A U.S. magistrate judge has claimed that a recent Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency raid in Austin, TX, wasn't simply business as usual—it was retaliation for the city's efforts to protect undocumented immigrants from federal authorities, the Austin American-Statesman reported on Tuesday.
The shocking allegation came from Judge Andrew Austin, who testified in court this week that ICE officials notified him in January that they planned to conduct a sweep for undocumented immigrants as a result of Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez's policy to reduce cooperation between her office and that of federal immigration authorities. Shortly thereafter, ICE arrested 51 people during a two-day operation, which the agency claimed targeted "public safety threats."
"We had a briefing…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,” Austin said. “My understanding, what was told to us, is that one of the reasons that happened was because the meetings that had occurred between the (ICE) field office director and the sheriff didn’t go very well."
According to the Statesman, the ICE sweep apparently referred to in the conversation with Judge Austin was decidedly more proactive than previous ICE operations in the area, and consisted of actively pulling over suspected undocumented immigrants in their cars, or visiting them at their homes or places of business. In the past, the paper explained, ICE sweeps largely consisted of checking immigration records of area inmates.
In a statement Monday evening, ICE officials sidestepped Judge Austin's charge of retaliation, saying:
For operational security reasons, ICE does not discuss future operations. However, ICE conducts daily operations nationwide targeting and arresting criminal aliens and other individuals who are in violation of our nation’s immigration laws for the safety and security of our communities
A spokesperson for Sheriff Hernandez declined comment to the Statesman.
Sheriff Hernandez' sanctuary policy has brought her into direct conflict with Texas Republicans, including Governor Gregg Abbott, who slashed over a million dollars from Travis County earlier this year as a result. Hernandez has been steadfast in her commitment to maintaining Travis' sanctuary status.
"The public must be confident that local law enforcement is focused on local public safety,” Hernandez explained. “Not on federal immigration enforcement."
Judge Austin was on hand Monday to testify in the case of Juan Coronilla-Guerrero, an undocumented immigrant arrested by ICE in early March after a routine court appearance for drug and assault charges. Coronilla-Guerrero's arrest and others like it have prompted an outcry from rights activists, as well as California's top judge, who worry the about the chilling effect courthouse apprehensions may have on immigrant communities seeking access to the legal system.