Down-Ballot Races Could Affect Efforts to Fight Sanctuary Policies

The battle for the presidency, not to mention control of the Senate, may garner most of the headlines but an equally important story is taking place in several races further down the ballot. Contests to fill elected law enforcement-focused offices in Georgia and Texas will impact the direction of immigration enforcement in those communities and could provide a glimpse of which direction those states will take in the future.

As Attorney General William Barr made clear in a February speech about his department’s tougher approach to sanctuary jurisdictions, not cooperating with federal immigration authorities is not about shielding those whose sole crime is violating our immigration law (which, for Barr’s information, is sufficient legal cause for removal).

“These policies are not about people who came to our country illegally but have otherwise been peaceful and productive members of society. Their express purpose is to shelter aliens whom local law enforcement has already arrested for other crimes,” stated Barr.

Who wins does matter. The election of an anti-enforcement candidate for sheriff can lead to the overnight termination of 287(g) programs, which is an agreement between local and federal authorities to grant local law enforcement permission to detain illegal aliens in their jails until handing them over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials.

In fiscal year (FY) 2019, the 287(g) program encountered approximately 775 aliens convicted for assault, 704 convicted for dangerous drugs, 145 convicted for sex offenses/assaults, 173 convicted for obstructing police, 110 convicted for weapon offenses, and 21 convicted for homicide, according to ICE. As Barr noted, non-cooperation with ICE protects criminals, not those who only entered the country illegally.

In 2018, open borders politicians and groups targeted sheriffs in North Carolina, which is no longer a reliably Republican state, who had embraced the 287(g) program. They are trying the same in Georgia and even Texas.   

After decades of being a secure Republican state, Georgia’s largest cities have grown more liberal and have shifted the state into the toss-up category this year. The shifting demographics and politics in Georgia, as well as Texas, is one reason why these races could portend what is to come.


Earlier this year in Athens,  John Williams defeated incumbent Ira Edwards in his Democratic primary on the promise not to honor ICE detainers nor cooperate at all with the agency. He faces Robert Hare, a Republican who worked in the sheriffs’ office, and supports enforcement of immigration law

A similarly matchup of polar opposites will take place in Cobb County. A glimpse of the responses given by incumbent Neil Warren, a Republican, and his Democratic challenger, Craig Owens, to an ACLU questionnaire shows a stark contrast with regard to cooperation with immigration authorities. Immigration enforcement approaches have been front-and-center in this race as it was under Warren that Cobb County became the first law enforcement agency in Georgia to join the 287(g) program.


In Tarrant County, the quick action taken by Sheriff Bill Wayburn to partner with ICE after his 2016 election is a prominent issue in his race with Vance Keyes, a Democrat and current member of the Ft. Worth Police Department, who was pledged to withdraw from the 287(g) program if elected.

“The 287(g) agreement has no appreciable positive impact on crime, is divisive, and is a political pet project rooted in fearmongering, not best criminal justice practices. It promotes the type of moral panic, minority-threat rhetoric that contradicts the very ethos of community policing,” he stated in a July interview and promised that, if elected, “the first step will be to eliminate the 287(g) agreement and be more inclusive of the entire Tarrant community.”

In what would be a first, Travis County voters could choose to elect, Jose Garza, a self-described “immigrant rights activist” as its next district attorney. A former public defender and leader of the pro-illegal immigration Workers Defense Project, faces off against Republican candidate Martin Harry in a race dominated more by criminal justice reform issues than immigration. Given the county is home to liberal Austin, Garza stands a good chance of breaking new ground.

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