Immigration advocates are mobilizing following reports of a number of arrests by Immigration and Customs enforcement agents in Austin over the past 24 hours.
“These ICE actions are politically motivated and morally bankrupt attempts to punish our community for standing up for our collective civil rights,” City Council Member Greg Casar said at a press conference with Delia Garza outside Little Walnut Creek Branch Library. “They are attempts to silence us, and these are attempts to strike fear into our hearts. But we will not be silenced.”
Casar was referring, in part, to a policy change at the Travis County Jail, which will no longer honor detainer requests from ICE as of Feb. 1.
“I believe that ICE is out in public arresting people in order to retaliate against our community for standing up for our values and standing up against the anti-immigrant hysteria of [Governor Greg] Abbott, [President Donald] Trump and their ilk,” he said.
A video posted on Facebook this morning appeared to show someone being arrested by ICE officials near the H.E.B. on Lamar and Rundberg. The video was later taken down.
Interim Austin Police Chief Brian Manley sought to reassure the immigrant community that police are not concerned about citizenship status.
“The Austin Police Department remains committed to keeping our community safe for all our residents, regardless of your citizenship status,” he said at a news conference to address an ICE incident early this morning.
The APD had been called to help an ICE officer because a suspect was “grabbing at” his gun, Manley said. He said police officers were not aware of the ICE operation beforehand and did not know why the suspect was stopped.
Manley said time spent enforcing federal immigration law was time spent not keeping the community safe, and that he recognized the incident had heightened fears.
“It’s very important that we don’t lose the trust that we have worked so hard to build over the years with our community, regardless of their citizenship status in this day and age,” he said. “And so, I just want to really reach out to the immigrant community and again reaffirm that we are here for you as we are for everybody else in our community.”
Immigration and Customs Enforcement said it does not conduct random sweeps and that “all ICE operations are based on investigative leads.”
“By removing from the streets criminal aliens and other threats to the public, ICE helps improve public safety,” an ICE statement said.
A hotline had been set up for community members to report ICE action in Austin. Grassroots Leadership, a national immigration advocacy group based in Texas, said it is rallying to let people affected by the actions know that "they will not be alone.”
Austin ISD Superintendent Paul Cruz issued a letter to the community providing resources for families and information about their rights.
“We are committed to the emotional and physical safety and well-being of all our students, families, teachers and staff,” he wrote.
Education Action, the union that represents the district's teachers, was also holding a "Know Your Rights" information session at Rodriguez Elementary School this afternoon.
Texas Congressman Joaquin Castro said in a statement that he was monitoring the raids in South and Central Texas, and that he had asked ICE to clarify “whether these individuals are in fact dangerous, violent threats to our communities, and not people who are here peacefully raising families and contributing to our state.”
The ICE actions come as the Texas House is set to debate legislation that would penalize jurisdictions that refuse to cooperate with ICE detainer requests, like Travis County. The state Senate passed a bill earlier this week cutting funding to these so-called "sanctuary" jurisdictions.
President Trump has also issued an executive order cutting funding for such cities.