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Arrested Activists Call on Travis County to Implement Progressive Immigration Policy

by: Chris Ledesma

Mon Feb 03, 2014 at 11:58 PM CST

(Travis County has an extremely high rate of deportations for non-violent offenders. Thanks to Chris Ledesma for covering the recent protests of this policy outside the Travis County jail.   - promoted by Katherine Haenschen)

Photo by Arielle Lewis-Zavala

This Monday, six immigrant rights activists were arrested as part of an action blocking an entrance to the Travis County jail. The activists, along with immigrant advocacy groups, are targeting Travis County's high rate of deportations, especially of non-criminals, linked to participation in the Secure Communities (S-Comm) program.

Under the Secure Communities Act, local law enforcement authorities coordinate with the federal government in theory to identify and deport immigrants with violent offenses. In practice, thousands of those stopped for minor traffic offenses and other infractions have their immigration status checked when detained, and if found in violation, are funneled into private, for-profit detention centers and held until deportation. This has been devastating to hardworking immigrants and their families, separating parents from their children or vice versa in traumatic scenarios playing out across the US.

Nearly 20 counties in 3 states have halted their cooperation with S-Comm without repercussion and activists are calling on Travis County and Sheriff Greg Hamilton to do the same.

Read More below the jump about the action and why a progressive community should embrace progressive immigration policy.

With their arms linked together through large PVC pipes marked with #not1more, the non-violent activists first sat, then lay down as arrest was imminent, in front of an entrance where prisoners identified for deportation are transferred to federal facilities. Before the arrests, two activists were perched on ladders holding a banner that read 'Sheriff Hamilton: Alto a Las Deportaciones [Stop the Deportations].'

Some of the activists represented themselves while others were there on behalf of the immigrant advocacy groups Grassroots Leadership, Texans United for Families, and Presbyterians for Just Immigration.

RocĂ­o Villalobos, of Texans United for Families, said, "The separation of families and ongoing deportations are a human rights violation. I want Sheriff Hamilton and county commissioners to reconsider the impact of S-Comm and put an end to a program destroying communities."

Nancy Rodriguez is an immigrant with legal residency status who participated in the action. While the action brings with it a higher risk for her, she still chose to participate, saying, "I am an immigrant and even though I have legal status I know people who are undocumented. They aren't criminals. They are hardworking individuals who have built this country. I want the deportations of innocent people to stop."

The 6 activists were released around 10pm on Monday evening. They were charged with Class B Misdemeanors.

Immigrant rights activists have taken to escalating their tactics in the past year as they've seen the Obama administration and congress stall movement on comprehensive and fair immigration reform. The National Immigrant Youth Alliance has staged crossings of former, undocumented residents of the U.S. at border bridges in Arizona and Texas, while others have blocked buses filled with immigrants in the process of deportation. At the same time, the right-wing and conservative ideology dominate the debate by invoking xenophobic security concerns and misinformed economic arguments that play to nativism and the panic of eroding economic stability.

But here in Travis County, we can take steps to counter the tide of anti-immigrant and anti-family policies. As Bob Libal, executive director of Grassroots Leadership, says, "There are 19 immigrants who are deported every week in Travis County because of the Secure Communities program and we think that here in Travis County we are a progressive community and that doesn't line up with our values."

The 19 deportations a week make Travis County the area with the 3rd highest rate of deportations in the country.

With it's expanding economy, Travis County is a hub for immigrants seeking opportunities, but the expected benefits of a progressive, booming city are not trickling down to its undocumented residents. Travis County and Austin are communities fraught with racial and economic inequities, and progressives and concerned residents should pause and give thought to the fact that some of our most vulnerable community members are facing persecution and unjust treatment at the hands of our law enforcement departments.

Grassroots leadership is hosting a Candidates Forum on Deportations for Precinct 2 and County Judge races on Saturday, February 22nd at Faith Presbyterian Church that will give voters a chance learn more about the issue and hear candidates' positions on the topic.

Draconian enforcement, border militarization, and the criminalization of our undocumented community members are not a starting point for common sense or just immigration reform. While Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and the Obama Administration continue to enforce these aggressive and inhumane policies, Travis County progressives can and should do better for hardworking people and the families being torn apart every day.

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