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Gov. Abbott: ‘This Is the Session We Will Ban Sanctuary Cities’

Tuesday morning, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott laid out his agenda for the 2017 Texas legislative session in his second state of the state address.

Abbott named four emergency items, the issues he’s directed the legislature to take up early in the session. Before the legislature does anything else, Abbott said, it must overhaul the state’s child welfare system, implement ethics reform for state officials, call for a constitutional convention to amend the U.S. Constitution and take steps to ensure that no local government in Texas is acting as a sanctuary of undocumented residents.

“Some law enforcement officials in Texas are openly refusing to enforce existing law. That is unacceptable. Elected officials don’t get to pick and choose which laws they obey. To protect Texans from deadly danger, we must insist that laws be followed,” Abbott said. “This is the session we will ban sanctuary cities.”

Although he didn’t mention either by name, two of the local officials Abbott is talking about are Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez and Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez.

In late 2015, Valdez changed the way the Dallas County Sheriff’s Office deals with immigration hold requests from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. She ordered that her office would no longer enforce holds on Dallas County Jail inmates being held for low level crimes. Hernandez recently announced that she planned to do the same in Travis County beginning Feb. 1.

Abbott has threatened both offices with cuts to state funding, but has yet to actually do anything. The same is true, Dallas County Sheriff spokeswoman Melinda Urbina said Tuesday, for Valdez’ policy changes. Since Valdez declared her intention to ignore the ICE detention requests, Urbina said, the Dallas County Sheriff’s Office has yet to actually turn one down.

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While the sheriff’s office declined to comment on Abbott's speech Tuesday, Valdez said in 2015 that requiring local law enforcement agencies to enforce federal immigration law would erode community trust. “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.”

This session’s sanctuary cities bill, Senate Bill 4, would require Texas law enforcement agencies to disclose the undocumented immigration status of anyone who gets arrested to the magistrate or judge setting the person’s bail.

In an executive order last week, President Donald Trump issued an executive order declaring that sanctuary cities would no longer receive funding from the federal government, although, due to the ill-defined nature of the term “sanctuary city,” it is unclear if either Dallas or Travis County will be subject to the order.

Abbott set his lesser priorities as well, echoing Texas Republicans’ longstanding calls for expanded school choice, increased border security and decreased property taxes. In the wake of Micah Johnson’s July 7 attack on Dallas police, Abbott also reiterated his call to classify attacks on Texas police officers as hate crimes.

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