AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Tuesday embraced President Donald Trump's proposed crackdowns on so-called "sanctuary cities" but didn't mention the president's recent order for a partial immigration ban as Muslim leaders and hundreds of supporters rallied outside the Capitol.
The "Texas Muslim Capitol Day" event was scheduled months ago but took on a more defiant tone — and attracted much larger turnout than usual — after Trump last week banned immigrants from seven Muslim-majority nations from traveling to the U.S. The event's organizers said they brought private security with them for the first time because of heightened political tensions, but only a few protesters showed up to greet them.
At the same event in 2015, one Republican legislator instructed her staff to ask Muslims visiting her office to take a loyalty pledge to the U.S.
No Republicans spoke at the rally, and Democrats criticized Abbott for not using the spotlight of his State of the State address to say where he stands on Trump's immigration ban. Abbott also didn't mention Trump's plan to build a wall along the border of Mexico.
"The new administration in Washington has shown the potential to finally secure the border," Abbott said. "But as (former University of Texas football coach) Darrell Royal said: 'Potential just means you ain't done it yet.'"
Opposition to sanctuary cities is one area where Abbott and Trump clearly see eye-to-eye. Abbott instructed lawmakers to send him a bill by June that punishes local government that don't cooperate with federal immigration authorities.
A Texas crackdown could be even tougher than Trump's: Abbott wants to not only withhold taxpayer money to cities that don't arrest or detain immigrants in the country illegally, but also the power to remove locally elected officials from office if they don't comply.
"To protect Texans from deadly danger, we must insist that laws be followed," Abbott said.
Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez, who runs the jails in the state capital of Austin, the state's most liberal city, plans to stop honoring all federal immigration detainers on Wednesday and only comply with holds for murder, aggravated sexual assault and human trafficking. Abbott says he is immediately cutting off grant funds that totaled $1.8 million last year and has asked state agencies for a list of other state dollars sent to the county, one of the biggest in Texas.
Democratic Rep. Ana Hernandez accused Abbott of having "chosen to side against local law enforcement by supporting policies that will tear apart Texas families."
Abbott also wants no cutbacks to Texas' $800 million border security operation despite lawmakers facing a cash crunch in the wake of the oil bust and Trump's promises to lock down the U.S.-Mexico border. Abbott said he would travel to the border on Wednesday to meet with new Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly.
Outside the Capitol, the scene was peaceful as hundreds of supporters cheered and waved signs that read, "Hate Has No Home Here" and "We Stand With Our Muslim Neighbors." Unlike two years ago when hecklers interrupted the rally, so-called "peace observers" from an assortment of nonprofits and interfaith groups formed a massive circle to prevent the few protesters that were present from interfering.
Mustaafa Carroll, executive director of the Houston chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said organizers of the "Muslim Day" event had hired guards this time because "they're very aware of what's going on" in the current climate.
"While I am troubled by the turmoil, I am heartened by the resistance. There is discord in the country, but it is a discord born of patriotism and love of country," Democratic state Rep. Celia Israel told the crowd.