Twenty-four people were arrested Saturday night in a heavily Hispanic part of Bastrop County during a “zero tolerance” traffic enforcement operation ordered by Bastrop County Sheriff Maurice Cook. All but one of those arrested had Hispanic surnames. Thirteen, including Benitez-Quintata, Orozco and Herrera, were picked up from the county jail by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement for deportation proceedings. At least seven had already been deported by Tuesday, according to Mexico’s consul for Austin.
For Cook, the operation was a routine law enforcement tactic — although he also said he has never conducted a traffic operation of this kind since taking office in January 2017.
“This is a fairly routine operation that we do from time to time, nothing to do with targeting anybody,” said Cook, a Republican and a former head of the Texas Rangers. “Not all of them were identified as illegal immigrants.”
For Carlos González Gutiérrez, the Mexican consul, the operation was an alarming escalation in the coordination between local and federal policing on immigration.
“There was clearly a special operation on the border between Bastrop and Travis, and there was clearly a decision not to cite and release the offenders of these traffic violations in case the officer suspected that they were undocumented,” González said. “We are very concerned that this takes to a new level the collaboration between police and immigration authorities.”
The issue of local-federal coordination on immigration has become a lightning rod in Texas since the Legislature last year approved a new law, Senate Bill 4, aimed at banning sanctuary cities, or jurisdictions that decline to assist federal immigration authorities.
Critics warned that it will lead to an increase in racial profiling among local police and to more people getting arrested for “driving while brown.” Proponents said it will keep Texas safer by keeping dangerous criminals out.