ICE Retaliates Against Immigrants in Austin

Texas U.S. Magistrate Judge Andrew Austin said in open court that federal agents had alerted him that ICE would be targeting the area of Austin, Texas. The raids would be retribution for Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez’s new policy that limited cooperation between local and federal authorities.

Gregorio Casar talking:

what we’re facing is repression and retaliation against an almost decade-long campaign to become a welcoming city, a truly welcoming city, for our immigrant communities. So, for years, our previous sheriff was deporting more people, helping in deportation of more people than almost any other sheriff in the country. And finally, because of campaigns at the city to stop collaborating and cooperating with the county, campaigns to push that sheriff out, we finally elected a new sheriff. And on the same day of Trump’s inauguration, she announced a policy to significantly reduce our compliance with voluntary ICE detainers. It was very shortly thereafter that our governor said he was going to put the hammer down against Austin. He pulled over a million-and-a-half dollars in funds that were there to protect children and veterans in our community. But we resisted, and we stood strong.

And soon thereafter, we heard there was going to be a targeted ICE operation against our community. And in one weekend, over 50 people were arrested. And ICE denied that there was even an operation going on. And once we called them out on that, they denied that it was an operation sweeping up large numbers of people. They said they were targeting folks. But it soon became very clear, because my own constituents were being picked up, that over half the people that they picked up had no criminal history at all and were on no list whatsoever. And finally, when we called that political retaliation—that is, politically motivated law enforcement actions that had nothing to do with public safety and everything to do with Trump’s agenda—ICE denied that vigorously. And now, in open court, a judge has confirmed what we all know, which is that, unfortunately, we have a rogue federal agency that is not only tearing families apart, but threatening our very democracy by taking public safety actions and arresting people for political purposes.

what makes us different than California is that we are governed by a statewide regime that is aligned with Trump’s politics of mass deportation. And so, a bill has been filed now. Because they couldn’t pull enough money away to make us submit, they couldn’t send enough ICE agents into our communities to make us submit, now they have filed a bill, that has passed through the Senate and is now being deliberated by our state House, to criminalize city elected leaders and county elected leaders who endorse policies that don’t turn our police officers into deportation officers or who won’t comply with voluntary ICE detainers. And so, they are looking at taking away tens or hundreds of millions of dollars away from our cities, and from actually criminalizing those elected officials who refuse to submit. And we’re going to continue to refuse to submit, no matter what Jeff Sessions or Greg Abbott has to say about it.

we, as councilmembers from over 30 cities, came together in New York these last couple of days, to start planning for our litigation strategies and our political strategies, so that we can’t be blackmailed and singled out as individual cities, but, indeed, they would have to be coming after a huge swath of the American public that live in our progressive strongholds, in our cities.

Michael Wishnie talking:

in the city of New Haven in 2006, community organizations, working with students at the law school, developed a set of proposals for policies to make New Haven more welcoming and to improve police-civilian relationships, especially in high immigrant neighborhoods. One of the recommendations from the community was that the city adopt a general-purpose municipal identification card, available to any resident who wanted one. In the spring of 2007, the mayor proposed, and the City Council, which we call the Board of Alders, overwhelmingly approved, the nation’s first general-purpose municipal ID program.

Forty-eight hours after the vote in City Council, in June of 2007, ICE conducted the largest raid, we believe, in the history of our state. They came in, in the predawn hours. They amassed a force of all federal agents they could find from different agencies all over the state. They swept into Fair Haven, which is a heavily Latino neighborhood in the eastern part of the city, going door to door, apartment to apartment, kicking down doors, pushing their way in, without warrants, without consent. They arrested 32 people in all—parents getting up in the morning, preparing to go to work, to take their children to school. Later, ICE claimed that they were looking for particular dangerous fugitive criminal aliens. But it turned out, of course, that of the 32 people they arrested, almost all of them had never before encountered immigration. They were just bystanders who happened to be living in an apartment where ICE thought someone used to be, or the apartment upstairs or the house next door.

