when they plan to release those in custody, rather than telling county jails to hold undocumented immigrants for 48 hours beyond their set release, so ICE officials can decide whether to pick up the detainee.

Pham says it’s hard to know whether there will be any real effect to local law enforcement under Abbott’s new policy. If there is, it might only apply to Dallas county.

“As far as I know, Dallas County is the only jurisdiction that has a policy specifically linked to detainer requests,” she says. “That Dallas policy largely aligns with federal policy, so there’s not going to be any detainer requests that are going to be denied. So if that’s the case, and because Gov. Abbott has sort of limited the parameters of his threat to these ICE detainers, I’m not sure who really is going to be affected.”

In the letter to Valdez, Abbott wrote “your decision not to fully honor ICE’s requests to detain criminal immigrants poses a serious danger to Texans.” Could taking away funding to local law enforcement further hinder their efforts? Pham says it’s a possibility, but the loss of funding doesn’t seem like it will happen.

“I’m not sure really who’s gonna be losing funding, because as far as I can tell all the sheriff’s departments within the state of Texas are honoring ICE detainer holds – including Dallas county,” she says. “Theoretically if someone like Dallas county loses grant funding, yes, I think it would affect their ability to carry out other law enforcement priorities that they have.”