On Monday,, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions criticized so-called ‘sanctuary cities’ and threatened cuts in federal funding if local governments do not cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) requests to detain people in their jails who may be undocumented. In Austin, both the city and county government have resisted some federal hold requests, and Mayor Steve Adler says he’s looking for clarification as to the federal government’s intentions.
Adler and a number of other mayors will meet with Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly in Washington on Wednesday.
On how he interprets the attorney general’s statement:
“I was looking at the wording from the attorney general, and what he spoke mainly to was cities that are violating federal law. Specifically, he talked about a particular federal statute, 8 USC 1373. Neither the City of Austin [or] Travis County violates federal law, and specifically, neither violates that federal statute.”
On what he hopes to accomplish in Washington:
“The federal government hasn’t really built out its standards for what would make a jurisdiction subject to fund forfeiture or denial. Part of it is to engage in a conversation about safety. We all want to make sure that bad people are taken off the street and are punished…Austin is one of the safest communities in the country, and we want to preserve that. The hope is that we can recognize that one of the reasons we are as safe as we are is the trust relationship that’s developed between our local law enforcement and the community.”
On whether Austin is getting the straight story from the federal government:
“We seem to be hearing conflicting messages coming from Immigration and Customs Enforcement as they’re speaking to different officials. Obviously that’s a concern. And part of the reason to go to Washington is to see if we can get a little bit more certainty with respect to this issue.”
On being boxed in by both federal and state governments:
“The statute that is working its way in the Texas Legislature would be a statue that would mandate as a matter of law that cities or counties would comply in a mandatory way with a program that is voluntary right now. And certainly it would be my expectation that Travis County and its sheriff would follow the law if new laws were passed. But at this time, I think it’s real important to note that absent that law, there is no violation of state law.”
On how Austin would react to a withdrawal of federal funding:
“I think that any governmental entity needs to be concerned about the loss of any funding, because it funds programs that also help make communities safer. And…ultimately I would imagine that cities around the country would potentially raise legal issues and challenges. But of course that depends on what it is that’s actually being denied and for what reasons.And since that hasn’t happened yet, you don’t know exactly what the issues or arguments are going to be.”