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Dallas County Sheriff In The Spotlight Over Immigrant Detention Policy

This week, Gov. Greg Abbott sent Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez a letter warning her about the county's revised immigration policy.

Dallas County is facing scrutiny because of how immigrants are detained in jail. More than a dozen people have sued Sheriff Lupe Valdez and the county for how their cases were handled.

Valdez recently changed the county’s immigrant detention policy. Now, Dallas County will not hold immigrants who’ve committed minor offenses for an additional 48 hours past their release date.

That triggered a stern letter from Governor Greg Abbott. He urged her to honor federal requests to detain immigrants and said the policy change posed a dangerous threat to Texans.

Dallas immigration attorney Fernando Dubove says Valdez's policy change mirrors last year'sfederal guidelines update.

“What Sheriff Lupe Valdez did is consistent with the policy outlined by Department of Homeland Security back in 2014 when they prioritized which criminal unlawful immigrants they wanted to be held and placed under immigrant detainers or held by local police to be transferred to immigration,” he says.

That means Valdez is less likely to detain people who are arrested for minor offenses like traffic stops or small amounts of marijuana.

Credit EleventhVicePresident / Wikipedia
Lupe Valdez is the Dallas County sheriff.

  In his letter to Valdez, the governor said Dallas County had enacted a “sanctuary city” policy, under which police cannot ask those they stop about their immigration status.

Dubove doesn’t see it this way. He says the county and federal government have limited resources.

“They want to prioritize those resources in deporting from the United States criminals that are aggravated felons or people convicted of violent crimes,” he says.

Valdez is also facing heat from immigrants who’ve spent time in Dallas County jails. On Monday, she and the county were sued by 16 people who claimed they were held in jail for months without being released on bond.

Anthony Garza is one of the lawyers representing the plaintiffs.

“We’re not challenging Dallas County practices writ large or how Dallas County works with ICE,” says Garza. “Our lawsuit is about 16 very particular plaintiffs and it’s about how they were held pre-trial without adequate opportunity for bond or bail.”

Valdez issued a statement saying she can’t discuss the issue because of the lawsuit.

Stella M. Chávez is KERA’s immigration/demographics reporter/blogger. Her journalism roots run deep: She spent a decade and a half in newspapers – including seven years at The Dallas Morning News, where she covered education and won the Livingston Award for National Reporting, which is given annually to the best journalists across the country under age 35.