Incoming sheriff can tackle criminal justice reform while stopping deportations

By Alejandro Caceres and Jorge Antonio Renaud

A recent Statesman editorial (Wanted: Sheriff who keeps Austin out of Legislature crosshairs, Sept. 24) about the race for Travis County Sheriff suggested that we cannot have both criminal justice reforms and an end to deportations in Travis County. We couldn’t disagree more. We see everyday why you cannot stack a broken immigration system on top of a broken criminal justice system and expect a more just world.

We represent the communities in Austin — almost exclusively communities of color — who have been most impacted by these policies and have been fighting for change. And we reject any attempts to pit us against each other. It is just as violent and unjust to rip someone from their family and community by deporting them as it is to lock them up. Whether our community members are exiled, forgotten or left to rot, we won’t accept that they are disposable in our society.

In the first sentence of its editorial, the Statesman editorial board says local criminal justice reform “has been hijacked” by a focus on immigration and the boogie man of so-called “sanctuary cities.”

Let’s be clear: Any policy that leads to individuals being incarcerated or deported rests on criminalization. There is no moral distinction to be made between the systems that result in individuals being deported or caged. There is only a political one. And in this case, the flawed political argument is that if the Travis County sheriff refuses to comply with ICE, state lawmakers will retaliate to preempt local initiatives.

But preemptive legislation is already in the works. This year’s major victory by formerly incarcerated organizers is Austin’s Fair Chance Hiring ordinance, a historic move to guarantee that people who have been caught in the criminal justice system have a fair shot at a job when they come home. ICE Out of Austin stood in support of the measure. Legislators are already planning an attack to gut that ordinance and prevent other communities from passing their own.

The Fair Chance Hiring ordinance and other local reforms are won with concentrated collaboration between local organizers and a few fiercely committed local officials who fight with us for change. If this fight goes to the Capitol, we will be there too. But we will not be persuaded to stand down for fear of pushback. For us who have been impacted by incarceration or deportation, the road thus far has been nothing but pushback — against history, privilege,wealth and apathy.

Activists across the country are building bridges between our parallel movements to end mass incarceration and mass deportation. We fight for the same in Travis County alongside grassroots groups that see the shared problems in the criminal justice system and the deportation machine.

Two of those are Texas Advocates for Justice (TAJ) which brings together individuals and family members whose lives have been devastated by incarceration; and the ICE Out of Austin campaign, which fights to end all deportations — never excluding those who have been caught in the criminal justice system.

Every candidate for Travis County sheriff has promised to end at least some collaboration with ICE — and at least one has promised to end the use of warrantless detainers in the jail. We will work alongside the new sheriff to ensure its successful implementation — because it is the right policy for Austin and not because state legislators give us their blessing. Our city and our local politicians must stand by their progressive values and be ready to defend the victories they champion at home — like Fair Chance Hiring and the approaching end to deportations from the Travis County Jail.

If we want an Austin as progressive as we say it is, we must be ready to defend our values at the Capitol. As tough as this legislative session may be for the city and the county, it does not compare to a lifetime of living with these oppressive systems targeting us everyday.

The authors represent members of Texas Advocates for Justice and the ICE Out of Austin campaign. Both grassroots organizations are led by and for people who have been impacted by the criminal justice and the immigration enforcement systems in Austin and Texas.