Texas Gov. Greg Abbott blocked funding to Austin on Wednesday after its sheriff said the city’s jails would no longer honor most federal immigration detainers.
Abbott’s move begins a crackdown over sanctuary city policies in the state. The Republican governor is also pushing to sign new laws that could go even further than President Donald Trump’s new executive actions against sanctuary policies.
Travis County officials condemned Abbott’s decision, which would cost Austin 1.5 million in grant money earmarked for crime victim services, courts and other programs. They stood by Sheriff Sally Hernandez, who announced after Trump’s inauguration that her jails would only honor immigration holds I murder, aggravated sexual assault and human trafficking cases.
Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt wrote in a letter to Abbott that she was confident the sheriff is within the law.
"I am certain you have come to the same conclusion; else you would not be seeking to change current State law to put all Texas Sheriffs in the service of the United States Department of Homeland Security," Eckhardt wrote.
The revoked funds came a day after Abbott used his State of the State address to declare a "sanctuary city" ban an urgent priority for lawmakers. A Senate committee on Thursday is expected to vote on a bill that would deny state grant funds to jurisdictions that discourage "inquiring into the immigration status of a person under lawful detention or arrest."
Abbott has also called for the power to remove locally elected officials if they don't comply.
Abbott announced the legislation in an interview Wednesday with "Fox & Friends," saying he and fellow Republicans in the Texas legislature are working to ban sanctuary cities and impose financial and criminal penalties on officials who fail to comply.
"We are working on laws that will ... ban sanctuary cities [and] remove from office any officer-holder who promotes sanctuary cities," he said.
While Abbott can’t personally remove a local official, the governor hopes to work with lawmakers in Austin who have filed multiple bills that would punish local governments for not arresting or detaining immigrants living in the country illegally.
Last November, Texas state Sen. Charles Perry filed SB 4 which would eliminate sanctuary cities in the state and was similar to one he filed during the 2015 session that would have required county jails to cooperate with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
“What the governor said yesterday is that he wanted this added to a bill,” a spokesperson for Abbott told Fox News. “It’s something that we’ve been bouncing around in the office for a while.”
While this is not the first time that Abbott has had to deal with a rogue law enforcement officer in regard to sanctuary cities – in 2015, the governor warned Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez to back down from a policy change on federal immigration detention requests or face financial penalties – his office says Hernandez has gone a step too far.
Trump signed an order last week to withdraw funding from sanctuary cities that decline to cooperate with federal immigration authorities. It didn't specify what kind of money could be pulled. In California, San Francisco officials sued over the order, saying it was unconstitutional and an invasion of the city's sovereignty.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.