TEXAS: Austin Bracing for ICE Immigration Raids [UPDATED]

ICE immigration raids

Immigration advocates across Austin, Texas are bracing for a rumored crackdown by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) following Donald Trump’s immigration executive order and continued attacks and threats against sanctuary cities.

Austin NBC affiliate KXAN reported on the preparations taking place:

Local immigration attorneys and activists are bracing for possible raids in Central Texas, after President Donald Trump recently signed an executive order that makes substantial changes to America’s immigration system. This federal order, combined with the current immigration policy back-and-forth battle between Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez and Gov. Greg Abbott, has immigration advocates concerned.

United We Dream

Source: United We Dream 

Speaking with KXAN, Grassroots Leadership immigration organizer Alejandro Caceres said, “Right now there’s a lot of rumors that Immigration and Customs Enforcement is beefing up their officers here in Austin because they plan to do a raid sometime in the weekend or sometime in the next few days. I think that people should be on alert. I think that folks should be on the lookout.”

KXAN added:

The activist group is going so far as to train volunteers on how to interact with law enforcement officials, local and federal, if an immigration raid breaks out in the area. The training is provided through a new program the organization started called “Sanctuary in the Streets,” which the organization said they’re borrowing from movements in Philadelphia.

“We’ve trained up to 130 people, but the plan is to train 500 people to get ready if a raid does happen,” said Caceres. The trained volunteers are already on-call and will be in the next few days.

Immigration attorney Griselda Ponce agreed with Caceres adding,

“I think that the right stance is welcoming immigrants and looking at individuals and seeing whether this individual deserves to remain in this country, or whether they’re a danger to the community. ICE is not happy with our sheriff’s position as far as calling it a sanctuary city, and not fully cooperating with ICE in the manner that ICE would like. Because of that, we’re being targeted for ICE raids.”

Groups like United We Dream are helping immigrants in Austin and around the nation in protecting their rights in the face of an administration who promised during the last presidential campaign to engage in a nationwide ’roundup’.

Echoing their sentiment, Caceres is advising the Austin immigrant community accordingly.

“Don’t open your door if there isn’t a warrant. Make sure that your kids don’t open the door as soon as the door is knocked. If there is a warrant, make sure that it’s signed by a judge. Make sure that everyone’s information is correct,” Caceres said. “Don’t open your door. Don’t talk to officers if you don’t need to, and don’t sign anything.”

The Austin Chronicle offered more insight into why the Austin community is bracing for this weekend in particular:

According to the Immigrant Services Network of Austin, which published a news bulletin on Wednesday about the rumored raid, ICE has reportedly deployed four teams of five to 10 officers in Travis County. The federal agency is allegedly lodging detainers for any foreign-born individual in a county jail, and are detaining and arresting people who have criminal warrants or outstanding orders of removal. (DACA, deferred action, pending U visas, and stays of removal aren’t being targeted at this point, though that could change.) “Be careful,” warned the local network.

Professor Denise Gilman, director of the University of Texas Law School’s Immigration Clinic, said that ICE’s efforts this weekend are likely not a coincidence. Tensions are high after the standoff between Hernandez and Abbott. On Thursday, the Texas Senate State Affairs Committee convened for a well-attended hearing on Senate Bill 4, a bill from Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, that would ban so-called “sanctuary cities” and punish municipalities and universities that do not comply with detainer requests from ICE to hand over immigrants in custody for deportation.

“We are concerned about the likelihood this will spread a lot of fear in our communities,” said Gilman. “It’s unfortunate that it seems to be timed to intimidate members of the community into thinking twice about the smart policy decision that Sheriff Hernandez made to allow strong relations between local law enforcement and the community, instead of having them get involved with ICE orders.”

Adding more context to why Trump chose Austin as the front line in his battle against sanctuary cities, The Washington Post explained:

Austin has become the first battleground in that conflict, where the governor and a local sheriff are now locked in a standoff over the issue. A liberal enclave in the heart of conservative Texas, the capital city lies a little more than three hours from the Mexican border. About 35 percent of its 931,000 residents are Hispanic, according to U.S. Census estimates, and the city is home to a vibrant sanctuary movement that sprang to life during President Barack Obama’s first term, when his administration carried out a record number of deportations.

In November, voters in Travis County, which includes Austin, elected a new sheriff, who campaigned on a promise not to detain people based solely on their immigration status. Hours after Trump took office, Sheriff Sally Hernandez (D) posted an eight-minute video on her official website explaining the new policy, which took effect Wednesday. [SNIP]

Under her new policy, Travis County will not comply with requests from immigration authorities to detain people solely on the basis of their immigration status. If DHS finds someone who is undocumented, and that person is charged with murder, sexual assault or human smuggling, Hernandez says she will comply with federal requests to hold the person for 48 hours so they can be taken into custody by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, and ultimately deported.

However, if the person is accused of committing a minor infraction and would otherwise be eligible for release from jail, Hernandez says she will not hold them unless ICE obtains a warrant.

Federal courts have repeatedly concluded that local jailers have no legal obligation to comply with ICE detainers. Moreover, courts have said that holding someone without a warrant could violate their constitutional rights, putting jailers at risk of lawsuits.

“Our jail cannot be perceived as a holding tank for ICE,” Hernandez argued. “We cannot afford to make our community less safe by driving people into the shadows.”

Because of Austin’s stand against both the Texas state government as well as Trump’s anti-immigrant task force, it is now set to become the first target of Trump’s mass immigration raids – at least according to credible reports.

As ICE prepares to descend upon Austin, advocates, businesses and church leaders are all working together to protect the city’s immigrant population.

UPDATE [February 10, 2017 @ 2pm ET]

ICE immigration raids have reportedly begun in Austin. Read more about them here.

Tim Peacock is the Managing Editor and founder of Peacock Panache and has worked as a civil rights advocate for over twenty years. During that time he’s worn several hats including leading on campus LGBT advocacy in the University of Missouri campus system, interning with the Colorado Civil Rights Division, and volunteering at advocacy organizations. You can learn more about him at his personal website.


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