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Will Austin be Texas’ first ‘sanctuary city’?

If a certain Travis County sheriff candidate wins, probably

It can get a little old hearing Austin described as a “blue island in a red sea” or “not like the rest of Texas.” It’s a simplistic, sweeping generalization that can rub people—especially native Texans—the wrong way.

But sometimes those hackneyed assertions turn out to be true, and in the best possible ways. That’s the case with the campaign of Travis County constable Sally Hernandez, the Democratic candidate for Travis County sheriff in November’s elections.

According to a recent story in the Texas Tribune, Hernandez has vowed to buck both parties’ policies regarding immigration; if elected, she will move to make Austin Texas’ first “sanctuary city.”

What that means specifically, the Tribune reported, is that she will not hold inmates for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in county jail when ICE intends to remove them from the country. Right now, local jails are asked to hold such inmates for pickup by the federal agency, and it is the Travis County policy and practice to do so, even when an inmate would otherwise be free to leave.

Hernandez told Tribune reporter Jay Root that deporting such inmates is not the way to address criminal justice issues. Her position is not only diametrically opposed to Republicans’ views on the issue, but a departure from the current policy of the Obama administration (though Hillary Clinton is currently running for president with the position of softening that stance, the Trib added).

Hernandez told Root that, if elected—which the Tribune article called a “shoo-in,” but we don’t want to jinx it—she would no longer hold people who have no pending charges in the Travis County Jail. In her view, Root reported, ending “detainers,” as such holds are called, would make other immigrants feel safer about helping solve crimes; it would also avoid the problem of deporting immigrants who are their families’ main sources of income while leaving the families in the county to fend for themselves, she said.

While Hernandez takes the bottom-line position that deportation doesn’t work to keep criminals from committing further crimes, because many who do so have already been deported numerous times, her opponents told the Tribune they didn’t want to take chances with releasing repeat criminals, even though they often do make their way back into the United States.

The Tribune reports that there is no standard definition of a “sanctuary city,” but that ICE does know which cities (most in California) have policies limiting detainers. While the Texas Legislature gears up to propose banning sanctuary cities in Texas, Root added, Hernandez has support on the matter from both the Austin City Council and the Travis County Commissioners Court.

Austin Poised to Become First "Sanctuary City" In Texas [Texas Tribune]