Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar announced Thursday evening that, effective immediately, his department will accept international and alternative forms of identification from motorists stopped by his deputies.
Along with state driver’s licenses and identification, the sheriff’s office will accept U.S. passports, military IDs, diplomatic IDs, and international passports, driver’s licenses, and military IDs, he said. The officers also will accept the Matrícula Consular de Alta Seguridad from Mexico, an identification card for Mexican nationals residing outside of Mexico.
Salazar addressed Spanish-speaking citizens at a community outreach session at St. Timothy Catholic Church on the Westside, seeking to quell community fears about expanded immigration enforcement and deportations under the Trump administration.
“If someone’s caught driving without a license, but they have this other form of ID, they still may get a ticket for driving without a license – the rule of the road is you have to drivers license to drive – but with these forms of ID that are now accepted by the sheriff’s office they don’t necessarily have to go to jail,” Salazar said.
The policy is one observed by the San Antonio Police Department for the past two or so years, said Salazar, who helped craft and implement it during his time at SAPD.
The sheriff’s department is training all of the deputies on the new identification policy and hopes to complete training within a week, he said.
The effort is meant to reduce the chances of someone getting arrested for a minor infraction during a traffic stop and taken to jail, where undocumented arrestees could be subject to detainers issued by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and be handed over to ICE custody.
It’s important that the whole community has confidence in local law enforcement officers and feels comfortable enough to call them when they’re in need, Salazar told the group of more than 70 people at the meeting.
Salazar said he will not train his deputies to act as immigration officers, as allowed by ICE’s 287(g) program.
However, Salazar said his department will contine to hold undocumented people in the County jail for further investigation by immigration officials if requested by ICE.
Gov. Gregg Abbott has threatened to revoke state grants from Bexar County if such detainers are not honored, Salazar said, and Abbott has already done so in Travis County, where Sheriff Sally Hernandez limits cooperation with ICE. Travis County has said it will not hold inmates for immigration authorities unless the inmate is charged with certain major crimes.
Bexar County could lose $9 million in federal money, Salazar said, which currently go toward protecting sex trafficking and domestic violence victims, funding juvenile court, and providing necessary equipment for the department. Bexar County has spent $22.3 million on detaining immigrants in the County jail in the last 12 years, funds that County Judge Nelson Wolff recently asked the federal government to reimburse.
Salazar also said that if he doesn’t hold individuals in the County jail for ICE to investigate, those people would be subject to arrest by ICE officers at their homes or places of work, along with other individuals at the scene that may be undocumented.
He said that he doesn’t necessarily agree with the deportation crackdown, but “it’s the greater good that I’m having to look after,” he said.
Rebecca Flores, a citizen who attended Thursday’s meeting, said she knows Salazar “is in a tough position,” but that he would receive an outpouring of support from the San Antonio community if he chose to stop honoring ICE holds.
“If we don’t resist this every step of the way it’s going to get worse and worse,” Flores said. “… We’re going to have to really make [Salazar] a little bit stronger … because we’re losing more of our civil rights every day.”
Thursday’s meeting was part of UNIDOS, an effort started in Dallas that has been used by SAPD and other law enforcement departments to reach out to the Spanish-speaking community and provide useful information about issues ranging from obtaining a driver’s license to immigration policies.
In cities like San Antonio, home to a large number of Spanish speakers, the initiative has been a successful way to bridge the divide between them and local law enforcement, Salazar said. Along with local law enforcement, a local immigration lawyer was present and briefed all of the attendees on their rights and what to do when stopped by a law enforcement officer.
Despite Salazar’s outreach efforts, members of the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES), which provides legal services to immigrants, said he is not doing enough. The nonprofit gathered nearly 3,000 signatures on a petition demanding that the sheriff not honor any ICE holds and to turn down the 287(g) program, common components of what are commonly called “sanctuary city” policies.
The petition was delivered to Salazar’s office on Wednesday by Josué Romero, a 19-year-old undocumented art student from Honduras who was arrested on a misdemeanor marijuana charge last month, handed over to ICE, and later released.
Romero was given temporary legal status by former President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) order, which protects undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children from deportation and grants them renewable two-year work permits. Romero said Wednesday that after checking in as ordered with ICE officials after his release, he was told that he would no longer be subject to ICE supervision and was free to go.
“It’s a huge relief,” Romero said. “I can live a little bit more calmly.”
In order to prevent immigrants arrested for minor infractions from being turned over to ICE, Romero wants Salazar to take a “case-by-case” approach when honoring ICE holds. Among other things, the RAICES petition asks that the sheriff not honor ICE detainers that aren’t accompanied by a warrant signed by a U.S. district court judge or magistrate, not allow ICE officials access to Bexar County databases, not notify ICE of an individual’s release from jail, and not allow ICE officials to interview or meet with individuals in jail without giving them an opportunity to refuse or have counsel present.
Salazar, who took office in January after defeating incumbent Susan Pamerleau, said he is considering the demands listed on the petition, and there are certain things – like declining to participate in the 287(g) program – that he already agrees with. He was invited by RAICES to attend a community town hall meeting on the topic on March 8, but said he doesn’t know yet if he will attend.
After the meeting, RAICES representatives and others criticized Salazar for not taking questions from the audience. Instead, attendees were directed to speak with the sheriff personally or with several of the deputies there.
“If you have a public forum, you need to take public questions,” said Jenny Hixon, director of the RAICES shelter. “I think if you don’t take public questions, that’s because you’re afraid of the question that the public has for you.”
Salazar told the Rivard Report that he doesn’t anticipate entering into any contracts with the federal government regarding immigration if he is not bound to do so and that there will be no immigration raids throughout the city. Conducting raids, he said, is not his job or that of sheriff’s deputies.
Last month, he sent a letter to Abbott in which he agreed to hold undocumented immigrants in the County jail, but expressed concern about the governor “subjecting the state and local officials to the dictates of the federal government.”
“They’ve got their job to do,” he said, “but we have our job to do.”