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Lupe Valdez Apologizes For Insufficient Answer At Latino Youth Town Hall

Marjorie Kamys Cotera for The Texas Tribune
Democratic candidate for governor Lupe Valdez speaks at a Jolt the Vote event in Austin on April 29, 2018.

*Editor's note: This story has been updated throughout.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Lupe Valdez issued an apology Monday night for failing to adequately explain her record as Dallas County sheriff at a town hall a day earlier, disappointing the young Latino activists that hosted it and spurring them to endorse her runoff opponent, Andrew White. 

"This weekend, I fell short," Valdez said in a lengthy statement. "A young woman asked me a question at a forum over the weekend regarding my track record, and she did not get the answer she deserved. I am sorry, and I understand why people are disappointed."

The young woman, Dallas high school student Karla Quiñones, had asked Valdez why the Latino community should trust her given her "anti-immigrant" legacy in Dallas County, particularly when it came to cooperating with federal immigration authorities. In her response, Valdez said she of course would fight for the community but asserted Quiñones was referencing parts of her sheriff tenure that were misunderstood. Still, she stopped far short of fully addressing the issues Quiñones had specifically raised about her time in Dallas County.

In the statement Monday night, Valdez sought to make up for the insufficient answer, explaining how as sheriff she grappled with the tension among federal officials, state officials and the local community when it came to enforcing immigration law. As she did Sunday, she repeatedly invoked her opposition to the state's "sanctuary cities" ban — known as SB 4, or Senate Bill 4 — as well as her 2015 clash with Gov. Greg Abbott over her policy for honoring federal detainers for inmates.

"Communities and local law enforcement officials need partners in state and federal government, not threats and ultimatums," Valdez said. "Ultimately our efforts in speaking out against SB 4 weren’t enough."

She continued: "While I was Sheriff of Dallas County, I complied with detainers or else we could have risked funding for a range of resources, including drug courts, juvenile justice programs, and body cameras. I didn't have the ability to change federal or state policy and Governor Abbott got his way."

"I wish we could have done more, and that is why I am such an outspoken advocate for comprehensive immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship," Valdez said. "It is why I spoke out forcefully against Governor Abbott's fear-based policies that attack our immigrant communities."

Valdez's original answer had come at a town hall in Austin hosted by Jolt Texas, a new group looking to mobilize the Latino vote in turning the state blue. Within minutes of her response, the group made clear it was not satisfied, and White told reporters afterward that Quiñones deserved a better answer. Valdez initially declined to speak with reporters at length after the event and when she ultimately did, she did not offer much new detail before dismissively asking reporters to let her move on to talk to voters.

Within a few hours of the town hall ending, Jolt announced its decision to endorse White.

Quiñones said Tuesday morning she appreciated Valdez's statement, "but there are still many questions that need to be answered about the policies that she implemented as Dallas County sheriff."

"The policies that Valdez adopted allowed ICE to have access to jails she oversaw, and led to the deportation and separation of immigrant families across Dallas," Quiñones said in a statement, referring to U.S. Immigration Customs and Enforcement. "We think that one of the best ways for her to address all outstanding questions is by debating her opponent Andrew White. Texans deserve to hear from both of them."

Valdez's statement also drew a response Tuesday from the campaign of Abbott, who has been treating her as the presumptive Democratic nominee and has said he will not let her criticism of SB 4 go unanswered.

"This is not the first time Sheriff Valdez has made clear her intention to eviscerate Texas’ ban on sanctuary cities and it won’t be the last," Abbott spokesman John Wittman said in a statement. "This November, voters will have a choice over whether they want to turn Texas into a sanctuary state in the mold of California or uphold the Rule of Law and keep Texas the model for the rest of the nation."

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune.