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Secure Communities Could Be Detaining Legal Asian Americans in Travis County

KUT News
Travis County has the third highest rate of deportations in the U.S.

Last month, the Austin City Council signed a resolution to opt out of Secure Communities, a partnership between Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and law enforcement to detain, fingerprint and cross-reference the immigration status of people picked up for suspicion of certain crimes, with the goal of deporting "criminal aliens."

At the time of the council vote, many might have assumed most of the people detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement are Hispanic, especially in Texas. But, former Municipal Judge Ramey Ko says the county may also be detaining a large number of Asian Americans. 

Ko says he's seen detentions of Asian Americans firsthand but,  that "[after] talking to a lot of these folks [people in ICE detention], many of them, if not the majority of them, were in the country legally."

Ko says many of the Secure Communities detentions are triggered when a foreign-born person's legal immigration status can't readily be determined by law enforcement or ICE. Much of that confusion occurs on weekends, when ICE offices are closed.

Travis County Sheriff Greg Hamilton doesn't track immigrant detentions by race. Spokesperson Roger Wade suggested maybe ICE has those numbers. But Immigration and Customs Enforcement doesn't keep track of demographics under Secure Communities, either.

Ko says all wrongful detentions are unfortunate and could cost Travis County legally in the future. But, beyond that, he fears the policy may lead to distrust of authorities among Asian American communities. 

Travis County has detained almost 200,000 people since it opted into the Secure Communities program in 2009. A group of Travis County attorneys announced in May that they would sue the county because many of the detainees haven't committed any crimes.

So far, over a hundred cities across the country have opted out of the program. 

Texas Standard reporter Joy Diaz has amassed a lengthy and highly recognized body of work in public media reporting. Prior to joining Texas Standard, Joy was a reporter with Austin NPR station KUT on and off since 2005. There, she covered city news and politics, education, healthcare and immigration.
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