State Watch

Texas governor blocks funding over sanctuary policy

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Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) has cut funding to Travis County, the home of the city of Austin, following through on a threat to block state grants over a new sheriff’s refusal to cooperate with federal immigration authorities.

Abbott’s office said Monday it would cancel $1.8 million in grants to law enforcement programs in the county, the state capital and the University of Texas’s flagship campus. The governor said he is asking state agencies to identify other grants to the county that he could also block.

The cuts come as Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez, newly elected in November, begins implementing a new policy blocking deputies from asking anyone they apprehend about their immigration status. Hernandez has also said her office will not hold undocumented immigrants in county jails after they complete sentences for minor crimes, even if asked by federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials.

{mosads}The so-called sanctuary policy enraged Abbott, who threatened to cut state funding if Hernandez went ahead with plans to implement the policy beginning Wednesday. In a letter to Hernandez last week, Abbott called the policy “dangerous,” “shortsighted,” “reckless” and “frivolous.”

Abbott’s cut comes as President Trump has moved to pull federal funding from “sanctuary” cities and counties.

Hernandez defended the sanctuary policy as necessary to building healthy relations with immigrant communities in and around Austin.

“I will not allow fear and misinformation to be my guiding principles as a leader sworn to protect this community,” Hernandez said in a statement. “I am following all state and federal laws, and upholding constitutional rights to due process for all in our criminal justice system. Our community is safer when people can report crimes without fear of deportation.”

Abbott has asked the Texas state legislature to prohibit cities and counties from adopting similar sanctuary policies. In his State of the State address this week, Abbott said he would declare that a measure to ban sanctuary cities qualifies as an emergency item, a designation that allows the legislature to implement a new law on a faster timeline.

“Some law enforcement officials in Texas are openly refusing to enforce existing law. That is unacceptable,” Abbott told legislators. “Elected officials don’t get to pick and choose which laws they obey.”

Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt, the county’s chief executive, said the funds Abbott blocked would not have paid for immigration enforcement, and none would have funded Hernandez’s department anyway. The grants Abbott blocked would have paid for drug diversion courts, prostitution prevention programs and services for DWI enforcement, according to a list Eckhardt tweeted last week.

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