Travis County, Texas, has one of the highest deportation rates in the U.S. thanks to the local sheriff’s voluntary cooperation with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. An average of 19 immigrants a week are deported here. Stopping the deportation dragnet in Travis County would mean stopping the potential detention and deportation of thousands of Austin-area residents. Grassroots Leadership, in coalition with other groups in the Austin-area, is making that happen by engaging in direct action, community education, and dialogue with local elected officials.
The #19TooMany Campaign
Drunken driving. Property theft. Possession of a controlled substance.
These are some of the crimes for which the Travis County Sheriff’s Office did not honor requests from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to detain suspected undocumented immigrants past their sentences or dispositions.
Records obtained by KUT News show that while Sheriff Sally Hernandez’s policy regarding ICE detainers is largely being applied as laid out, in a couple of cases it was applied inconsistently, specifically when it concerned reoffenders.
On February 1, Hernandez’s policy went into effect: She would honor ICE detainer requests only if someone had been charged with murder, aggravated sexual assault or human trafficking, or had been convicted of these crimes in the past. She also maintained the ability to assess requests on a case-by-case basis. Later, the sheriff expanded her policy to include crimes committed against children and the elderly.
In a second case, an 18-year-old man was accused of organized criminal activity. Travis County declined the ICE detainer request placed on him, and he was released from jail on a personal recognizance bond, or no-cost bond.
A month later, in April, he was again booked into the Travis County Jail, this time on a home burglary charge. Travis County honored a second ICE detainer request placed on the man and he was released to federal immigration agents. Dark said the man’s escalating criminal activity might explain the decision to turn him over to ICE – but when she spoke with KUT she did not have the notes in front of her from the captain who made the decision.
Bob Libal, executive director of the immigrants’ rights group Grassroots Leadership, said he’s concerned by these inconsistencies.
“I do think that it raises concerns if the policy is not being followed,” he said.
“It’s really disappointing to hear,” said Amy Fischer, policy director at the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services, when told about the few inconsistencies in the application of Hernandez’s policy. “She’s gained a lot of political brownie points as someone who’s claiming to stand up for the immigrant community, and it shows that when push comes to shove that she’s laying down to the federal government.”
While Hernandez’s policy states that she maintains the right to assess ICE detainers on a case-by-case basis, most of the charges for which people were released to ICE fell below the threshold Hernandez set in her policy. They included charges of DUI, home burglary, domestic violence, manufacture and delivery of a drug, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, and sexual abuse of a child.
An oft-overlooked portion of Hernandez’s policy is the consideration of criminal history. In the case that someone committed one of the three violent felonies she set – murder, aggravated sexual assault and human trafficking – the ICE detainer placed on them would be honored.
Libal with Grassroots Leadership and Fischer with RAICES said they were concerned from the beginning to learn that Hernandez’s policy included the intent to honor any ICE detainers.
“Obviously, it’s good news that we have a dramatic reduction in the number of immigration detainers in our community,” Libal said. “But it doesn’t solve many of the issues that were raised by (detainers), including constitutional issues. It doesn’t matter what the criminal charge is. The sheriff is agreeing to honor a detainer that does not come with any backing of a warrant.” Read more about Here's what we learned about requests from ICE to pick up Travis County inmates
Without warning Sunday evening, Gov. Greg Abbott signed the anti-immigrant Senate Bill 4 into law.
Offering no notice to media until after he signed the bill, Abbott only issued a press release and a video of himself via Facebook defending the legislation that attacks so-called “sanctuary cities." (The term carries no legal definition but refers to, in the eyes of Abbott, any municipality that isn't acting in lockstep with federal immigration policy.) The clandestine move assured no major citizen-led protests or demonstrations – like the all day sit-in at his offices last week – would prevent the governor from ushering the “Show Me Your Papers” bill into law.
"It seems fitting that Greg Abbott would sign this disgraceful bill on the internet on a Sunday night, far from the press and the public,” said Bob Libal, executive director of Grassroots Leadership. “But we will not be bullied by this law. Communities across the state are vowing that the resistance to SB 4 is only just beginning."
SB 4 imposes civil and criminal penalties on law enforcement leaders who fail to cooperate with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainer requests and allows police to inquire about immigration status of those that they detain. The law also allows the removal of any elected or appointed official who does not comply with the law. Two weeks ago the Texas House held a 16-hour debate on SB 4, where Democrats sought unsuccessfully to soften the extreme piece of legislation, before sending it to the Senate for final approval. The bill is often cited as racist and unconstitutional, and stood as one of Abbott’s major legislative priorities this session. Barring a court challenge, SB 4 will become law Sept. 1. Read more about Abbott Signs "Sanctuary Cities" Bill into Law
About 100 people gathered in protest outside the Governor’s Mansion Sunday night after Gov. Greg Abbott on Facebook Live signed into law a controversial bill that will ban so-called “sanctuary cities,” where officials decline to enforce federal immigration policies.
