Many conservative-leaning populists extol the county sheriff as the highest law enforcement officer within his jurisdiction. Within that group, many likewise regard what they believe to be unchecked immigration as an existential crisis that must be addressed through extraordinary measures — which include federal actions to chastise cities and counties whose governments refuse to cooperate with national immigration enforcement efforts.
An emerging conflict in Texas will exacerbate the cognitive dissonance experienced by conservatives of that description.
Republican Governor Greg Abbott told Fox News on January 25 that he and allies in the state legislature will sponsor a law that would mandate the removal of any county sheriff who does not “fully cooperate” with federal immigration officials. Abbott had previously threatened to deny state grants to Travis County if Sheriff Sally Hernandez does not repudiate her policy curtailing such cooperation. In his Fox News interview, however, Abbot escalated his threats by promising that “We will remove her from office.”
Fresh from attending Donald Trump’s Inauguration last week, Abbott rebuked Sheriff Hernandez for playing “political Russian roulette — with the lives of Texans at stake.” Unless she fully cooperates with the Feds, Abbott continued, Travis County will be denied $1.8 million in state law enforcement grants. For her part Sheriff Hernandez, like peers in other jurisdictions, protests that efforts to enforce federal immigration laws undermines the cooperation her office requires to investigate crimes against persons and property.
The punitive legislation being sought by Abbott would make Hernandez a criminal for carrying out her duties as she and her constituents see them. It would impose both civil and criminal penalties for sheriffs who do not cooperate with federal immigration detainers, which allow the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement department to investigate the immigration background of people suspected of being in the country illegally.
Democratic Congressman Lloyd Doggett has denounced Abbot’s proposal as an “unlawful demand.”
“Neither Governor Abbott nor the Legislature have any authority to remove a duly elected sheriff, whose office is established by the Texas Constitution,” observed Doggett. “The governor shows contempt for both the Texas Constitution and the Bill of Rights in the United States Constitution.”
As Judge Andrew Napolitano has documented, while the US Constitution gives the federal government jurisdiction over naturalization, immigration falls within what James Madison called the “numerous and indefinite” powers reserved to the separate states. This is a principle otherwise held sacred by many of the soi-disant constitutionalists who favor dramatic expansion of federal power to combat the non-crisis of immigration. It’s worth noting as well that some of the most impassioned denunciations of “sanctuary” cities and counties come from conservatives who in practically any other context celebrate the nullification of federal policies that exceed the Constitution’s specific delegation of powers to Congress.
Whatever can be said about the wisdom of Sheriff Hernandez’s policy decisions, the threats issued by Governor Abbott exemplify the Trump-led Republican Party’s effort to impose Gleichschaltung — rigid, centralized federal control over “internal security” matters. Other examples include Trump’s advertised intent to reverse Obama’s very modest restraints on transfer of military assets to local police agencies, and his recent threat to “send in the Feds” to take over law enforcement in Chicago.
The conservatives who were frantic over Obama’s efforts to federalize law enforcement have become energetic proponents of federalization now that Trump occupies the imperial throne. Their new enemy is any official who would exercise the powers of interposition they had previously championed. Such things are to be expected when the who/whom axis is reversed.