Austin Immigrant Rights Protesters to Trump: ‘Don’t Mess with Texas Families’


Austin Mayor Steve Adler addresses a rally for immigrants at Austin City Hall
Austin Mayor Steve Adler addresses a rally for immigrants at Austin City Hall  Eugenio del Bosque

Several hundred people — many of them wearing “Don’t mess with Texas families” T-shirts — assembled at Austin City Hall Sunday morning, in support of immigrant families who are undocumented or have mixed status.

Adler, wearing a safety pin to show his solidarity, said he stood with other mayors who have pledged to safeguard immigrants during a Trump presidency.

“This week a lot of mayors stepped forward to assure their communities that they will protect their communities,” said Adler. “You are not alone. … In Austin we will continue to be a city where neighbors care for each other.”

But Adler was not specific in how the city would protect immigrants that could be targeted by the Trump administration. In an interview with “CBS News Sunday,” President-elect Donald Trump said he would launch the largest mass deportation in modern history. Trump plans to target up to 3 million undocumented immigrants with criminal records. But experts estimate that the number of undocumented immigrants with criminal records is closer to 820,000 not 3 million. That figure could also include people with minor infractions and those who’ve been prosecuted for immigration-related crimes such as illegal entry.

Trump has also said that during his first 100 days in the White House, he will cancel all federal funding for sanctuary cities, though he failed to explain what constitutes a sanctuary city. The term “sanctuary city” has no legal definition but many use it when referring to cities and counties that have policies in place to prevent law enforcement from targeting undocumented immigrants.

In the last few days days, New York, Los Angeles, Minneapolis and Philadelphia have pledged to remain immigrant-friendly communities despite the threat from President-elect Donald Trump.

During the rally, Adler was careful to avoid the phrase “sanctuary city.” But Austin is poised to sever ties with immigration authorities at the county jail. Incoming Travis County sheriff, Sally Hernandez, has promised to do away with a policy of cooperating with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement by flagging certain undocumented immigrants for possible deportation. If she reneges, Austin City Councilman Greg Casar said the city council could end its contract with the county jail and pull its inmates out.

In an August interview with the Texas Tribune, Hernandez said that holding immigrants in the jail for immigration authorities when they have no pending charges wouldn’t make the country safer. She said that good policing involves encouraging immigrants to come forward and report crimes to the police.

Several hundred attended a rally at Austin City Hall in favor of immigrant rights
Several hundred attended a rally at Austin City Hall in favor of immigrant rights  Eugenio del Bosque

Austin also has a growing church-based sanctuary movement ready to take in more undocumented families seeking relief from deportation.

At the rally, Cristina Tzintzun, a longtime immigrant rights activist and former head of the Workers Defense Project, gave an emotional speech. Tzintzun said she would give birth to her first child in January, the month that Trump takes office. Her husband is undocumented and she fears that her family will be broken apart. “I know that Texas will be ground zero for every program to demonize my family,” she said. “What will I tell my son? I won’t be able to say, ‘Everything is going to be alright,’” she said. “But I do know that the arc of history is long, but it bends toward justice.”

Emily Herrington and her husband Brad Gray were at the rally with their two toddlers in strollers.

“We’ve been too complacent,” said Gray. “But now we’re here. We don’t have a lot of money to give, but we’re ready to get involved.”