Abbott Threatens Dallas County Sheriff Valdez Over Immigration Detainer Policy

Two immigration protesters in Dallas on May 1, 2005.
Two immigration protesters in Dallas on May 1, 2005.
Stephen C. Webster

Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez has ensconced herself in Texas Governor Greg Abbott's head. It wasn't even that hard, really. She just slightly — and we mean slightly, none of the changes have had a tangible result yet — changed the way the Dallas County Sheriff's Office deals with undocumented immigrants who get arrested. Those who commit certain nonviolent offenses will not, according to the DSO's new policy, be held any time beyond when they would otherwise be released.

Previously, all undocumented people in Dallas County Jail, regardless of charge, were subject to being held for an additional 48 hours so U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement could pick them up and deport them, if it chose to do so. Now, Dallas County places inmates into three categories, each of which is exposed to varying levels of ICE risk. Basically, if you're charged with aggravated assault or attempted murder and ICE wants you, the county isn't going to have a problem with it. If you got picked up for weed possession, the DSO will be happy to send you on your merry way, assuming you make bail.

Upon hearing about the policy, Republican leadership, both locally and statewide, has kinda freaked out about the whole thing.

In a letter sent to Valdez on October 26, Abbott accused the sheriff of putting the lives of Texans in danger by turning Dallas into a "sanctuary city."

"'Sanctuary City' policies like those promoted by your recent decision to implement your own case-by-case immigrant detention plan will no longer be tolerated in Texas," Abbott said. "Your decision to not fully honor ICE's requests to detain criminal immigrants poses a serious danger to Texans. These detainers provide ICE with the critical notice and time it needs to take incarcerated immigrants into federal custody."

Abbott went on to say that he expected the state to enact laws that would make Valdez's actions illegal and hold Dallas County responsible for any expenses that would somehow be incurred by not holding inmates past the time when they would normally be released.

"At a minimum, Texas must pass laws that prohibit any policy or action like yours that promotes sanctuary to people in this state illegally. The State must also enact laws that make it illegal for a Sheriff's Department to not honor a federal immigration detainer request. Texas must also evaluate the extent to which local taxpayers should foot the bill for local decisions that increase costs for our health and education systems. Further, the State should consider amending the Tort Claims Act to ensure counties are fully financially responsible for the actions of any illegal immigrants who are released because the county's Sheriff failed to honor an ICE detainer request," Abbott wrote.

Actually changing state law would've required Abbott to bring the Legislature back before its next scheduled session in 2017, something the governor did not want to do. In another letter addressed to Valdez on Wednesday, he told her what he was going to do in the meantime.

"To ensure that imperative is met, I am establishing new standards for sheriff's departments that seek grants from my office's Criminal Justice Division (CJD). Beginning now, all CJD grant awards will require that sheriff's departments fully honor ICE's detention requests for criminal immigrants. Any applicant that cannot certify that their office will honor all ICE detainers for criminal immigrants will be ineligible for CJD funding. Further, any applicant that certifies full compliance with ICE detainer requests but subsequently fails to honor an ICE detainer will be subject to claw-back provisions and must refund the full amount of their CJD grant award."

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According to numbers obtained by The Dallas Morning News, Dallas County has received $78,000 of the more than $4 million given out by the CJD in 2015. It won't have to give any of that small sum back, but, unless Valdez changes her mind, it will be denied participation in Texas' new body camera program, which began providing money from the CJD to help law enforcement agencies get the cameras on September 1.

Through a DSO spokesman, Valdez declined to comment.

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