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Advocates, lawyers and immigrants respond to ‘sanctuary city’ threats

Thursday, January 26, 2017 by Audrey McGlinchy, KUT

In response to promises from state and federal governments to knock out so-called “sanctuary cities” Wednesday, roughly 30 people crowded atop a rickety podium to announce their support of Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez’s immigration policy.

At the local headquarters of the Workers Defense Project, they held signs reading, “We are here to stay” and “United against fear and hate.” They chanted, “Aquí estamos, y no nos vamos. Aquí estamos, y no nos vamos. Aquí estamos, y no nos vamos.” In English: “We are here, and we’re not going.”

Gov. Greg Abbott told Fox News that state lawmakers will penalize sanctuary cities this legislative session by passing a bill to “ban” them. If he could not, Abbott said, he would seek to remove Hernandez from office.

Support for and pushback against Abbott’s promises fell along party lines, as state Republicans and Democrats weighed in Wednesday.

As for those gathered at the Workers Defense Project, the cries were angry, fervent and urgent.

“(President Donald) Trump’s and Abbott’s attempts to coerce our local police departments to become deportation agents are racist attempts, unconstitutional and dangerous for our public safety,” said City Council Member Greg Casar. “Greg Abbott has ludicrously threatened to remove a democratically elected official and overturn the will of Travis County voters.”

Also on Wednesday, Trump signed an executive order targeting “sanctuary jurisdictions,” promising to strip them of federal funds. The city of Austin, for example, currently receives nearly $43 million in federal grants – some of which fund AIDS nonprofits and airport security.

The executive order also calls for publishing a weekly list of local jurisdictions that do not comply with ICE detainer requests.

With no legal definition of the term “sanctuary city,” the president’s executive order leaves it to the Secretary of Homeland Security to define: “The Secretary has the authority to designate, in his discretion and to the extent consistent with law, a jurisdiction as a sanctuary jurisdiction.”

U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas) joined advocates, lawyers and immigrants on Wednesday and questioned the legality of Wednesday’s news.

“Neither the president nor the governor have authority to suddenly cut off funds to some ill-defined community called a ‘sanctuary community,’” he said. “But the city of Austin and Travis County are not sanctuary cities. They are cities that are welcoming communities, and they are cities that don’t believe in following anti-immigrant hysteria. And they do believe in enforcing the law.”

As for actions the state could take, several bills targeting sanctuary cities have failed in past legislative sessions. At least one has been filed this session. Senate Bill 4, which was filed by state Sen. Charles Perry (R-Lubbock), would bar local governments from receiving state grants if they do not honor requests from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, to detain people charged with a crime. The bill is scheduled for a public hearing next week.

This story was produced as part of the Austin Monitor’s reporting partnership with KUT. Photo by Gabriel Cristóver Pérez/KUT News.

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