AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Texas Legislature told APD officers they could ask someone about their immigration status. Austin’s City Council told them: if you do, you can’t force an answer and you have to write a report about it. That city ordinance takes effect Thursday.
Leadership at APD says not much will change. The department already keeps track if immigration status is asked. Assistant Chief Troy Gay says in the past year, it was only an issue three times.
“We are here to look at criminal behavior and not status,” said Gay, “We’re protecting their rights but also guiding our officers so they’re meeting the needs of our community.”
If an APD officer wants to ask for someone’s immigration status, that officer must notify the person that they don’t need to answer.
Grassroots Leadership was one of the community groups pushing city council to require the APD change. Alicia Torres from Grassroots Leadership says it will allow them to hold APD accountable in their dealings with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the organization responsible for deporting people in America illegally.
“We’re actually going to be able to see how much the city collaborates with ICE,” said Torres.
Grassroots Leadership staff tell KXAN most people deported by ICE in Texas get into the system after they’re detained by police.
“If you’re choosing to ask someone about their immigration status. Why? What prompted you to do it? To make sure it’s not because I have an accent or I’m brown,” said Torres.
This ordinance bumps up against Senate Bill 4, the measure passed into law by the Texas Legislature in 2017. SB 4 requires local police officers to cooperate with federal immigration officials. It also allows officers to ask for immigration status when someone is detained.
Jackson County Sheriff, A.J. Louderback, supported SB 4. He thinks Austin’s ordinance is a thumb in the eye of the new law and will burden officers with more paperwork.
“Many times we’re faced with additional duties,” said Sheriff Louderback, “We’re simply here trying to do our job in public safety and yet we have people that put up roadblocks.”
He sees this as the Austin City Council eroding federal immigration law.
The first reports detailing how this new policy is working will be published in January.
These changes came along with revisions to APD’s cite and release policy. Beginning Thursday, officers don’t have to arrest someone for non-violent misdemeanors, like spraying graffiti or having drugs like K2.