Protestors carried banners and balloons and lit candles, vowing to defeat the law, which will impose penalties on law enforcement officials who do not comply with Immigration and Customs Enforcement policies.
Representatives from the United We Dream national nonprofit, the University Leadership Initiative, Grassroots Leadership and the Workers Defense Project are all in attendance at protests Sunday night.
Abbott’s office gave little advance warning of the highly anticipated signing, which ensured that protesters could not disrupt it.
The five-minute Facebook Live video had been viewed tens of thousands of times as of Sunday evening. Read more about Dozens protest law banning sanctuary cities at Governor's Mansion
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed a "sanctuary cities" ban into law on Facebook Live Sunday night.
Abbott designated the ban as an emergency item in January and signed the bill four days after both chambers of the state legislature gave their final approval.
The passage is a big win for Abbott and Republicans, who advocate for stricter immigration laws. They have tried to pass a limit on immigration every session since 2011.
It will ban cities, counties and universities from prohibiting their local law enforcement officers from asking about immigration status and enforcing immigration law.
It will create a criminal charge for police chiefs, county sheriffs and constables who violate the ban, and will charge local jurisdictions up to $25,000 for each day they violate the law.
The law will also allow police officers to ask about a person's immigration status during any legal detention, which includes traffic stops.
Those who support the ban say it is necessary to keep criminal immigrants off Texas streets. They argue that if officers do not turn over unauthorized immigrants they could go on to commit more serious crimes.
Critics, however, view the matter differently.
"It seems fitting that Greg Abbott would sign this disgraceful bill on the internet on a Sunday night, far from the press and the public," Bob Libal, executive director of Grassroots Leadership, said. Read more about Gov. Abbott Signs 'Sanctuary City' Ban: 'Texans Expect Us to Keep Them Safe'
Texas Department of Public Safety officers handcuffed then released at least 18 activists, including CM Greg Casar and Austin Pastor Jim Rigby, after they refused to leave the governor’s offices today. Following an all-day sit-in and protest against anti-immigrant bill SB 4, DPS officers forced journalists to exit the building when it closed at 5pm or face arrest, and blocked the entrance.
Inside, officers gave the protestors a verbal warning then began issuing Class B misdemeanor citations for criminal trespassing. Those that did not leave after being cited were tied with plastic cuffs and processed by Judge Nicholas Chu. Event organizers said DPS officers “lied” by telling protesters their attorneys were not allowed in, a rule contradicted by Chu. Just before 7pm, the protestors were released from cuffs by DPS and addressed a growing crowd outside.
Early Monday morning, during a brief press conference organized by Grassroots Leadership at the south gates of the Capitol, Rigby delivered a message to his undocumented neighbors: “We love you and want you here. We would rather suffer by your side than be guilty bystanders to the cruel and undemocratic tyranny of this administration.”
Afterward, protestors marched with handmade signs to the steps of the governor’s office. They entered and took a defiant seat in the middle of the lobby, announcing they would not budge until Abbott kills the bill. The group chanted: “SB 4 is hate! SB 4 is racist!” and “The people united will never be divided!” in between songs and speeches that castigated the legislation as “unconstitutional” and “unjust.” The sit-in, organized by Grassroots Leadership, RAICES, ICE Out of Austin, Sanctuary in the Streets, and Austin Sanctuary Network, began at roughly 10am.
After roughly one hour, protestors linked arm-in-arm and blocked both entrances of the building. Immigration attorneys started leading teach-ins about the impact of SB 4 around 1pm. Texas Department of Public Safety officers, while watching the event, have yet to threaten arrest. Read more about Protesters Stage Sit-in at Governor's Office to Oppose Sanctuary Cities Bill
Roughly 100 people occupied the lobby of the state office building that houses the governor's office Monday demanding Gov. Greg Abbott veto a bill that would allow law enforcement officers across the state to inquire about individuals' citizenship.
With many wearing t-shirts calling for the rejection of the controversial Senate Bill 4 -- the "sanctuary cities" measure -- that passed the Texas House last week, the crowd sang and chanted in Spanish and English phrases like "You shall not pass" and "this entrance is closed" as they locked arms to block people from entering the building.
"SB4 is racist," they chanted as a woman shook a set of green maracas.
They said they planned to stay in the lobby of the building until the governor acquiesces to their request, he rejects the bill or until they forcibly are removed.
