ICE Retaliates Against Immigrants in Austin After Sheriff Limits Cooperation with Federal Agents
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.
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. For more, we are joined by Austin City Councilmember Gregorio Casar. When he first won election in 2014, he was the youngest councilmember in the city’s history.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I wanted to talk to Councilman Casar about what happened recently in Austin, especially with your sheriff. Last week in 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. This is a courtroom recording of ICE agent Laron Bryant being questioned by Judge Austin.
JUDGE ANDREW AUSTIN: There’s been questions about whether Austin is being targeted. Your immediate supervisor, I guess, Agent Shaffer—
LARON BRYANT: Yes, sir.
JUDGE ANDREW AUSTIN: —came and briefed me and the magistrate judge, Judge Lane, that at the very end of January, that we could expect a big operation, agents coming in from out of town, there was going to be a specific operation, and it was at least related to us in that meeting that it was a result of the sheriff’s new policy, that this was going to happen. Are you aware of that?
LARON BRYANT: Yes, your honor.
JUDGE ANDREW AUSTIN: OK. And that’s the one we heard about where 50-some-odd people were arrested.
LARON BRYANT: Yes, your honor.
JUDGE ANDREW AUSTIN: OK. My understanding is, what was told us is, one of the reasons that happened is because the meetings that had occurred between the field office director and the sheriff didn’t go very well.
LARON BRYANT: That’s—that’s new knowledge to me.
JUDGE ANDREW AUSTIN: OK. Above your pay grade.
LARON BRYANT: Yes, yes.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: So, that was the discussion in court, in open court. Greg Casar, what has been going on with Sally Hernandez, the sheriff there? And what’s been the attempts of the state, as well, to stop the efforts of lawmakers and elected officials in Austin to maintain a sanctuary city?
GREGORIO CASAR: Well, 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.
AMY GOODMAN: You’re have second-highest undocumented population in the country in Texas, only next to California?
GREGORIO CASAR: That’s right. And 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.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: So, in other words, if they pass this bill, Sally Hernandez, the sheriff, or you, as a councilmember, could be arrested under the new laws that they’re proposing to pass?
GREGORIO CASAR: But the—while that is terrifying on its face, the fact of the matter is, I believe, it’s not only unethical and un-American, but also unlawful. And so, that’s part of why 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.