***NOTE: This article has been updated with additional information since it was initially published.***
Texas’ capital city is once again thumbing its nose at the state government, this time by defying Gov. Greg Abbott and the Texas Legislature’s recently passed ban on sanctuary cities.
Last week, the Austin City Council unanimously approved a pair of “Freedom City” resolutions that target racial disparity in Austin Police Department arrests and how police officers are to react to illegal immigrants. Such resolutions an measures typically incur a “no” vote from the city council’s lone conservative voice, Ellen Troxclair, but in this case the council member was on maternity leave.
Nevertheless, Troxclair told Texas Scorecard she would have voted against the resolution:
“While I was on maternity leave, City Council passed a resolution – declaring Austin the first “Freedom City” in Texas. Passing this symbolic resolution hasn’t changed anything within the City of Austin. Officers have always had the discretion to write a citation rather than make an arrest. Anyone has the right to invoke the fifth amendment, and they are also protected under Miranda. Passing policies such as these makes it seem like Austin is not already an inclusive and respectful community,” said Troxclair. “I support a vision of Austin that is both lawful and welcoming. I think it’s important to the safety of our community that we have a conversation based on facts, and cease harmful rhetoric that promotes misinformation and fear in our community toward our hard working police officers.“
While the first is largely eye-roll worthy (par for the course as far as Austin City Council resolutions go), it does instruct officers to refrain from arresting minority individuals for “low-level offenses” such as smoking marijuana, possession of drug paraphernalia, and minor larceny.
According to city data, those crimes frequently end in arrest for black and Latino residents. Austin’s openly Socialist city councilman, Greg Casar, said tamping down on the arrests and ignoring the crimes could result in fewer illegal immigrants being apprehended and thus deported.
“Poor people of color in our city are over-punished and over-incarcerated,” said Casar, who pushed for the resolutions. “If people are being arrested less, we can also prevent people from being put in the deportation pipeline.”
The second asks APD leaders to skeptically scrutinize requests for assistance by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. It also asks officers inquiring as to the immigration status of an individual to inform them they have a constitutional right to remain silent.
On passage of the pair of resolutions, Casar declared the effort an “important win for racial justice and immigrant rights in Texas.”
They’re likewise major losses for taxpayers, citizen safety, and the rule of law.
Both matters are likely to elicit review by the Texas Legislature when it reconvenes next year—the latest problematic examples of the need for a statewide pre-emption law to reign in rogue city governments in open defiance of state law.
And speaking of open defiance of state law, Austin is also currently leading a number of other cities in suing the State of Texas to prevent the implementation of Senate Bill 4, the ban on sanctuary cities signed by Gov. Greg Abbott last summer. Judges have left the law in place while the legal question is decided.