Earlier in March a FOX 7 photographer covering a story at the Travis County Courthouse caught Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers taking Juan Carlos Coronilla-Guerrero into custody.
He was there for a court appearance, charged with assaulting a family member.
The Feds say he was in the U.S. illegally. A detainer for him was denied on February 1, the day Sheriff Sally Hernandez's new immigration policy went into effect. He bonded out the same day.
Fast forward to Monday, March 20, 2017, Federal Magistrate Judge Andrew Austin presided over a preliminary hearing for Coronilla-Guerrero. Austin questioned Laron Bryant, one of the deportation officers who took Coronilla-Guerrero into custody.
The audio transcript is as follows:
JUDGE: "There's been questions about whether Austin's being targeted. And we had a briefing. Your immediate supervisor, I guess, Agent Schaffer came and briefed me and the Magistrate Judge, Judge Lane at the very end of January that we could expect a big operation, agents coming in from out of town.
There was going to be a specific operation and it was at least related to us in that meeting that it was a result of the Sheriff's new policy that this was going to happen. Are you aware of that?"
AGENT: "Yes, your Honor"
JUDGE: "And that's the one we heard about where 50-some-odd people were arrested?"
AGENT: "Yes, your Honor"
JUDGE: "Okay. And my understanding is what was told to us is one of the reasons that happened is because the meetings that had occurred between the Field Office Director and the Sheriff didn't go very well."
AGENT: "That's...that's new knowledge to me."
JUDGE: "Above your pay grade?"
AGENT: "Yes, yes"
JUDGE: "Alright, fair enough"
Bryant also said arresting someone in a courthouse was an isolated incident, it won't become a pattern.
Judge Austin asked Bryant if more arrests were coming. An attorney stopped Bryant from answering because he didn't want him to get in trouble.
In response to the audio recording, ICE told Fox 7:
"ICE officers routinely coordinate their targeted immigration enforcement operations with our local, state and/or federal law enforcement partners, to include Federal Magistrate Judges when seeking criminal arrest warrants. By enforcing U.S. immigration laws, we also help enhance public safety. Rumors and reports that recent ICE operations are specifically targeting Travis County (Texas), apart from normal operations, are inaccurate. However, more ICE operational activity is required to conduct at-large arrests in any law enforcement jurisdiction that fails to honor ICE immigration detainers."
Stephanie Gharakhanian with the Worker's Defense Project says the judge's comments confirm what they had suspected for quite awhile.
"The reasons and the priorities that have been articulated by the Trump administration are absolutely false that this isn't a question of public safety or public security that these raids weren't in fact a response to any sort of public safety concern in our community but we're in fact political retribution," she said.
We spoke with Travis County Commissioner Gerald Daugherty by phone this afternoon. He's against Hernandez's policy. Daugherty met with ICE last month and they told him point blank they weren't targeting Austin so he says he's pretty perplexed by this. After we told him ICE is denying it he says he would like someone to go back and ask both the Magistrate and the ICE official what was said in that meeting, was anything misunderstood? He says he's hoping this doesn't distract from the bigger story though which is Hernandez should be working with ICE more than she is.