Austin activists demand ‘sanctuary city’ policy from Mayor Adler

Activists speak to Mayor Adler at City Hall (KXAN Photo/Phil Prazan)
Activists speak to Mayor Adler at City Hall (KXAN Photo/Phil Prazan)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The nationwide debate on immigration policy came to Austin City Hall Monday. It’s a debate with an ever-shrinking middle ground. Just how much say should local police have in deporting people who come to America illegally?

Voices burst out of a city hall committee on public safety. Immigration activists demanded “action” from Mayor Steve Adler. After representatives from Austin police and the Travis County Sheriff’s Department publicly pledged to fully cooperate with immigration officials charged with deporting illegal immigrants, activist Alejandro Caseres took a group of around twenty in front of the mayor’s office.

They shouted, “We want Adler,” “We want Adler.”

When the mayor arrived, supporters told him of home raids around Christmas where families were broken up because of their legal status. They want a written resolution for APD to stop cooperating with immigration officials. It’s what conservative lawmakers would call a “sanctuary city” policy.

“We’re tired of families getting deported. We’re tired of politicians saying we have to be patient. We’re tired of kids crying asking for their fathers,” said Caseres.

The activists told stories about how APD either did not speak Spanish or did not care for people who were here illegally.

The mayor looked for a compromise, saying he would work on a case by case basis, instead of adopting a blanket policy. He emphasized his top priority was safety and building trust within the immigrant community. “I want the mayor’s office to do that and I’m asking and I am pleading with you to involve me in those situations,” he said.

But Mayor Adler did not agree to author a resolution banning APD from working with immigration officials. The activists left disappointed.

Stress will continue to be placed on our city government until we figure this out nationally. Either the deportations increase, or, we let people who came here illegally, stay. The Travis County Jail has handed over more than 50 people to immigration officials since the beginning of the year.

Lawmakers this year have started the process to crack down on the so-called “sanctuary cities.” One proposal of a way to do that includes stripping state grants from departments. And that could hurt some US citizens.

For example, APD has about $600,000 of total state grants. One of those is a Violence Against Women Act grant, which pays for two temporary counselors and training for all officers in domestic violence services. “If we lost those grants, it would be a tremendous impact on our division and our community,” said Kachina Clark, who runs APD’s Victim Services.

Governor Abbott has already threatened to take away state money if local departments have “sanctuary city” policies. A bill cracking down on sanctuary cities has failed to pass twice. It’s up for discussion again in the 2017 session.

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