The Austin Chronicle

Point Austin: Round Up the Usual Suspects

Targeting immigrants is only one step in an era of repression

By Michael King, September 29, 2017, News

Here we go. Texas Attorney General Ken "Fugitive" Paxton, missing no opportunity to pander, is inviting Texans to rat on lawbreakers. No, he doesn't mean you should alert all the relevant authorities that the state's chief law enforcement official has likely engaged in securities fraud and related crimes, yet doesn't have sufficient respect for the law to step down while he is under indictment.

According to his press release, Paxton is so eager to enforce Senate Bill 4 – that immigrant-bashing abomination still working its way through the courts – that he wants us to report to his office any public officials who might not be toeing the line. "Senate Bill 4 is a commonsense measure that prevents governments in Texas from standing in the way of federal enforcement of immigration law," Paxton effused. "By enforcing the key provisions of SB 4, we will prevent dangerous criminals from being released back into our Texas communities."

Consider yourself on notice: Please alert the AG's office that indicted felon Paxton, while continuing to dodge and delay his legal reckoning, has been released into our community, free to wreak havoc over Texas ­justice.

Paxton's solicitation of collaboration is in response to a 5th Circuit court ruling allowing the enforcement of some provisions of SB 4 – although so confusingly that debate persists over the ruling's precise meaning. The most immediate effect in Travis County is that Sheriff Sally Her­nan­dez announced she will – until the courts resolve the question – honor all Immigration and Customs Enforcement "detainer requests" of arrestees, rather than reviewing each "request" (a term now rendered meaningless) for its seriousness and necessity. The alternative, for the embattled sheriff, would be to face arrest herself, by Paxton's minions.

Where Is Sanctuary?

The mild-mannered Hernandez likely owed her election last year to her stance against ICE and its detainers, but it's probably too much to expect her to directly face down Paxton and the federal court. When author Juan González visited Austin a couple of weeks ago, he noted that the confrontations between local jurisdictions and the state and federal governments are only going to escalate. "Cities and states are on a collision course," he told me. "Local officials may have to start going to jail and directly confronting the state government. What if Sally Hernandez gets arrested? What happens then?"

It appears we're not going to find that out immediately, but then the buck doesn't stop only with the Travis County sheriff. Earlier this year, City Council Member Greg Casar and others were arrested in a public protest of SB 4, and as time goes on, it's likely that similar actions will become more widespread. This is a battle over civil rights and human rights, and Popinjay Paxton is not going be the final arbiter of the outcome. As the Trump administration continues to exert nationwide repression against undocumented immigrants, local jurisdictions are increasingly pushing back – witness the recent California passage of a "sanctuary state" law.

Step by Step

It's worth emphasizing that SB 4 is not happening in isolation, and the U.S. as a whole is entering a period of increasing authoritarianism, embodied in the permanent campaign and person of Donald Trump. Like Trump, Paxton is easy to mock – the jokes write themselves – as is U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who blandly delivers lectures on constitutional rights and free speech while eagerly enforcing Trump's crackdowns on immigrants, and even prosecuting a woman – twice – who had the gall to laugh at him during his confirmation hearings.

But repression always begins its bloody work against the most vulnerable, and the circumstances of undocumented immigrants, often refugees from destitution or violence, make them easy targets for demagoguery and attack. Those of us in less precarious situations can pretend we won't be made subject to the same arbitrary injustice. Yet here we are: State and federal governments have begun threatening local officials with removal or prosecution for failure to reflexively honor federal incarceration "requests." That should at least serve as a warning that we are all under threat.

I have no doubt that AG "Snitch" Paxton's invitation to informants will result in feverish accusations against public officials who rationally consider campaigns against immigrants as both shameful and counterproductive. Police officers already report that trust is breaking down between law enforcement and immigrant communities; even worse is that immigrant families are being forced to choose between protecting family members from criminals and concealing their immigration status from the authorities. It is a "Sophie's choice" that no family should have to make, and imposed by people – Trump, Sessions, Greg Abbott, Dan Patrick, Paxton, et al. – who have repeatedly proven themselves unworthy of their offices and authority.

The rest of us will also have to look in the mirror, and ask ourselves how much more of this deadly and growing nonsense we can endure, and what more we might be required to do, to put an end to it.

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