Immigration advocates torn between Travis Co. sheriff, Trump wins

Immigration rally with ICE Out of Austin in front of the Austin Police Department (KXAN Photo/Juan Salinas)
Immigration rally with ICE Out of Austin in front of the Austin Police Department (KXAN Photo/Juan Salinas)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — In the aftermath of local and federal elections Tuesday, area immigration advocates are expressing their concern about the future of the issue in Travis County.

“As the night went forward, we realized this sort of sickening feeling, of like, ‘Oh no, I think that Donald Trump is going to win this,’” explained Alejandro Caceres, an Immigration Organizer for Grassroots Leadership in Austin. “There’s a sudden fear of what happens to me tomorrow.”

Among his fears, Caceres says President-elect Donald Trump’s goals for his first day working in the Oval Office are concerning. According to NBC, Trump said he would:

  • Cancel funding to “sanctuary cities”
  • Remove illegal immigrants and cancel visas to countries that refuse to take them back, and
  • Suspend immigration from “terror-prone” regions of the world.

“The president is coming after us,” said Caceres. “There’s people in the United States who actually feel targeted by the president of the United States… for either deportation, for stripping you of your rights, it is very terrifying.”

Caceres said members of immigrant community groups are fearful of a return to the past. “We’ve gained so many victories in the eight years that Obama has been here, and now we’re in threat of going back. Now we’re in threat of having a program like Secure Communities over again.”

In 2014, President Barack Obama put a stop to the Secure Communities program. The federal immigration enforcement tool hiked deportation rates by linking local jail inmates with federal immigration authorities.

Caceres said the relief he felt after learning Democrat Sally Hernandez had won the election for Travis County Sheriff was only short-lived, clouded by Trump’s success in the race for the White House.

“We do have a local victory and we can push for something that would be really, really great in the state of Texas and the city of Austin, but at the same time, now we have a president who is one hundred times worse than Greg Hamilton,” he said.

Sally Hernandez, Travis County Sheriff democratic nomination
Sally Hernandez, Travis County Sheriff democratic nomination

Hernandez is replacing Sheriff Greg Hamilton, who did not run for reelection. Throughout her campaign, Hernandez vowed to stop cooperating with federal immigration officials at the Travis Co. Jail.

“I’m excited that the Travis County residents have come out and overwhelmingly voted for a more progressive Travis County Sheriff’s Office,” Hernandez said Tuesday at the Democratic Watch Party in downtown Austin. “I am going to treat everybody fairly and equally. Voters say they want a much more progressive ICE policy that doesn’t break up families and keeps our family safe.”

KXAN received this statement Wednesday from Sheriff-elect Sally Hernandez in response to Trump’s immigration goals when he takes office:

As Travis County Sheriff my only role regarding immigration issues, is to determine a safe and progressive policy on ICE detainers. Federal courts have ruled that ICE detainers are a voluntary program. This is a legal issue and the courts have ruled. If Donald Trump wants to change the ICE policy and make them mandatory, then that is an issue for courts to decide. I ran on a policy of honoring due process and treating everyone fairly in compliance with federal laws. Travis County voters made it clear last night that they want a progressive policy towards ICE that focuses on keeping families together and our community safer.”

KXAN spoke with Travis Co. Commissioner Gerald Daugherty, who represents Precinct Three. Daugherty said he is concerned about the potential financial consequences that could affect the county, depending on how Hernandez implements the new progressive ICE detainer policy she promised voters.

“There seems to be no question that the feds are going to play hardball with this, and we certainly know that the state is going to because they’ve already told us they’re going to,” said Daugherty. “If there was any sort of action taken in Travis County that would be construed as being ‘sanctuary,’ then the grant money was not going to flow to Travis County.”

Daugherty said if state and/or federal grant money is revoked, there’s a chance the public may be placed in harm’s way. “If you don’t have the grant money, then the expectations are [that] Travis County will just continue to fund it,” said Daugherty. “It could be very, very impactful in a lot of different ways and really affect some of the very needed and worthwhile programs.”

Grant money can go toward a variety of social programs including Heath and Human Services, local victim services and law enforcement agencies.

“The Sheriff’s Office will have to take that into consideration,” he said. “The new Sheriff Sally Hernandez, she’s going to be the one making the call as to whether or not she is willing to work with ICE.”

Daugherty said the task may now be more of a “juggling act,” but told KXAN he is confident that Hernandez will be very responsible.

Regardless, Caceres said advocates must continue to fight for what they believe is justice. “We can mourn today, but tomorrow, we have to continue to organize because we don’t want to go back to where we were four, eight years ago.”

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