More than a year before Texas Gov. Greg Abbott punished Austin’s Travis County — yanking away $1.5 million in state grants — for scaling back cooperation with federal immigration officials, he fired a warning shot toward Dallas County. “’Sanctuary City’ policies,” Abbott wrote to Sheriff Lupe Valdez, “will no longer be tolerated in Texas.” The same day Abbott wrote that letter, 16 former inmates with federal detainers sued Dallas County in federal court, accusing the county of violating their constitutional rights by refusing to release them on bond. The lawsuit has since ballooned to 22 plaintiffs, including a man who turned out to be a U.S. citizen, the Texas Tribune reports.
Dallas County’s experience illustrates what looks like a financial lose-lose for local governments in the “sanctuary” debate: They face big risks regardless of how they carry out federal immigration policy. On one side, state lawmakers are fast-tracking legislation to penalize local governments that refuse to comply with federal detainer requests by cutting state funding and holding them liable if a released immigrant commits further crimes. On the other, local governments say that holding people for the feds ties up jail space and costs local taxpayers money, and exposes them to lawsuits that are seeing early success in federal courts. The possibility that Dallas County will have to pay damages or negotiate a settlement grew last month after a judge ruled that an immigration detainer alone isn’t enough to keep someone in jail. “We’re kind of in a conundrum, said Melinda Urbina of the Dallas County Sheriff’s office. “We just decided for right now that we’ll honor [federal] requests until we get told by a higher authority.”