Migrant Detainees in Travis County Jails

The following correspondence from Austin City Council Member Mike Martinez raises important issues about the contradictions of federal immigration power in border-state communities. The occasion for the letter is a recent “process” decision by Sheriff Greg Hamilton to give working space to federal immigration officials at county offices.–gm

To all:

I am sending out this email to provide additional information regarding, what I consider to be, a process shift at the county jail that is having a dramatic affect on our community. This change has resulted in an increase of immigration detainments/deportations. Prior to the change there were only a handful of cases per month resulting in detainments (4 to 5). That number has now risen to approximately 111 for December and over 110 for the first 2 weeks of February alone.

Let me be very clear: my public comments and position relating to the process shift have absolutely nothing to do with telling Sheriff Hamilton how to do his job. I have nothing but the utmost respect for Sheriff Hamilton and men and women of the Travis County Sheriff’s department, and was proud to support Greg in being elected as our Sheriff. I believe we absolutely should enforce our laws and maintain public safety. Folks who are convicted via the judicial system should be held accountable for their actions.

My position and comments relate to our tax dollars (city and county) providing and enabling a federal agency unfettered and internal access to a facility and to equipment that was and is being paid for by local taxpayers. These funds are derived from property taxes, fines, fees and sales taxes (ALL OF WHICH ARE PAID BY EVERYONE – including undocumented residents).

ICE (Immigration Customs Enforcement) has the absolute right and duty to enforce all immigration laws. I also believe our local law enforcement should have a working relationship with all law enforcement agencies within our area, including ICE. Again, this is not the issue at hand and those that believe otherwise are simply avoiding true, open and honest public dialogue leading to positive outcomes for our entire community.

The city of Austin is the largest external resource provider of funding to the county jail system through an interlocal agreement signed and ratified by the Travis County Commissioners Court and the Austin City Council. The city of Austin provides about $4.6 Million per year to the county for the services and facilities we utilize. At a minimum, it is my belief we should do everything within our policy making abilities to ensure that resources expended via our interlocal agreement be prioritized to reflect our values, stated policies and adopted council resolutions (For example, Resolution 970130-33 Establishing Austin as an Immigrant Safety Zone).

As an example, I would submit that psychological/mental health screening and even general health screening would be a much higher priority for our [tax payer funded] facilities and equipment if they are available. These two intake procedures alone would also have a dramatic and positive affect on our community.

Lastly, I believe, immigration reform (or lack there of) is what is truly causing this issue to become divisive, disrespectful (by some) and devastating to our community. By simply increasing the amount of undocumented residents being deported and doing nothing to affect true immigration reform with a legal and achievable path to citizenship, we will never resolve this issue. The detainees simply get to their country of origin and do whatever is necessary to return to the United Sates to their families, jobs and lives. But they come back with a greater distrust of government, the judicial system and especially law enforcement. And the situation only gets worse.

Please join me in discussing this very difficult issue and in making policy decisions that improve our city and make Austin the best city in the world for ALL to enjoy.

Thanks for your time,
Mike Martinez

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