Gov. Greg Abbott threatens Sheriff Lupe Valdez but critics say it’s just for political gain
Gov. Greg Abbott told Sheriff Lupe Valdez that her approach to undocumented immigrants who commit crimes will “no longer be tolerated in Texas” in a letter delivered to her office on Monday, Oct. 26.
He threatened new legislation to end sanctuary cities in Texas and to require local officials to cooperate with federal officials. Similar bills failed in this year’s session of the Legislature. Despite calls from conservative Republican and immigration hawks, Abbott said he would not call a special session, so the new bills would have to wait until the next Legislature meets in 2017.
While the governor accused Valdez of unilaterally enacting policy not detaining all criminal immigrants, the sheriff’s office said they would honor all U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement’s requests, but haven’t received any.
The county’s new policy is designed to save money by detaining violent offenders and not holding people accused of minor offenses, including traffic violations, beyond taking care of the county charges.
Attorney Domingo Garcia equated Abbott’s attack on immigrants in Dallas to the fight against the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance. Opponents of HERO are targeting trans people in advertising urging votes to defeat the ordinance.
“He’s playing word games for political advantage,” Garcia said, calling Valdez Abbott’s “political piñata.”
Garcia said Valdez is a perfect target for right-wing wrath because she’s not only a Democrat but also a lesbian Latina.
Abbott, Garcia charged, is pandering to his base that always needs a target, whether it’s the immigrant community in Dallas or the trans community in Houston.
After Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick threw his support behind Sen. Ted Cruz in the GOP presidential campaign last week, Garcia said Abbott wants to make sure he’s not “out-bigoted on the far right.” He compared the situation to Alabama Gov. George Wallace’s first run for that office, which he lost after he was accused of being “soft on segregation.”
While Abbott called on Valdez “to reverse her unilaterally enacted policy of refusing to automatically detain all criminal immigrants pursuant to the U.S.
Immigration & Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) federal detainer program,” Valdez spokesman Raul Reyna disputes the governor’s premise.
Reyna said ICE is practicing “priority enforcement,” concentrating on criminals and gang members. Every day, Dallas County detains four to six people for ICE.
So far this year, ICE has picked up 1,469 people from Dallas County.
“The number of requests declined?” Reyna said, “Zero.”
Once county charges have been addressed, ICE has 48 hours to transfer the person. But according to a lawsuit filed against Valdez this week by former detainees, ICE picks up people only twice a week, meaning the detention by Dallas County may be longer. Charges in the suit claim the county held some detainees for months.
Abbott threatened to take away local control of matters such as immigration and nondiscrimination policies with legislation in the next session that begins in January 2017. One law he proposed would make it illegal for a sheriff’s department to not honor a federal immigration detainer request.
Abbott would also penalize counties financially for the extra burden on healthcare and education. Valdez said the extra cost is detaining people for minor offenses, like traffic violations, longer than Homeland Security requests.
Another proposed piece of legislation would prevent any Texas city from being a sanctuary city.
“We’ve seen this story before,” state Rep. Rafael Anchia said. Anchia is a Democrat who represents parts of Oak Lawn.
In 2011, Gov. Rick Perry called sanctuary cities a priority.
“It’s unclear what the far right means by a sanctuary city,” Anchia said.
Speaking to right-wing talk radio host Sean Hannity on Oct. 26 after sending his letter to Valdez, Abbott said, “I laid down a marker … that sanctuary city policies are no longer going to be tolerated.”
But he didn’t say exactly what wouldn’t be tolerated. No one can quite define a sanctuary city. Dallas, Houston and Austin are included on some national lists of sanctuary cities. On others, they’re not.
By some definitions, a sanctuary city would be one where police don’t ask a person’s place of birth at a traffic stop or other unrelated encounter.
Other definitions have cities more actively refusing to cooperate with or even block federal authorities from enforcing immigration law.
Dallas has never passed an ordinance that would classify it as a sanctuary city, but Dallas police, like police in most cities, don’t consider themselves immigration officers. According to Reyna, ICE never asks Dallas County to assist in a raid or pick up particular people.
Anchia said the Dallas Police Department and Dallas Sheriff’s Office implemented policies to promote community policing.
He said police try to build relationships within their community. Turning people into victims by asking them where they were born or if they’re citizens “dissuades immigrants from turning in the bad guys.”
While that’s considered best practices, no city ordinance or county regulation enshrines that in law. Anchia said that while he served on the Dallas Independent School District board, they instituted a policy for DISD police to not ask immigration status. That helped keep kids in school and was consistent with federal law.
“Abbott touted his Hispanic family ties on the campaign trail, but as a candidate for governor, called South Texas a third world country,” Anchia said.
He also cited Abbott’s record as attorney general, noting Abbott sued the federal government’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and suppressed voting rights for minorities by requiring additional identification to vote.
“We need immigrants,” Anchia said.
He said Abbott always boasts about Dallas and Houston making multiple top 10 lists for best cities to do business. Immigrants are part of what make these cities great places to do business, Anchia said.
“Then he refers to them as sanctuary cities,” he said. “Mexico’s our No. 1 trading partner. You always try to create a boogeyman to divert from your record.”
Other elected officials stood behind Valdez as well.
State Rep. Roberto Alonzo said he “firmly stands with Sheriff Lupe Valdez in support of her policy of refusing to automatically detain undocumented individuals charged with minor offenses. Families should not be divided due to minor offenses.” Alonzo is a Democrat who represents parts of Oak Cliff.
Dallas Democratic Party Chair Carol Donovan said she finds it ironic that Abbott regularly ignores federal laws and sues the federal government in the name of local autonomy, but now he “threatens the highest law enforcement officer of our county with retaliatory action unless she ignores prisoner release dates and knuckles under to his personal agenda.”
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 30, 2015.