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Physician Dawn Buckingham, Travis County’s newcomer in the Texas Senate, touted her co-authorship of a Senate-approved measure to ban so-called sanctuary city policies statewide by using her home county as an example.
The Republican from Lakeway, elected in 2016 to represent Senate District 24, said in a Feb. 8, 2017, email blast: "I believe in a safe Travis County and a safe Texas, and actions recently taken by the Travis County Sheriff's Office have endangered our community and our state."
Buckingham’s email continued: "Hundreds of illegal immigrants subject to detainers were released in the last week since the new sanctuary policy was adopted by the Travis County Sheriff's Office, and I am proud the Senate has acted quickly in response."
Curious, we put Buckingham’s numbers to the Texas Truth-O-Meter.
Travis County's new policy
The policy mentioned by Buckingham refers to Travis County’s new Democratic sheriff, Sally Hernandez, announcing in January 2017 that the office no longer would automatically honor federal "detainer" requests to hold individuals of interest to immigration authorities for 48 hours.
"The public must be confident that local law enforcement is focused on local public safety, not on federal immigration enforcement," Hernandez said in an online video in which she also said that, previously, inmates handed off to immigration authorities were deported after posting bond and without resolving local criminal charges.
Under the policy, Hernandez said, the office would honor detainer requests only if an inmate were charged with murder, sexual assault or human trafficking — or if federal agents obtained a court order or arrest warrant for a suspect. Otherwise, she said, inmates would be allowed to post bail and be released, no matter their immigration status.
Buckingham's backup sought
We asked Buckingham how she determined hundreds of immigrants were subsequently released. By email, her spokesman Keith Elkins provided a statement from Buckingham lacking information about her declared "hundreds." Rather, Buckingham said county residents need to know the sheriff’s office "has ignored hundreds of requests to detain inmates" in the country illegally.
Latest count: 45 released individuals in eight days
According to the sheriff’s office, we confirmed, 40 individuals were released on bail by the county the first few days after the sheriff’s policy took effect. When we followed up, a sheriff’s office spokeswoman, Kristen Dark, emailed us additional information indicating that through the day Buckingham made her claim, 45 individuals for whom detainer requests were denied by the office had been released--leaving others (more than 150 inmates by our calculation) still in custody, Dark said, for not making bond or because their charges had not yet been disposed.
Much of this detail was public before Buckingham spoke.
Citing information attributed to Dark, the Austin American-Statesman reported Feb. 2, 2017, that the new policy had "paved the way for the release of 37 suspected unauthorized immigrants" the day before. On the policy’s first day, the newspaper reported, the sheriff’s office declined requests by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials to place holds on 196 suspected undocumented immigrants--while the office honored 30 detainer requests.
"Once the so-called ICE detainers were removed, 37 people were able to bail out Wednesday," the newspaper reported. "Had the detainers remained in place, inmates would still have been able to post bail, but they would have been released into ICE custody for possible deportation."
A subsequent American-Statesman news story, posted online Feb. 6, 2017, said the county had denied 203 detainer requests and released 40 such individuals since the policy took effect.
Meantime, the story said, immigration agents adjusting to the county’s policy had hustled to obtain arrest warrants for 42 booked individuals who also were suspected of living in the country without legal authorization. By the time the warrants were served, the story said, eight of the inmates had posted bail and been released, requiring agents to find and arrest the suspects again. Hernandez told the paper the others named in the warrants would be released to federal agents.
The story quoted Daryl Fields, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office, saying federal officials had stepped-up reviews of newly arrested Travis County residents so warrants could be sought for suspects -- avoiding reliance on the sheriff’s office to comply with detainer requests. The story further said immigration agents became aware that the suspects had been booked into jail by mining a federal law enforcement fingerprint database that’s routinely updated by county jail staff.
Buckingham said hundreds of illegal immigrants were released in the week after the sheriff’s policy was adopted.
According to Travis County, 45 such individuals--not hundreds--were released in the eight days after the policy took effect.
Additional releases seem likely due to the sheriff’s office not automatically honoring all detainer requests. But it also seems possible that stepped-up federal efforts to obtain warrants for jailed individuals will reduce the release rate.
We rate Buckingham’s claim False.
FALSE – The statement is not accurate. Click here for more on the six PolitiFact ratings and how we select facts to check.
News stories, Austin American-Statesman, "37 released from jail Wednesday after 'sanctuary’ policy goes into effect," Feb. 2, 2017; "‘Sanctuary’ clash prompts feds to speed up Travis immigration cases," Feb. 6, 2017
Emails, Kristen Dark, senior public information officer, Travis County Sheriff’s Office, Feb. 9-10, 2017
Email, Keith Elkins, deputy chief of staff, state Sen. Dawn Buckingham, Feb. 9, 2017
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