This was a terrifying moment, most of all for the families, but for the community as a whole. But the community rallied. ICE scattered the 32 people in jails around New England—in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Maine—trying to hide them. But we were able to find 31 of the 32 people. And the students in the clinic offered representation to 30 of them. Remarkably, all 30 of those people came home. We were able to get bond set by the courts. The community raised the money to post bond. And in the first mass raid of its time this had ever happened, people came home. They came back to their families. They came back to their communities. And they had an opportunity to decide whether to fight their deportation cases and to tell stories of what had happened. Well, in the end, most of the people decided to fight their cases. A few decided to—not to. And of those who fought their deportation cases, every single one of them won, with one exception, a case that’s still pending now in federal court in New York. But everybody else persuaded the immigration judges—excuse me— to dismiss their cases based on ICE’s illegal and retaliatory raid against the city of New Haven.

But that wasn’t all. The community groups went to court in six state and federal Freedom of Information Act lawsuits, and they obtained the email traffic and the planning documents that showed ICE was secretly and actively plotting to try to stifle the municipal ID card. They didn’t like it. They wanted to stop it. And when they couldn’t stop the city, they took retaliation on a group of households in one neighborhood. Well, once we obtained those records and shared them with the public, many of those arrested then brought a civil rights action in federal court against ICE for Fourth Amendment violations, for racial profiling, for retaliating against the city of New Haven. And ICE settled that lawsuit by paying $350,000 to people who had been arrested, and offering a menu of immigration relief. Different individuals could choose different items. So the net result of this action was that two people were deported, ICE paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to those who had been wrongfully arrested, and everyone’s case was dismissed or they secured relief—again, with this one exception that we’re still in court on.

And just to close the story, this raid happened two days after the City Council vote. At that time, the card—the municipal ID card program had not begun, of course. And after the raids, Mayor DeStefano, who was mayor, asked the community whether he should delay the ID card program, whether to actually implement it would simply provoke more immigration raids, more retaliation, more unlawful activity. And he didn’t want to harm the community. But the community groups who had led the fight—Junta for Progressive Action, Unidad Latina en Acción—they said, “No, you should go forward. People will still come out. This is still a useful program.” And in July, about two months after the raid, the card program launched.

And I didn’t know if anyone was going to come. But I still remember vividly, the first day, people came early in the morning. They lined up outside of City Hall, standing in line, dressed for work, dressed for school. The next day, the line was even longer. And by the third day, it snaked out of City Hall and around the block, hundreds of people standing in line at 7:00 in the morning, waiting for nothing more than a small piece of paper, laminated, that said, “I’m a person. I live in New Haven.”

So I’m sorry to hear the account of what’s happening in Texas and in Austin right now. I’ve been in touch with civil rights lawyers in Austin who have learned from our experience and learned how the community responded and how the lawyers supported that community response. I hope it doesn’t come to that point in Austin. I hope that there can be a resolution that protects community and public safety. But if not, we hope there may be some lessons to be drawn from our experience here in New Haven.

at some level, reading Attorney General Sessions’ comments yesterday, I just thought, “These are the guys who can’t shoot straight.” They put out this report last week about cities that they say are not in compliance with laws. One of the cities they listed in their report last week was the city of East Haven, Connecticut, right next door to New Haven. East Haven does have a policy limiting information sharing, limiting arrests, prohibiting detainer enforcement. And last week they were listed as one of these targeted jurisdictions, I guess, for loss of funding.

The thing, though, is that East Haven has those policies because of a consent decree that they are subject to, that the U.S. Department of Justice approved. They have a set of policies that prohibit enforcement of detainers and prohibit information sharing with ICE, that the Department of Justice signed off on and approved, and they’re under court order. And now the Department of Justice wants to take millions of dollars away from their police because they went along with a Department of Justice-approved court decree? Other cities have followed East Haven and have adopted the same policies, that the U.S. Department of Justice has approved as lawful.

So, you know, these guys think that they know better than local police departments and sheriff departments what constitutes public safety. But they are seeking to deprive local jurisdictions of dollars based on policies that are lawful as adopted by the local jurisdictions, and in a manner, at the federal level, that is plainly unlawful. And I regret that it will take, perhaps, years of litigation to establish that, and there will be stress and pain in the interim. But I don’t think the federal government will succeed in depriving local cities of police money, because those cities are following the Constitution.

Gregorio Casar
Austin city councilmember. When he first won election in 2014, he was the youngest councilmember in the city’s history. He is the son of Mexican immigrants.

Michael Wishnie
clinical professor of law at Yale Law School.

— source


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