Texas Attorney General Draws a Bead on Sanctuary Cities

AUSTIN (CN) — Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton lashed out at sanctuary cities on Monday, vowing that state lawmakers will try to end the practice in next month’s legislative session.

Paxton, R-McKinney, singled out Travis County Sheriff-elect Sally Hernandez, saying she has taken a “careless stance on immigration” by changing her office’s policy of cooperating with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement inmate holds.

Named after the Sanctuary movement of the 1980s when American churches sheltered refugees fleeing war in Central America, the call for sanctuary cities has grown louder since the election of Donald Trump, who promised he would build a border wall and deport millions of people.

California lawmakers promised to protect and encourage sanctuary cities in their state on Monday, on the first day of the legislative session.

Not in Texas, Paxton said.

“Were we to take the sheriff-elect’s campaign promises at face value, Austin would be the first Texas municipality to fully qualify as a sanctuary city,” Paxton said in a statement. “The sheriff-elect defends her radical departure of existing law by attempting to wrap immigration enforcement in a swath of social justice causes.”

Paxton said that “by cutting holes into the federal government’s enforcement fabric,” sanctuary cities put public safety at risk.

“Nicodemo Coria Gonzalez was deported multiple times, only to return and commit a series of rapes in the Austin area,” Paxton said. “He’s a prime example of the criminal element which will be emboldened by the sheriff-elect’s renegade policies. We cannot allow individuals to avoid justice and accountability. We cannot allow sanctuary cities to harbor these criminals. We cannot allow city officials to skirt the law at their whim.”

Travis County, whose seat is Austin, is a liberal haven in a state dominated by Republicans.

Paxton cited several bills filed before the legislative session, including Senate Bill 4, by state Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock. It would require police officers to provide notice to a judge or magistrate that an arrested person is illegally in the country if the arrestee cannot prove a legal right to be in the country within 48 hours.

The bill would allow people to file complaints with Paxton’s office if local officials carry out sanctuary city policies, and Paxton would have the power to deny the local entity state grant money for the following year.

In October 2015, Gov. Greg Abbott criticized Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez after she decided her office will no longer comply with immigration hold requests for people accused of minor offenses. Abbott said the policy change “poses a serious danger to Texans.”

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