A federal judge in Austin confirmed in open court Monday that federal agents conducted raids on dozens of undocumented immigrants last month in response to a new policy by Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez that limits cooperation with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
In a back-and-forth between ICE agent Laron Bryant, Judge Andrew Austin said he and another federal magistrate were briefed by ICE in late January about the upcoming raids. They were told that the agency would be conducting operations in the Austin area as a “result of the sheriff’s new policy” and because a meeting between ICE and Hernandez in January “didn’t go very well,” according to an audio transcript obtained by the Observer. Bryant confirmed that was the case. The Austin American-Statesman first reported the story.
In February, Hernandez implemented a policy limiting her department’s cooperation with detainer requests from ICE to undocumented immigrants charged with serious crimes, such as murder, aggravated sexual assault and human trafficking. Such policies have attracted opposition from the Trump administration, Governor Greg Abbott and other Republican lawmakers.
Here’s the relevant portion of the transcript from today’s hearing:
Judge: There’s been questions about whether Austin’s being targeted. We had a briefing that your immediate supervisor, I guess, Agent Shaffer, came and briefed me and the magistrate judge, Judge Lane, at the very end of January 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. Are you aware of that?
Agent: Yes, your honor.
Judge: And is that the one you heard about where 50-some-odd people were arrested?
Agent: Yes, your honor.
Judge: My understanding is, one of the reasons that happened was because the meetings that occurred with the field office director and the sheriff didn’t go very well.
Agent: That’s new knowledge to me.
Judge: Above your pay grade?
Agent: Yes, yes.
Judge: Fair enough. Do you anticipate, or do you know whether we’re going to continue to have arrests like this one occurring, or is it going to be where there’s targeted people outside of the jails you’re going to try to be picking up, in addition to what you were doing before the sheriff’s policy changed?
Agent: As far as I know, this incident was an isolated incident. This wasn’t the norm, this is not something that’s going to become pattern or practice, so to speak, that we’re going to go to a courthouse—
Judge: It’s not so much the courthouse, but just in general, that we can expect more arrests, more prosecutions than we were prior to this?
Agent: I would just say based off the new administration, and the priorities of them doing away with the prior administration—
Attorney: I gotta stop him at this point, you can’t talk about that right now, and I don’t want to get in trouble.