Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is vowing to pursue legislation to "remove from office" any official who promotes sanctuary cities -- potentially raising the stakes for local sheriffs and mayors who defy federal law.
The proposal also could set up a legal showdown between local and state officials in the Lone Star State.
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.
The governor’s comments come amid a dispute between Abbott and Travis County Sherriff Sally Hernandez, who announced last Friday she would reduce her department's cooperation with federal officials when they request an inmate be deported.
“This is completely outrageous,” Abbott said. “She would give sanctuary to people in the United States illegally who have been convicted of crimes in the past … and she would not cooperate with ICE whatsoever.”
Abbott already threatened to cut off around $2 million in state funding to Hernandez’s office if she doesn’t comply with the federal mandate.
President Trump also signed an executive order on Wednesday threatening to cut off federal grant money for sanctuary cities and states.
A sanctuary city is a broadly used term to describe any jurisdiction that refuses to enforce federal immigration laws.
In a statement to Fox News on Thursday, Hernandez said she has done nothing wrong and is following all state and federal laws while upholding constitutional rights to due process for those in the criminal justice system.
“I respect the job of our state leaders, but I will not allow fear and misinformation to be my guiding principles as a leader sworn to protect this community,” she said. “Our community is safer when people can report crimes without fear of deportation. I trust the court system and our judges to assess the risks and set appropriate bonds and conditions for all who are incarcerated.”
How far Abbott and his Austin allies could go in ousting recalcitrant officials is a matter of dispute.
“Neither Gov. Abbott nor the Legislature have any authority to remove a duly elected sheriff, whose office is established by the Texas Constitution,” Democratic Texas Rep. Lloyd Doggett said in a statement. “The governor shows contempt for both the Texas Constitution and the Bill of Rights in the United States Constitution.”
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.”
Legal experts say that even if Abbott’s proposal is added to a bill and passes, it would still be a tough fight to remove an elected official.
“Even if they amend the statutes to add this, the state would have to clarify the general ground for removal and then get a district attorney to press charges and then it would go to a trial by jury,” Angela Morrison, a professor at Texas A&M University’s School of Law, told Fox News. “Getting rid of the trial by jury would be the hardest part because voters in Texas really want to protect that right.”
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.
“The Travis County sheriff has gone much further than the Dallas sheriff,” a spokesperson for Abbott said. “The governor’s first priority is protecting his constituents and this prevents him from doing that.”