Austin mayor responds to ‘secretive’ ICE actions

Austin immigration allies planning to fight Donald Trump's immigration policies (KXAN Photo)
Austin immigration allies planning to fight Donald Trump's immigration policies (KXAN Photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Mayor Steve Adler has put pen to paper in an open letter to Austinites amidst safety concerns as immigration actions are increasing across the city.

“The overly broad way these [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] raids are being conducted is making our community less safe and causing disproportionate harm by dividing the families of non-serious offenders and others who are of no threat and have been caught merely in the wrong place at the wrong time,” says Adler.

A total of 51 foreign nationals were arrested this past week in the Austin area, ICE said. Security Secretary John Kelly says around 75 percent of those arrested had previously been convicted of crimes ranging from homicide and aggravated sexual abuse to assault and driving under the influence.

The secretary laid out the four categories of undocumented immigrants who are the focus of President Trump and the Department of Homeland Security’s focus: those charged with criminal offenses, immigration violations, those who pose a threat to public safety and anyone who has been deported and reentered the United States.

“Some parents, fearful of apprehension aren’t sure of what will happen to their US-born citizen children, not to mention the home they’ve owned for years and into which they’ve placed all their family savings,” says Adler. “These raids are sowing distrust, not just with ICE but even with local law enforcement and that makes our community less safe.”

The mayor goes on to say that ICE has been conducting “secretive raids” without coordination with the Austin Police Department or the Travis County Sheriff’s Office. However, ICE has said they do not conduct random sweeps, but follow investigative leads.

Last Friday, Interim Police Chief Brian Manley says ICE agents “have full jurisdiction and they’re allowed to do that.” Manley says they do not have to notify Austin Police about their actions in the city. “We serve on several task forces that has federal immigration officers and then we work together on crime. But only crime,” says Manley.

In Travis County, the top cop, Sheriff Sally Hernandez has made national news for her policy regarding ICE detainers. Sheriff Hernandez has taken a stance against cooperating with ICE unless they are high-level criminals.

Adler concludes his letter with resources for people in Austin:

“In this difficult situation, it is so important for us to show our neighbors and the world who we are and what we’re made of. Let’s take care of each other. Sincerely, Steve Adler.”

Adler’s letter is below:

An open letter to Austin

Austin is a welcoming, inclusive community where we prioritize everyone’s safety. With the current immigration enforcement action, we need ever more to visibly express and reaffirm our values, individually and collectively. The overly broad way these ICE raids are being conducted is making our community less safe and causing disproportionate harm by dividing the families of non-serious offenders and others who are of no threat and have been caught merely in the wrong place at the wrong time.

These secretive raids are occurring without any coordination with the Austin Police Department police or the Travis County Sheriff’s Office. One consequence of this is the fear and panic among many of our neighbors who do not pose threats to our community. Some family members are disappearing with their whereabouts unknown. Some parents, fearful of apprehension, aren’t sure of what will happen to their US-born citizen children, not to mention the home they’ve owned for years and into which they’ve placed all their family savings. These raids are sowing distrust, not just with ICE but even with local law enforcement, and that makes our community less safe.

Austin police continue to serve the entire community without regard to immigration status. We are one of the safest communities in the country in large part because of the trust our residents place in our local law enforcement personnel. We are told by our law enforcement professionals, our Police Chief (as with his predecessor), our Sheriff, and even the Major Cities Chiefs Association, that participating in a voluntary, warrantless “detainer” program, which is not required by law, will make our community less safe because it jeopardizes community trust.

In fact, and you wouldn’t know it from the debate here locally, local authorities in 43 states refused to honor more than 16,000 detainer requests from ICE from October 2013 to December 2015. Only in Alaska, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, Montana, Vermont and Wyoming did local officials honor all requests, and detainers are relatively rare in those states. See, http://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/blogs/stateline/2017/02/10/sheriffs-still-looking-for-clarity-on-deportation.

“A good many jails and even states have said that they will not honor the detainer requests without a warrant. This is not an unreasonable request and certainly doesn’t mean they’re unwilling to cooperate. They just want to ensure they are operating within the law,” says Darrel Stephens, director of the Major Cities Chiefs Association.

I will continue to speak out in defense of our community and urge people on all sides of this issue to continue to make themselves heard clearly and peacefully. Please, do not put yourself or our local police in danger. Our police department wants all residents in Austin to be safe regardless of their immigration status.

There is help in Austin if you need it.

· AISD Superintendent Paul Cruz has posted resources available to immigrant and refugee students, parents, and employees on the school district’s website.

· If you need legal help or want to volunteer to help, there is contact information for several local immigration legal aid organizations on my website.

· If you want to donate to these legal aid organizations, you can give directly. You can also give to the Travis County #StrongerTogether Fund created to receive charitable donations to help fund crucial programs for Travis County women, children and veterans. Funds raised will go directly to prevent the abrupt end of these programs due to the elimination of Criminal Justice Division grants.

Until this ICE enforcement operation leaves town, and then should it ever return, I will continue to monitor the situation and stay in close contact with our Police Chief, City of Austin management, my colleague local elected officials, and the Mexican Consul General. In this difficult situation, it is so important for us to show our neighbors and the world who we are and what we’re made of. Let’s take care of each other.

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