On Thursday, June 26, Austin city council members unanimously passed a resolution to oppose Travis County's participation in Secure Communities. Secure Communities, or S-Comm, is a federal program through which immigrants can be detained in local jails like the Travis County Jail until Immigration and Customs Encorcement (ICE) can take them into custody. The resolution is sponsored by council members Laura Morrison, Mike Martinez and mayor pro-tem Sheryl Cole. No one offered opposing remarks on this resolution.
The resolution also calls Austin city managers to “research options to minimize or completely replace” Austin's use of the Travis County Jail's central booking facility until Travis County ceases to participate in S-Comm. Council member Mike Martinez thinks that the resolution may not end S-Comm in Travis County, but it is a positive move forward:
“It is about us taking a stance and saying that $7 million a year of your taxpayer dollars is going to a facility that uses this program that is ripping families apart and eroding that community trust."
ICE detainers can lead to deportation, a practice for which Austin is infamous: in 2012, the Austin American-Statesman reported that, of 56 counties that participate in S-Comm around the country, Travis County ranked third with a 41 percent deportation rate.
At a press conference Thursday morning, council member Morrison and mayor pro-tem Cole both boldly offered their support for the resolution an denounced S-Comm. Morrison believes the program to be ineffective and damaging:
“It takes a toll on broken families, it erodes trust in law enforcement and policing efforts, it’s costing the taxpayers, and it’s not an effective mechanism for taking serious criminals off the street.”
Cole stated that she cannot support a program that separates families and funnels children into the foster care system.
Travis County Sheriff Greg Hamilton has continued to dig in his heels regarding S-Comm, saying that he will continue to honor federal ICE detainers, regardless of the U.S. Court of Appeals' ruling that ICE detainers are requests, not commands. He even spoke on KLBJ radio over the weekend and commiserated with radio jockeys as they cracked jokes about "the Mexicans" and "bad illegal immigrants."
At the press conference,Travis County Democratic Chairwoman Jan Soifer urged Hamilton to adhere to Democratic party values and cease his participation in S-Comm. Soifer stated that the party is confident that Hamilton will change his mind.
This is a huge step forward, but it is not the end. We are winning, friends. La lucha sigue.