Dallas Sheriff Takes Immigration Spat With State to Austin

Lupe Valdez, in Austin Thursday.
Lupe Valdez, in Austin Thursday.
Texas Senate

Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez wasn't kidding around when she announced a change in the way her office deals with requests from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to hold some undocumented immigrants in jail until ICE can come collect them. Those charged with certain minor offenses could make bond and leave custody just like everyone else, Valdez said, and she refused to back down when Governor Greg Abbott threatened to strip grant funding from her office. Now she has taken the fight to Abbott's backyard.

Valdez spoke at the state Capitol Thursday in advance of a Texas Senate subcommittee hearing that took on the supposed deluge of "sanctuary cities" in the state. Essentially, some of the more strident voices on the committee, like Charles Perry, want Texas' local police agencies to enforce federal immigration law. It's something the Legislature has taken a couple of cracks at in the past — variations on the theme were proposed in 2011 and 2015 — but hasn't manage to pass. At this point, local law enforcement agencies can decide for themselves how they treat undocumented or potentially undocumented people they arrest. In Dallas, local discretion is essential to community trust, Valdez said.

"We have to maintain the trust of our community [in order to work with the community]," she said. "We cannot maintain that trust if we are going around challenging and asking questions of everyone we approach. They would have questions about us, and what our motives are."

Forcing Texas' large counties to pick up undocumented residents who might not be arrested otherwise would necessitate new jails being built and cost a ton, Valdez said. She estimates that Dallas County alone could end up making 100,000 more arrests each year.

"The additional cost in our area would be over $6 million," Valdez said, "and that's if we just hold the undocumented for one day. If we hold them for 48 hours or more, the costs would just go up. There are 259 languages spoken in North Texas. English and Spanish are just two of them. I cannot afford to disenfranchise my community. I take pride in going out to all communities and asking them to go out and work for us."

Again Thursday, Valdez said that her office's policy change has not yet caused it to turn down any of the retainer requests from ICE, although the sheriff's office has refused to turn over any arrest data for undocumented people to the media. She also noted that she has been sued in federal court for honoring ICE requests at all. 

“One side is angry at us because we don’t hold everybody. The other side is angry at us because we are holding too many,” she said.

Earlier this year, a federal court in Oregon ruled that Maria Miranda-Olivares' Fourth Amendment rights were violated when she was held for two weeks on an ICE hold despite her family being ready and able to pay her $500 bail. The Dallas County Sheriff's Office has been sued on similar grounds.

Republicans at the hearing said that they merely wanted to make sure all laws were upheld, and that officers in the field would be able to use all tools available to them without political interference from their superiors.


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