Texas Gov. Greg Abbott delivers the welcome address last April at the World Travel and Tourism Council Global Summit in Dallas. Credit: Office of the Governor Greg Abbott

President Donald Trump’s not the only threat facing communities with so-called sanctuary city policies.

As officials across the country wrung their hands over the possibility of losing federal funds, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott just canceled $1.5 million in block grants to the Travis County criminal justice system, including funds allocated for victims services, juvenile programs, and the drug, DWI and veterans courts.

The move came after Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez refused to back down from her plans to institute a sanctuary city policy. Under the policy, which went into effect this week, deputies are not required to honor detainer requests from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, unless the inmate is charged with murder, aggravated sexual assault or human smuggling.

In response, Abbott canceled the county’s criminal justice funds and promised to push for legislation that would effect the same punishment across the state.

Sanctuary cities came under renewed scrutiny last year on the campaign trail, when Trump began describing them as a threat to public safety. He has since signed an executive order promising to defund any city or county with a sanctuary policy. That could affect more than 300 counties and cities that have policies limiting cooperation with federal immigration authorities, imperiling millions in federal dollars.

Trump is among many who say sanctuary policies have endangered public safety by letting criminals to roam free. Supporters of the policy say it improves public safety by increasing trust of law enforcement in undocumented communities, allowing people to feel more comfortable reporting crime. A recent study by the Center for American Progress found on average 35.5 fewer crimes committed per 10,000 people in sanctuary counties.

In Texas, state Sen. Charles Perry has proposed a bill banning sanctuary policies in cities and on college campuses. A hearing about the bill was underway Thursday morning.

Shoshana Walter can be reached at swalter@revealnews.org. Follow her on Twitter: @shoeshine.

Shoshana Walter

Shoshana Walter is a reporter for Reveal, covering criminal justice. She and reporter Amy Julia Harris exposed how courts across the country are sending defendants to rehabs that are little more than lucrative work camps for private industry. Their work was a finalist for the 2018 Pulitzer Prize in national reporting. It also won the Knight Award for Public Service, a Sigma Delta Chi Award for investigative reporting, and an Edward R. Murrow Award, and was a finalist for the Selden Ring, IRE and Livingston Awards. It led to numerous government investigations, two criminal probes and five federal class-action lawsuits alleging slavery, labor violations and fraud.

Walter's investigation on America's armed security guard industry revealed how armed guard licenses have been handed out to people with histories of violence, even people barred by courts from owning guns. Walter and reporter Ryan Gabrielson won the 2015 Livingston Award for Young Journalists for national reporting based on the series, which prompted new laws and an overhaul of California’s regulatory system. For her 2016 investigation about the plight of "trimmigrants," marijuana workers in California's Emerald Triangle, Walter embedded herself in illegal mountain grows and farms. There, she encountered an epidemic of sex abuse and human trafficking in the industry – and a criminal justice system focused more on the illegal drugs. The story prompted legislation, a criminal investigation and grass-roots efforts by the community, including the founding of a worker hotline and safe house.

Walter began her career as a police reporter for The Ledger in Lakeland, Florida, and previously covered violent crime and the politics of policing in Oakland, California, for The Bay Citizen. Her narrative nonfiction as a local reporter garnered a national Sigma Delta Chi Award and a Gold Medal for Public Service from the Florida Society of News Editors. A graduate of Mount Holyoke College, she has been a Dart Center Ochberg fellow for journalism and trauma at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and a John Jay/Harry Frank Guggenheim fellow in criminal justice journalism. She is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.