With a deeply contentious election revolving around the topic of immigration underway, Constable Sally Hernández vows to turn Austin into Texas’ first sanctuary city if elected Travis County sheriff. Since at least the 1980s, sanctuary cities across the United States have provided at least some form of relief for undocumented immigrants. The type of protection sanctuary cities provide vary greatly across the US, and the term has no official definition. It’s generally described as city officials refusing to cooperate with federal immigration authorities.
But in the race for Travis County sheriff, Democratic candidate Hernández has made it clear she intends to keep U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement out of the county jail. According to the Texas Tribune, Hernández won’t hold inmates for ICE, which facilitates the agency’s removal process. “I just don’t think you solve the criminal justice process by deporting them,” she said. “We talk about being progressive. I believe we need to lead the way.”
Her opponent, Joe Martínez, will cooperate with ICE and hold immigrants. However, he’d only hand over the “worst offenders.” Because of this, the Tribune notes that regardless of who wins, the way the city deals with its undocumented immigrants will change. But Hernández’s victory is almost a given.
In some cities, ICE asks officials to hold immigrants for up to 48 hours – though longer in some cases – even though they have no other pending charges. In Travis County, ICE agents pick up detainees two times a day. But Hernández says that refusing to work with federal immigration authorities will make undocumented immigrants less afraid and prod them to work with local authorities to help solve crimes.
“Immigration is a federal issue, and immigration is a broken system and it’s really up to them to fix it and to enforce it,” she said. Citing Kate Steinle – the San Francisco woman killed by an undocumented immigrant deported several times – Hernández said deportation doesn’t solve problems. “If deporting people solved the problem, that wouldn’t have ever happened,” she said. “But unfortunately, deporting people – they come back to the United States. It’s not working and so we’ve got to fix it, but at the same time we can’t throw that burden on the local community and on their resources and on the families.”
Steinle’s case has fueled the fight against sanctuary cities. During his immigration speech in Phoenix last week, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump threatened to cut off funding to sanctuary cities if they didn’t cooperate with immigration officials. He added that he’d urge Congress to pass Kate’s Law to “ensure that criminal aliens convicted of illegal reentry receive strong, mandatory minimum sentences; strong. And then we get ’em out.”
There’s arguments on both sides as to whether sanctuary cities make places safer or more dangerous. But there’s one thing that’s certain: undocumented immigrants are less likely to commit crimes. Even though the undocumented immigrant population tripled between 1990 and 2013, FBI data shows the violent crime rate fell 48 percent, and property crime rate dropped 41 percent. According to the Wall Street Journal, a 2007 Immigration Policy Center paper explained that this isn’t because immigrants considered more high-skilled and well-behaved have off-set Latin Americans’ crimes. Instead, research shows that “for every ethnic group without exception, incarceration rates among young men are lowest for immigrants. This holds true especially for the Mexicans, Salvadorans, and Guatemalans who make up the bulk of the undocumented population.”