Despite Freedom City Policy, Austin Police continues ICE collaboration

Via Patch | Tony Cantu

Newly released document shows robust cooperation with federal immigration officials in rooting out undocumented immigrants living in Austin.

Austin Police Cooperated With ICE Nearly 600 Times In 2018
(Image via Shutterstock)

AUSTIN, TEXAS — Austin police cooperated with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials in rooting out undocumented immigrants in the city nearly 600 times last year, according to a document released on Friday that has raised the ire of advocates for the migrant class.

The Austin Police Department (APD) disclosed the level of their cooperation with ICE on Friday afternoon during a presentation before city council. Despite past assertions by Police Chief Brian Manley of a less aggressive stance in identifying undocumented immigrants toward their deportation, the document illustrates how compelled the police force is to cooperate with ICE in the wake of Senate Bill 4. The law that was championed by Gov. Greg Abbott effectively forces law enforcement officials to fully cooperate with federal immigration officials to help ensnare undocumented immigrants.

That decree is illustrated in the police document, detailing 581 instances in which the APD shared information with ICE about individuals — information required for disclosure as part of the Freedom City Poice passed last June. Among the information local police shared with ICE were utility reports, license plate readers, insurance data and phone subscriptions.

In crafting SB4, conservative lawmakers ensured the law contained punitive measures to be imposed on law enforcement officials perceived as too lax in their cooperation with ICE. The document lays bare just how compelled police are to assist the federal agency in the wake of SB4’s passage last year. Attorney General Ken Paxton added his own imprimatur of support for the measure, filing a preemptive lawsuit against cities prone not to cooperate with ICE fully before teh law even took effect.

In the past, Manley has pleaded with immigrants to help them solve cases involving crimes — including sexual assault cases — by providing police with information needed to solve cases. In taking this stance, Manley emulates that of his predecessor Art Acevedo who now helms the police force in Houston. But the Abbott-led crackdown on so-called “sanctuary cities” and his aversion to the undocumented has had a chilling effect on the migrant community, members of which are now reluctant to report crimes in their neighborhoods for fear of being exposed as being in the country illegally. 

The document released on Friday all but confirms those fears. José P. Garza, Executive Director of the Workers Defense Action Fund — a nonprofit advocating for the undocumented and working class — categorized the report as disturbing while calling for greater transparency related to APD-ICE cooperation.

“This report, released with almost no context on a Friday afternoon, contains troubling data that could reveal a widespread pattern of cooperation between Austin law enforcement and ICE, the federal immigration enforcement agency,” Garza said. “Austinites deserve an explanation. We call on the Austin Police Department to immediately provide clarity on the policies and circumstances that lead to the sharing of the data detailed in the report.” 

Bob Libal, executive director of Grassroots Leadership, echoed the sentiments. He noted the governor’s zeal in weeding out undocumented immigrants has been buoyed given a similar mission by Donald Trump, who’s made no secret of his suspicions toward migrants entering the U.S.

“This report demonstrates the exact reasons why we needed a Freedom City policy in the first place,” Libal said. “APD turning over hundreds of reports to ICE about individuals in Austin puts our community directly in the crosshairs of Trump’s deportation forces. It is these very patterns and practices that make it so difficult for community to trust law enforcement. We also know this is just the tip of the deportation iceberg with hundreds more individuals exposed to deportation when arrested and turned over to ICE at the Travis County Jail. We need answers from APD on why these records were turned over, and we need bold action at every level of government to defend our communities from ICE in the era of SB4.”

Austin’s Freedom City Policy included Resolution 74, which, among other things requires the city manager to provide quarterly reports to Austin City Council regarding information sharing and requests for cooperation between APD and ICE or other federal immigration officials, Libal explained, as well as the use of city resources to further federal immigration enforcement.

But Grassroots Leadership pointed to discrepancies in the APD’s report: “The APD report seems to have a discrepancy on the number of instances where APD provided information in response to requests for assistance or cooperation from a federal immigration officer,” officials wrote in their statement. “In one paragraph, the report states that there were 581. In a table, the sum of different categories is 541.

Grassroots Leadership and Workers Defense Project were among those taking to the Capitol steps last Monday, Feb. 25, calling for repeal of SB4. Others at the afternoon demonstration titled Fuerza Texas included more than 100 immigrant community members and advocate group United We Dream.

Austin City Council member Greg Casar, who advocates for the migrant class, also responded to the APD’s report. He said the report confirms the fears immigrants have in assisting the police with investigations, even as the APD incongruously pleads for them to do so.

“This report clearly shows why immigrants in our community describe being scared of interacting with the police department or with government in general,” Casar said. “These instances of ICE collaboration may have been forced by SB4, some of them may reflect a misuse of the City’s power to support deportations. Our community deserves a government that is truly responsive to the needs of our immigrant neighbors, and deserves transparency from the city.”

Calling SB4 “hateful,” Casar expressed frustration in his own efforts to secure details on APD’s level of ICE cooperation: “As the lead sponsor of the Freedom Cities resolution that initiated this report, I have made repeated attempts to receive basic information from City Management and APD over the last week about how much of this ICE cooperation was forced, how much was discretionary, and whether or not these efforts fully complied with our “Freedom City” policy. Despite my best efforts, I have not been given this information.”