Mayor, Jolt Leader Respond to Trump's Immigration Threats

As 2020 campaign begins, the president promises massive deportations

According to recent statements by President Donald Trump, the Trump administration is threatening to arrest and deport “millions” of undocumented immigrants, beginning next week. Nationwide deportation raids would threaten many Austin residents.

Responding to the threats Tuesday evening, Mayor Steve Adler said that city officials are committed to "keep everybody who lives here safe.” But he also acknowledged that under state law, the city cannot interfere “with federal officials doing their job.”

The latest threats began with a June 17 Trump tweet: "Next week ICE will begin the process of removing the millions of illegal aliens who have illicitly found their way into the United States. They will be removed as fast as they come in.” Later, without further detail, Trump reiterated the threat to reporters, in anticipation of his Tuesday evening reelection campaign rally in Orlando.

Subsequent reporting suggests that Trump’s tweet took by surprise even officials with Immigration and Customs Enforcement – charged with executing any such plan – but also that confidential plans for such nationwide raids have been in the works for weeks. Yet it’s also not clear if ICE, already strained by its steadily expanding responsibilities on the Mexican border, has sufficient resources to mount a major nationwide action.

Cristina Tzintzún (Photo by Jana Birchum)

Nevertheless, Trump’s threats themselves are real enough, intended both to terrorize immigrants and encourage his anti-immigrant voting base as he begins his reelection campaign. Cristina Tzintzún, executive director of Latino rights organization Jolt, said the threats “are meant to drive his base, while driving fear into our communities.” She added that it’s no coincidence that Trump is making the threats at a time "when the Supreme Court is going to be considering the 2020 census,” over the issue of whether a citizenship question should be included in the national survey.

“I don’t think that’s a coincidence,” continued Tzintzún. "It’s meant to make people afraid of their own government, and in Texas, there have been studies that show that – I think the number is 2.6 million Texans with at least one family member who’s undocumented. That’s almost 10 percent of our state population.”

But Tzintzún also pointed out that Trump’s anti-immigrant policies “led to a record turnout of Latinos in the last [mid-term] election,” and she expects that “massive backlash” to continue. She also suggested that local officials should respond to Trump’s threats, or any actual raids that follow, by “standing up” to the administration.

“I think local governments, and local police, need to make sure that they do not cooperate with any efforts to terrorize local immigrant communities, and to use their power at the local and state level to stand up to the Trump administration. By no means should they facilitate such activities.”

Mayor Steve Adler (Photo by John Anderson)

But in a brief phone interview Tuesday, Adler said the authority of local officials to resist ICE actions is quite limited. “We’re certainly not going to interfere with the federal officials doing their job, as is the law in this state. But we can help make sure that people know their constitutional rights, and that they know the law.”

Adler said that Senate Bill 4, the 2017 law banning “sanctuary cities” (subsequently upheld by the courts) forbids any interference with federal enforcement, and also forbids cities from requesting local police officers not cooperate. City Council did pass an ordinance requiring tracking of any collaboration, and Adler said, “The times that has happened,” Adler said, “have been only a couple of occasions, under exigent circumstances.”

The mayor subsequently provided a more formal statement, which reads:

“While it’s unclear how seriously to take the president’s tweets regarding a deportation effort, whenever Austinites fear for their safety based on immigration status, we will take steps to mobilize community partners and resources around three key goals: Making sure people know their rights; helping everyone who needs a lawyer get connected to legal aid; clarifying for the broader community what APD is and is not obligated to do in conjunction with ICE actions.”

“Our commitment to a safe and just city is not radical; these various and coordinated response measures will fall squarely within our legal obligations under SB 4. A safe city is a just city. And we will remain true to those values.”

Asked if she thinks Trump’s threats are working, Tzintzún said, “I think the threats work in two parts. I think they work to encourage Trump’s diehard, anti-immigrant, xenophobic, and racist base. The second threat is to drive massive fear in the immigrant community, and it does do that. But what the Trump administration hasn’t learned that there’s been massive backlash to these policies.”

Tzintzún said whether or not the administration follows through on Trump’s threats, they need to be understood in a broader political context. “The politics of Trump are distraction and division, although most Americans support a path for citizenship for undocumented immigrants,” she said. “But this is politics … to distract from his own failed policies, his own failed leadership, and the GOP’s failed leadership, as well.

“I think people are incredibly tired of it, especially in this state – people are very tired of it. Especially for Latino voters, it has driven them out [to the polls] in droves. The policies of family separation also drove many people into the arms of candidates that oppose those policies of the Trump administration. It will probably go down in history as one of the most unpopular, inhumane and cruel actions that a government has ever taken.”

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Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Donald Trump, Steve Adler, Cristina Tzintzún

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