Lawmakers, Activists and Residents Rally in Support of Immigrant Families in Austin

Nov 14, 2016

President-elect Donald Trump told "60 Minutes" in an interview this weekend that he plans to immediately deport roughly two to three million undocumented immigrants upon taking office. That announcement is something many immigrants here in Austin have been fearing since election night.

On Sunday morning, hundreds of people gathered at City Hall to show support for the city’s immigrant community, where city lawmakers also pledged local support. 

Berenice Ramirez was among hundreds of people in downtown Austin on Sunday. For her, immigration is a personal issue.

“I’m undocumented and most of my family is undocumented,” she said. “My little sister is actually the only U.S. citizen in my family.”

Her sister, 14 year-old Abigail, addressed the crowd. She told them she’s worried her whole family could be forced to leave her behind.

“My friends know about my situation,” she said. “They tell me it will be okay. They don’t know how much this election has affected me, both emotionally and mentally.”

Berenice Ramirez says the idea of her family being split up is something she hasn’t been able to shake since Election Night.

“I had nightmares actually. I woke up crying,” she said. “I just went into this deep state of depression. I didn’t really talk to my family, even though I knew this wasn’t the time for separation.  But I honestly didn’t know what to tell them.”

Demonstrators at the City Hall rally on November 13, 2016.
Credit Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon / KUT

However, some time passed and the family decided to organize this rally. Ramirez says the crowd exceeded her expectations.

Stephanie Martin, a public school teacher living in Round Rock, was in the crowd with her husband and young son. She says Donald Trump’s election will likely affect a lot of her students.

Martin says her school has a lot of immigrants and roughly 20 percent of students are of the Muslim faith. Trump has also singled out Muslim-Americans in his rhetoric. During his campaign. he floated a ban on Muslim immigrants, as well as a registry for Muslims already living in the U.S.

Martin says the children of LGBT parents are also scared.

“I had a student ask me, ‘Are my moms still going to be married?’ And I didn’t have words of comfort for her because I don’t know,” Martin said.

This was a common sentiment in the crowd. Rachel Carnahan-Metzger, a social worker at the local children’s hospital, says she works with immigrant families, too.

Carnahan-Metzger said she doesn’t know what to tell them either.

“The kids that I work with have very complex medical needs. And, so, people are worried about other people coming into their homes like therapists or nurses and worrying that, if they were to find out that they were there without documentation, that they would turn them into the police,” she said. “And not really having words to say to comfort those people – I am a social worker, so my job is to fix things – and that feels really hard to not being able to fix that part.”

Many folks who attended the rally say they showed up because they didn’t want to feel helpless anymore, though.

Martin says this election has changed the way she sees a lot of things. 

“I think a lot of us have done some soul searching this week about ‘Should I have been more visible?’ And I’ve decided voting isn’t enough,” she explained. “For me that’s the line. From this day forward, voting is not enough for me. I am an activist now. We are an activist family now. This is too important.”

Martin says she wants to see local leaders also stick up for these families. In fact, there were some local lawmakers there – including Austin City Council Members Greg Casar and Pio Renteria. Austin Mayor Steve Adler told the crowd he’d continue to do what he can to make the city a safe space for immigrants.

Austin Mayor Steve Adler speaking before a crowd at City Hall
Credit Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon / KUT

“You know there are obviously limits in what any of us can do here,” he said. “But that doesn’t diminish what it is that we can do and what we need to do.”

The City of Austin could actually be on its way to becoming a full-on sanctuary city. That’s because newly-elected Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez promised not to cooperate with the federal immigration agency.

However, Trump says he’ll cut funding to sanctuary cities across the U.S. when he becomes president. When asked about that, Adler said it’s important for the city to protect its residents, as well as enforce laws in a way that maintains trust within the community.

Mayor Adler also points out there’s still a lot of uncertainty about the future. So, for a lot of this, we will just have to wait and see what happens.