Immigration took a beating this year from both the federal and state government
Fear swept the immigrant community in February when U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement raided Austin as part of a nationwide strategy under the anti-immigrant Trump administration to purportedly target "public safety threats." However, it turned out that the majority of the 51 arrests were non-criminal, sparking questions of political retaliation for Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez's ICE policies, which she laid out on Jan. 20, the same day Trump was inaugurated. Eliciting nationwide attention, Hernandez held firm to her refusal to automatically comply with all ICE detainers (a federal request to local jails to hold an inmate suspected of being undocumented). Skeptics of the raid's intentions were eventually proven correct when it was revealed by U.S. Magistrate Judge Andrew Austin that ICE privately admitted their latest sweep was a direct result of Hernandez's plan. Meanwhile, in punishment for what he deemed a "sanctuary city" policy, Gov. Greg Abbott slashed $1.8 million in Travis County Criminal Justice Division grants – vital funds that went toward helping veterans and abused families. The funding cut, coupled with the truth about the raid's motivations, sent a chill down the spines of both immigrants and allies, who would be forced to contend with intensified attacks throughout the year.
The Texas legislative session brought up another opportunity to dehumanize and scare immigrants. Senate Bill 4 by Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, would punish local governments and universities that don't comply with ICE detainer requests, and allow police officers to inquire about the citizenship status of anyone they pull over – and as a priority item for Abbott, was on the fast track to approval. Never mind the fact that SB 4 is considered the harshest immigration law in the country, and was opposed by police chiefs in most major Texas cities, including Austin, and saw hundreds of people testify against it at the Capitol. Lawmakers evoked Hernandez's name as though she were a bogeyman. "The concept that I was breaking the law and that horrible criminals are being turned loose on the street was used to generate fear to push the bill through," the sheriff told the Chronicle in a rare one-on-one interview this summer. "And of course, that wasn't true."
Just one day after Abbott cravenly signed SB 4 into law (on a Sunday during dinner, away from the media, livestreamed on Facebook video), Attorney General Ken Paxton sued Austin Mayor Steve Adler, members of City Council, and Hernandez, essentially for exercising their free speech by publicly opposing the law. A federal judge eventually struck that frivolous and petty suit; but an ongoing legal battle against SB 4 continues. The rulings have ping-ponged, from a block by U.S. Judge Orlando Garcia to the latest, a legal pass on part of the law from a three-judge panel of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, which has forced Hernandez to now comply with all ICE detainers. But it's not over for SB 4; the full 5th Circuit is expected to rule on the law's merits in the coming months. And adding to the dizzying fear and anxiety among the local immigrant community, the Trump administration decided to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program (DACA), throwing the future of up to 14,000 Travis County residents and 124,000 Texans into limbo.
This year state and federal officials, voracious in their appetite to marginalize and terrify undocumented immigrants, have done everything in their power to destabilize the already vulnerable population and force them into the shadows. However, Austinites fought back with creative acts of resistance including an anti-SB 4 sit-in at the governor's office (which landed Greg Casar and other local community leaders in handcuffs) and a quinceañera protest at the Capitol, organized by local nonprofit Jolt. City Council did its part to step up with unprecedented funding for immigrant services, while dollars from a crowdfunding site chipped in to at least temporarily fill the void left by Abbott's county funding slash – all reminders that when under attack, our community remains resilient.