Austin Police address immigration enforcement with community

The Austin Police Department is working with the community to explain procedures regarding stops involving undocumented immigrants.

At a town hall meeting, interim Chief Brian Manley took questions about how officers should address immigration status during a call.

The growing number of bills filed requiring law enforcement to comply with federal immigration policies has people in Austin’s immigrant community on edge.

A Hispanic woman at the Austin Police Department Building Bridges town hall meeting was too afraid to go on camera because of the potential that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) could retaliate against her or her family.

“She says the community is afraid to come to this meeting because when they commute to this area or when they go to court they're afraid to get stopped due to racial profiling,” a translator said. 

Manley said that fear of police could pose a hazard to officers investigating crimes in immigrant communities.

“When you have that, what you have is a segment of your population that is much more likely to be victimized… and then we will also have members of our immigrant community that may not be willing to come forward as witnesses to help solve crime and to help put away criminals,” Manley said. 

A bill, recently advanced by a Texas Senate State Affairs Committee and now headed to the full Senate for a vote, is not helping quell immigrants' fears.

SB4 would require Texas law enforcement to cooperate with ICE.

“She says she's more afraid now because of this initiative. SB4, it's a risk not only for the Hispanic community, for the whole city, so the Hispanic community will be more afraid to go to work, to go to schools because now with that initiative SB4 the police will be asked to cooperate,” the translator said.   

The bill is not popular with the Austin police chief either.

“The language was vague and it didn't make it perfectly clear on whether you are compelled to cooperate or if it's a request to cooperate. And we're so shorthanded, police departments across the country, and we're seeing increases in violent crime across the country, and I need the men and women on the front lines to be focused on crimes. Because any time spent on enforcing civil immigration issues is time they're not spending combating violent crime and that will make our city less safe,” said Manley. 

But Manley said, although he does not agree with all parts of the senate bill, contrary to popular belief, Austin does not qualify as a sanctuary city.

“We will arrest individuals as long as they've been involved in crime regardless of their immigration status. And so, for those reasons, we are not a sanctuary city in Austin because we will enforce laws when individuals commit crimes and we will partner with federal agencies as long as what we're working on is something that has a criminal nexus,” Manley said.

Other issues the police department will be working on this year include restructuring the DNA lab, trying to reduce violent crime, increasing employee morale and working more with members of the community.

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