AUSTIN, Texas – A federal magistrate judge in Texas said Monday that U.S. immigration officials had informed him that large-scale arrests in Austin were ordered as a result of the local sheriff adopting “sanctuary” policies in her jail.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Andrew Austin made the claims in open court and audio of his comments were posted by the Austin American-Statesman. His suggestion that the arrests in February — which rattled advocacy groups at the time — were retaliation is contrary to U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement previously saying the sweeps were business as usual.
At the centre of the claims is Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez announcing after President Donald Trump’s inauguration in January that her jails would no longer comply with all federal immigration detainer requests. She has faced heavy criticism from Republicans over the so-called “sanctuary” policies.
Detainers are government requests that an immigrant who could face deportation be turned over to immigration authorities.
“There’s been questions about whether Austin is being targeted,” the judge tells an ICE agent, who the newspaper identified as Laron Bryant.
The judge goes on to say he and another judge had met with Bryant’s supervisor and were told “that we could expect a big operation, agents coming in from out of town, that it was going to be a specific operation, and at least it was related to us in that meeting that it was the result of the sheriff’s new policy that this was going to happen.”
Judge Austin goes on to say he that a meeting between an ICE field director and Hernandez “didn’t go very well.”
ICE didn’t address the judge’s comments Monday in a statement that noted daily operations nationwide. A spokeswoman for the sheriff also did not address the remarks.
“Sheriff Hernandez isn’t going to comment on a conversation she wasn’t part of,” spokeswoman Kristen Dark said in an email to The Associated Press.
An ICE operation resulted in the arrest of more than 50 people, more than half of whom did not have a criminal history, according to the newspaper. Similar operations were also carried out in Chicago, Atlanta, New York, North Carolina and elsewhere. ICE had previously called the arrests an “enforcement surge” that was no different than enforcement actions carried out in the past.
Austin made his comments Monday during a hearing involving an ICE arrest earlier that took place earlier this month outside the Travis County courthouse. Bryant told the judge he had not been aware of a meeting between his supervisors and the sheriff.