More than 1,350 donors have raised $89,124 in three days in an effort to offset the $1.5 million in grants for civil and criminal programs in Travis County being withheld by Governor Greg Abbott.
Last Wednesday, Abbott announced he would withhold $1.5 million in response to Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez’s new policy limiting cooperation with federal immigration enforcement. Potentially affected by the cut are programs for parents struggling with substance abuse, veterans, victims of family violence and juveniles.
“He wants to punish the sheriff, and in doing so, he is punishing people in need,” said state Representative Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin.
The fundraising initiative, organized by Rodriguez and called “Travis County #StrongerTogether,” will direct donations to Travis County’s Criminal Justice Division, which would be the most affected by Abbott’s cuts.
“The programs that would be affected by these cuts are both civil and criminal, have nothing to do with immigration and none of them, to date, are under the managerial control of the sheriff,” said Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt.
Under Hernandez’s new policy, the Travis County Sheriff’s Office would only honor detainer requests — a notice from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) that asks a jail to hold a person for up to 48 hours after they would have been otherwise released if their legal immigration status is unclear — when a suspect is charged with murder, aggravated sexual assault or human trafficking, or if there is a court order or arrest warrant signed by a judge.
The fundraiser comes after local officials, including Mayor Steve Adler, Austin City Council Member Greg Casar and Eckhardt voiced their support for Hernandez’s policy, and denounced Abbott’s decision to pull funding.
“We have officials telling us that if we are willing to affirmatively compromise our safety, we can get some money. So, at what price do we choose to sell our safety?” said Adler.
Some of the programs that would be impacted from the lack of grants from the Governor’s Office include the Phoenix Court program, “an effort to bring women, who are both the defendant and the victim, out of the business of commercialized prostitution,” the Family Violence Accelerated Outreach program, which “accelerates prosecution of family violence so victims of family violence, typically women, can have swift justice,” and the Parenting in Recovery program, a civil program that assists parents, some of whom struggle with drug and alcohol abuse, to keep their children out of foster care and in their family homes,” according to Eckhardt.
Abbott has consistently denounced “sanctuary cities” in Texas, and supports Senate Bill 4, which would ban “sanctuary city” policies like Hernandez’s that limit local entities’ cooperation with ICE. Any entities that adopt “sanctuary city” policies would be subject to funding cuts if the bill passes. SB 4 would also allow statewide police to make traffic stops and conduct searches to enforce immigration law if an officer is acting at the request of federal law enforcement officers.
In a live interview with Fox News, Abbott said he was working on laws that would “remove from office any office holder who promotes sanctuary cities,” and threatened to remove Hernandez from office if she did not change her policy.
“It’s ultimately an unconstitutional attempt to repress elected officials and build fear in communities,” said Casar.