"They're going to have to drag us out of here or lock us in the building at the end of the day. We're not leaving," said Cristina Parker, an organizer with Grassroots Leadership, a group focused on detention and deportation.
The sit-in was put on by Grassroots Leadership and RAICES, a refugee and immigration education and legal advocacy group. Read more about Protesters stage sit-in at governor's office over 'sanctuary cities' bill
About 50 people blocked the entrance to the State Insurance Building on Monday and demanded Gov. Greg Abbott veto the bill he has vowed to sign once it reaches his desk. During the sit-in, about 20 protesters — including Austin city council man Greg Casar — were given citations for trespassing, according to The Dallas Morning News.
The sit-in was organized by advocacy groups including Workers Defense Project and Grassroots Leadership. A few streets away, chants of “How do we build sanctuary? Student workers’ solidarity” resonated during an International Workers’ Day rally and walk-out at the UT Tower.
Members of the UT community demanded the UT administration declare and establish UT as a “sanctuary campus” protecting its undocumented students. Read more about Protesters participate in sit-in demanding Gov. Greg Abbott to not sign 'sanctuary cities' bill
Austin City Council Member Greg Casar along with nearly two dozen other people were arrested and cited for criminal trespassing after they staged a sit-in to protest Senate Bill 4 at Gov. Greg Abbott’s office Monday afternoon.
Immigrant community members, faith leaders and other elected officials were at the Texas State Capitol to protest the so-called sanctuary cities bill, which is expected to head to Abbott’s desk in a few weeks. The protest was organized to urge Abbott to veto the legislation when it gets to his desk. But if he does sign the bill into law, the group says they will continue with protests in the streets.
Once the protesters were removed from the building, the group started chanting: “Down, down with deportation. Up, up with liberation.”
Despite passionate pleas from Democrats to stop SB 4, Republicans had the votes to push the measure through last week. During the heated debate, supporters managed to beef up the bill from the original version. House members approved anamendment from Rep. Matt Schaefer, R-Tyler, that gives police more leeway to ask about a person’s legal status. It lets a police officer ask about a person’s immigration status while they’re being detained. Some departments currently limit officers to asking those questions only after a person has been arrested and charged with a crime. Read more about Austin Council Member greg
Austin City Council Member Greg Casar was among 18 protestors who were arrested Monday evening and issued citations for criminal trespassing after staging a sit-in at Governor Greg Abbott's business office.
The group staged a sit-in at the office after a morning protest at the south gate of the Capitol to speak against Senate Bill 4 (SB4).
The bill, which was passed by the Senate in February and the House of Representatives last week, will require all Texas law enforcement honor ICE detainers.
Governor Abbott made banning "sanctuary cities" an emergency item during his State of the State address, indicating his plans to support legislation like SB4. But the protestors are asking him to instead veto the bill.
Troopers informed the group they would be cited for criminal trespassing and asked them to leave peacefully, saying they did not want to arrest them, but the protestors sat unmoved.
Casar said he and the protestors were told because of the capacity of the jail, the magistrate had come to them. The group was processed, received citations, then released. Read more about Council member Greg Casar, protesters arrested after sit-in at Governor's office
State troopers arrested about 20 protesters denouncing Senate Bill 4, the so-called “sanctuary cities” bill, who refused to leave a state office building after it closed at 5 p.m. Monday
Split into two groups, protesters, including immigrants, faith leaders and elected officials, locked arms and blocked both entrances of the State Insurance Building for several hours. They called on Gov. Greg Abbott to veto SB4, authored by Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock which would require local governments to cooperate with federal immigration officers and hold jail inmates, otherwise eligible for release, for possible federal detention and deportation.
The measure, authored by state Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, would require police to enforce federal immigration law by asking for the immigration status of people they detain. Opponents have called it the “show-me-your-papers” bill.
Organized by advocacy groups ICE Out of Austin, Austin Sanctuary Network, Grassroots Leadership and RAICES, the protesters attempted to keep people from entering the building by sitting just inside the doorways for about eight hours before it closed at 5 p.m.
At one teach-in, Barbara Hines, an immigration rights attorney, questioned the constitutionality of SB 4. It could allow a person to be placed in custody for 48 hours “just because of being asked about their immigration status at a traffic stop,” Hines said.
San Antonio Police Chief William McManus is among those who have spoken out against the bill.
Police chiefs of Austin, Arlington, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston and San Antonio and the Texas Police Chiefs Association released a letter Friday predicting the bill will “lead to distrust of police, less cooperation from members of the community and will foster the belief that they cannot seek assistance from police for fear of being subjected to an immigration status investigation.” Read more about Protesters blocking doors at Texas Gov. Abbott's office over 'sanctuary city' bill arrested