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To City of Austin and Travis County Leaders:
As a resident of Travis County, I am deeply disturbed by impact of the federal “Secure Communities” (S-Comm) program in the Travis County Jail. I am writing today to ask you to do everything in your power as elected officials to end compliance with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainers in Travis County immediately.
Compliance with ICE detainers issued through the S-Comm program threatens families, public safety, and constitutional rights in Travis County in the following ways:
Families have been torn apart: The use of this program has resulted in the deportation of more than 4,741 Travis County residents since 2009, for an average of 19 people a week. The impact of deportation is disproportionately felt by spouses, partners, families, children and the community.
It has caused mistrust and fear of police that undermines public safety in every neighborhood: Research conducted by the UT Civic Engagement Center, a PhD Anthropology candidate at UT Austin, and the Austin Immigrant Rights Coalition in 2011 found that 65% of immigrants said they felt the immigrant community has little to no trust in the police and more than 50% fear calling the police for fear of possible deportation of themselves or of a family member. This fear and lack of trust undermines the ability of us all to keep the streets safe in every neighborhood.
It protects rogue police officers and opens the door for civil rights abuses: The Travis County Sheriff and City of Austin Police Chief cannot be expected to personally supervise every deputy and officer on the street. Any gains made by adopting policies against asking about immigration status at the street-level are undone by cooperation with ICE inside the jail. S-Comm opens the door for rogue officers to pretextually arrest immigrants in Travis County. The risk this creates for the violation of civil and human rights of thousands of Travis County residents is unacceptable.
Travis County faces legal liability for complying with the program: By complying with S-Comm and ICE detainers, Travis County is violating people's constitutional rights by keeping them locked up in jail beyond the time the county has authority to do so. These violations open the county up to legal liability and potentially needing to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees and damages to victims.
Travis County taxpayers are on the hook for the bill: It cost $1.8 million in unreimbursed funds to hold people for ICE in the Travis County Jail in 2011. Travis County taxpayers will also find themselves paying out of their own pockets if the county faces a legal challenge. The county should not be spending the limited resources it has on compliance with this harmful program.
It is tarnishing our community’s reputation: For all the much-discussed progressivism of Austin and Travis County, we are lagging far behind other progressive communities on this issue and as a result, we have one of the highest deportation rates in the country. As of May 30, 2014, 112 local jurisdictions have limited or ended their compliance with ICE detainers. Travis County should join that list as soon as possible.
The only solution is to end compliance with all detainer requests from ICE. I am asking you to use any and all budgetary, legislative and administrative processes to put a stop to the Secure Communities program in Travis County, including renegotiating the terms of the City of Austin’s interlocal agreement with Travis County and using the budgetary power of the commissioner’s court to take ICE out of the Travis County jail.
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