In Texas, we have a long tradition of looking out for one another. We all have a role to play in building our community’s well-being. Texans place a high priority on being practical. We roll up our sleeves and figure out how to handle a challenge in the most sensible way. We have a strong moral compass and understand that all people deserve to be treated with respect and compassion.
We are leaders of community agencies that work closely with Travis County residents at every stage of life. We live these values — and see others living them — each day. Right now, our state policymakers are seriously weakening the foundation of the well-being of real people in Travis County and across the state. These children, adults, and older people are being punished because of the state’s misunderstanding of policy.
At issue is whether the state government will dictate local law enforcement priorities by tying eligibility for state and federal funds to the jurisdiction’s approach to immigrants in local communities. Our local law enforcement entities, like those in many other cities and counties across the state and the nation, have adopted practical policies that help them stay focused on their responsibility to local public safety.
Law enforcement knows that good relationships and focusing on “people as people” are good for public safety. We are all better off when our neighbors in immigrant communities feel safe talking to police. Witnesses and victims of crime need to feel safe coming to law enforcement for help.
The Travis County sheriff’s office has always complied with state and federal law in communicating information related to immigration to federal agencies. However, the sheriff’s office staff does not focus on immigration status or use county facilities or scarce funds to voluntarily detain people for their immigration status on behalf of federal agencies for most nonserious crimes. To do so would be a poor use of local resources.
In response to this local action, Texas cut $1.5 million in funding for Travis County. Additional cuts are being proposed by the Texas Senate in Senate Bill 4, which could result in additional $8.2 million cuts of state and federal pass-through funding to Travis County. These cuts directly impact the ability of our human service agencies to do their jobs and support the well-being of veterans, people with mental illness and other community members.
Travis County’s strong nonprofit sector helps ensure that children have opportunities to learn and play; that adults can learn new skills after layoffs; and that older adults can contribute to our communities in meaningful ways.
For example, when we work with veterans to find affordable housing, transition into civilian careers and get the health care they need, we all benefit from their participation in our communities. Without this support, they’re more likely to experience physical and mental health problems — and end up in the emergency room. This costs more – and it also places unnecessary stress on our emergency care system.
Despite our differences, all Texans can agree that our state is stronger when our leaders focus on taking reasonable steps toward sensible solutions. It doesn’t make sense for the state government to make decisions that will weaken our communities, increase our costs for public health and safety, and reduce our ability to be respond to problems.
We encourage Texas policymakers to work with the federal government to adjust our nation’s immigration policies and find the best way to embrace the energy and talents of people who come to Texas from other parts of the world. That’s a complex issue that demands thoughtful solutions. In the meantime, the state government has a responsibility to protect the well-being of Texans.
Please contact your legislative representatives and urge them to develop pragmatic solutions to immigration that keep us all moving forward as a nation instead of adopting measures that are detrimental to the health and well-being of our communities.
Touza-Medina is executive director of YWCA Greater Austin and chair of Immigrant Services Network of Austin. Rutledge is executive director of the Sustainable Food Center and chair of One Voice Central Texas.