Fight To End Abusive Deportation Program Continues In Travis County

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Austin residents block the Travis Co. jail as part of the effort to convince Sheriff Greg Hamilton to opt-out from S-Comm.

While immigration reform is at a standstill in Congress, many immigration advocacy groups across the country are doing whatever possible to help alleviate the harm done by the continued enforcement of our broken immigration system, many focusing on easing the senseless amount of deportations forced under the administration.

Immigration advocacy leaders in Travis County belonging to Grassroots Leadership, Austin Immigrant Rights Coalition, and the Texas Civil Rights Project, are fighting to put an end to the locally enforced Secure Communities program (or S-Comm), a federal program that recruits local police as immigration enforcers.

As many as 19 undocumented residents of Travis County are deported every week since the program began in 2009. The vast majority are initially stopped and jailed because of minor offenses, such as traffic violations, and are forced to face deportation by ICE without even meeting the agency's criteria of a “Level 1” priority.

Read more about the efforts to end S-Comm in Travis Co., as well as what BOR readers can do to help below the jump.Across the nation, cities like Newark, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, New Orleans, and Washington D.C, have put a halt to their city's S-Comm program. Officials in these cities cited a refusal to consent Homeland Security to federalize their city's police forces, unjustly fueling the deportation machine by feeding it contributing members of their local communities.

Furthermore, a recent Third Circuit Court of Appeals decision stated compliance by local officials with ICE is not mandatory. In fact, federal programs like S-Comm actually violate the 10th Amendment.

The S-Comm program is one of the policies currently being reevaluated by Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson.

According to Amelia Ruiz-Fischer, an attorney with the Texas Civil Rights Project, “Seventy-three percent of people held in this Travis County Jail with detainees held for ICE had no criminal convictions.” Since undocumented residents cannot legally obtain a driver's license in the state of Texas, many find themselves detained after minor traffic violations, and are then held for ICE for deportation.

Efforts to end S-Comm in Travis Co. were met with a disappointing response by Sheriff Greg Hamilton, who announced in a press conference last Wednesday he would not change the way undocumented residents are handled at the Travis County Jail. His decision came despite his word when running for re-election in 2012 to end the program if this was confirmed not to be mandatory.

Hamilton was asked by a voter his stance on S-Comm during a 2012 sheriff candidates' forum: “If the County Attorney or District Attorney were to confirm that honoring requests for ICE detainers were not mandatory, would you stop honoring these requests?”

His response was simply “yep.”

During last week's press conference, Sheriff Greg Hamilton stated he is aware of the court's decision, but that his decision to continue to enforce S-Comm policy will not change. No matter what he said when running for re-election. No matter if Travis County can opt-out from this abusive deportation program.

Immigration advocates are having to shift their focus to members of the Travis County Commissioners Court and the Austin City Council. These bodies have control of the budget, and are able decide if Travis Co. taxpayers' money continues to go to holding undocumented residents for ICE. $106.05 dollars per day is the cost to hold someone in the Travis County Jail for them to then face deportation by ICE.

Travis Co. BOR readers can make a difference.

It is important to note here that Sheriff Greg Hamilton is an elected official. If you are a voter in Travis Co. who does not wish to see your taxpayer's money continue to fund this non-mandatory, abusive deportation program, you can contact the sheriff at (512) 854-9788 or email at Greg.hamilton@co.travis.tx.us.

You can also contact your County Commissioner or Council member and let them know not to fund S-Comm.

If you or someone you know has been personally impacted by the S-Comm policy and would like to share your story, please contact Cristina Parker from Grassroots Leadership at cparker@grassrootsleadership.org.

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About Author

Omar Araiza

Staff writer Omar Araiza covers immigration, Latino voters, the U.S.-Mexico border, and LGBT issues. He is a proud South Texas native, born and raised in the lower Rio Grande Valley. Omar tweets from @AraizaTX.

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