AUSTIN, Texas — U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Friday defended a ban on “sanctuary cities” at a meeting attended by a Texas sheriff who had announced on the day of President Donald Trump’s inauguration that her city would not honor some federal requests to hold immigrants in jail.
Sessions did not directly call out Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez while promoting the Trump’s immigration policies during a speech in Austin. Hernandez was among a small group in attendance and later joined about three dozen other officials in a private roundtable with Sessions.
She said she made her opposition to Trump policies known but said they did not personally discuss her jails or a new Texas law, known as SB4, which threatens sheriffs with jail time and removal from office for not cooperating with federal immigration agents.
The law is one of the toughest of its kind in the U.S. and has been partially blocked for now by federal courts.
“At least I was invited to the table, along with my colleagues to discuss the issue,” Hernandez said of the meeting. “That’s more than I ever received from the state of Texas.”
Hernandez, an elected Democrat, is a frequent target for Republicans pushing immigration crackdowns. She announced on the day of Trump’s inauguration that Austin jails would only comply with federal requests to hold in jail immigrants suspected of violent crimes, citing a need to create trust between law enforcement and immigrant communities.
Sessions said he was aware of the criticism but predicted that Texas would ultimately prevail in court.
Hernandez is not the only Texas official opposed to the law — every big city in Texas, including Houston and Dallas, has joined forces in suing to block the law signed in May by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott.
“I would urge every so-called “sanctuary” jurisdiction to reconsider their policies,” said Sessions. “So-called ‘sanctuary’ policies risk the safety of good law enforcement officers and the safety of the neighborhoods that need their protection the most.”
Last week, a federal judge in Chicago denied a request by the Justice Department to lift a national freeze on a Trump administration policy that seeks to withhold public safety grants to cities that don’t agree to tougher enforcement of U.S. immigration law.
Follow Paul J. Weber on Twitter: www.twitter.com/pauljweber