Speed Reads

mixed messages

Federal judge says ICE targeted Austin for immigrant raid in retaliation for 'sanctuary' policy

In early February, a few weeks after President Trump's inauguration, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents rounded up hundreds of undocumented immigrants in six cities, including 51 in Austin — 28 of whom had no criminal history, an unusually large percentage. On Monday, U.S. Magistrate Judge Andrew Austin said federal agents had warned him and another federal judge in late January to expect a crackdown on immigrants in response to a new "sanctuary" policy adopted by Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez.

Under the policy, announced in late January, the Travis County sheriff's office will not hold suspects for ICE unless ICE gets a warrant or the detainee is suspected of committing serious crimes like murder, aggravated sexual assault, or human trafficking. According to a Homeland Security Department report released Monday, Travis County rejected 142 ICE detention requests from Jan. 28 to Feb. 3 (though many of the so-called detainers had been issued throughout 2016), by far the most in Texas.

"We had a briefing... that we could expect a big operation, agents coming in from out of town, there was going to be a specific operation, and it was at least related to us in that meeting that it was a result of the sheriff's new policy that this was going to happen," Judge Austin said in court on Monday, in a hearing on an undocumented immigrant, Juan Coronilla-Guerrero, taken into custody by ICE in Travis County court, an usual tactic for federal officers. ICE agent Laron Bryant said he was aware of that information. "My understanding is, what was told to us, is one of the reasons that happened is because the meetings that had occurred between the (ICE) field office director and the sheriff didn't go very well," Austin said. Bryant said that part was news to him.

ICE regional field officer Dan Bible told two Travis County officials in late February that ICE was not targeting Austin, those officials said. "He denied that there is a target on Travis County's back," County Judge Sarah Eckhardt told the Austin American-Statesman on Feb. 28. ICE said publicly that the roundup of immigrants was routine, though the tactics ICE used in the six target cities — arresting people at their homes, businesses, and from their cars — were not usual. "As far as I know, this incident was an isolated incident," Bryan told Judge Austin. "This wasn't the norm, this is not something that's going to become pattern or practice."