Residents packed the Austin City Hall media room Thursday morning to support a resolution slated for a City Council vote this evening that would put Austin on record as opposing a controversial program aimed at helping federal agents identify jail inmates for possible deportation.
Austin City Council Member Laura Morrison has sponsored a resolution that proposes the city manager “research options to minimize or completely replace” the city’s use of the sheriff-run Central Booking Facility until Travis County ends its participation in the U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement’s Secure Communities program.
Morrison and co-sponsors Council Member Mike Martinez and Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole spoke at the press conference about the importance of the resolution. While the resolution may not end Secure Communities in Travis County, Martinez said it is a step in the right direction.
“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,” Martinez said.
Morrison said there are many direct and indirect consequences of Secure Communities.
“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,” Morrision said.
Cole said she thinks the worst part of Secure Communities is the impact on families. She said the City Council cannot support a program at any level that separates children from their families and places them in the foster care system.
Currently, when people are arrested in Travis County, they are transported the sheriff’s Central Booking Facility. Law enforcement shares fingerprints with the FBI to see if the people who have been arrested have a criminal record. Under Secure Communities, the fingerprints are also checked against U.S. Homeland Security Department immigration databases. If those checks indicate that a person is unlawfully in the United States, ICE will request a detainer keeping the person in custody an extra 48 hours to allow agents time to verify immigration status.
The Travis County Sheriff’s Office has remained firm in its conviction that it must honor the ICE detainers, despite a U.S. appeals court ruling in March that affirmed state and local law enforcement agencies aren’t required to comply with Secure Communities.
Travis County Democratic Party Chairwoman Jan Soifer said the party, which supports Sheriff Greg Hamilton, has called upon him to follow the values of the party and stop participating in Secure Communities. She said the party is hopeful that Hamilton will reconsider his position.
Ramey Ko, of the Greater Austin Asian Chamber of Commerce, said the Central Booking Facility receives the majority of its funding through its interlocal agreement with the City of Austin. Morrison’s resolution suggests looking at other alternatives to the facility.
“If we pull out of that agreement, they’re going to be left with very, very little, and I think they’re going to wake up and smell the coffee when they realize that’s the situation,” Ko said.
Martinez said the city is already looking at ways to decentralize the use of the Central Booking Facility.
He said it currently takes an “inordinate” amount of time for Austin Police Department officers to take people in custody to Central Booking, go through the magistration process and go back to patrolling. There will be a presentation to the City Council in August about creating a city magistration process, Martinez said.