AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — A Mexican diplomat says a Texas sheriff told him he stood by a traffic sting that led to the arrest of 14 undocumented immigrants near a Hispanic neighborhood, three of whom were later deported.
The sheriff of Bastrop County has said the June stops had nothing to do with immigration and that his deputies never asked about citizenship. But one person arrested told Mexican officials he was directly asked, and others said deputies inquired where they were born or if they had a U.S.-issued identification, according to Carlos González Gutiérrez, Mexico’s general consul in Austin.
Whether police are asking about citizenship during routine stops is being closely watched by advocates in the wake of Texas’ new “sanctuary cities” ban, which the Trump administration has lauded and ACLU attorneys have called the toughest of its kind in the U.S.
González said he had a cordial but “kind of frustrating” meeting Wednesday with Bastrop County Sheriff Maurice Cook, who didn’t respond to interview requests Thursday. Gonzalez said the sheriff wasn’t receptive to an offer to train deputies about how to read Mexican-issued IDs and appeared unmoved by concerns about sowing distrust in immigrant neighborhoods.
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“In our opinion, it was clearly an intention to find out about status of the people they pull over,” Gonzalez said.
Cook is a Republican who was elected in 2016 and once led the Texas Rangers, the state’s chief law enforcement division. In a statement posted on Facebook this month, Cook described it as a “zero tolerance” operation that resulted in 63 stops, more than 50 citations and 24 arrests. He said questions about citizenship were not a factor for his deputies.
“The only target of the initiative was traffic law violations and the results prove how badly it was needed. The initiative had nothing to do with immigration,” Cook said.
Gonzalez suspects otherwise. The June 23 sting occurred after Mexico beat South Korea in the World Cup, and Gonzalez and a handful of those arrested were wearing replicas of he country’s soccer jersey when pulled over. Most of the two dozen people arrested were charged with not having a valid driver’s licenses. The traffic sting also led to arrests for drunken driving and drug charges.
Texas’ ban on sanctuary cities doesn’t require local police to ask about immigration status but threatens police chiefs and sheriffs with jail time if they restrict their officers’ ability to do so. The Mexican government came out against the law last year and opponents challenged it in court, but a federal appeals court allowed most of it to take effect in March.
Follow Paul J. Weber on Twitter: www.twitter.com/pauljweber
This version of the story corrects that three of the 14 arrested were deported.