For decades, the Texas Legislature has been a backseat driver, second guesser and insufferable micromanager to Austin. Now, our Legislature and governor have crossed the line by imperiling our most basic freedoms. Not only did state lawmakers recently pass the governor’s sanctuary city bill that went way beyond federal immigration law, but the Texas attorney general just filed suit against me and others for speaking out against it.
We speak out because, if this law goes into effect, Austin and other Texas cities will be forced to make our communities less safe. And we’re speaking out even though this new law would, incredibly enough, allow our state attorney general to remove local elected officials from office if they endorse a different policy, even one that’s in accordance with federal immigration law.
Austin is one of the safest cities in the country, largely because our police focus on keeping all of us safe regardless of where we come from or how we got here. And it’s not just us; cities with similar policies toward immigrants have lower crime rates, higher household income rates and lower unemployment rates. What we do works!
The new Texas sanctuary city law undoes that. Police tell us that the fear that they might ask about immigration status has already made people less willing to report crimes, undoing years of work to establish trust with our immigrant communities.
Both U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly have assured me that the president’s priority with undocumented immigrants is to focus on dangerous criminals. That’s what Austin is doing. The attorney general told me that cities where police don’t require immigration checks or aren’t forced to accept voluntary warrantless detainer requests are not “sanctuary cities” subject to sanctions. No federal official has told me that Austin has been breaking any federal law.
However, the Texas Legislature doesn’t want to be limited by federal law. There are many reasons states aren’t allowed to set their own immigration policies. A Central American president, for example, should not need to meet individually with 50 different governors. I believe Congress set immigration requirements just where it did because it had policy or constitutional priorities that the Texas Legislature does not share. On this matter, Congress and the United States Constitution should be in control.
Police chiefs all over the country tell us that statutes like Texas’ new law will drive people into the shadows and make Austin less safe. I said that I expected that this law would be challenged in court. And for endorsing this view, the Texas attorney general has sued me for speaking out.
Don’t get me wrong — I’m glad we’re going to court. Since the Legislature went into session in January, Austin has had to sit on the sidelines while state lawmakers have treated our community’s safety like a political football. Now we get to have a federal judge decide whether the United States or one state determines federal immigration policy. We are eager to protect local police discretion to keep our communities safe and to protect individual constitutional rights.
But what is particularly worrisome for me and other mayors is the part of the law and the lawsuit intended to shut us up by threatening our jobs if we don’t endorse a policy we know is wrong. I was elected by the people of Austin and will keep speaking out for them. No one, elected or not, should ever feel pressured by the government not to speak their mind, even as they otherwise follow the law.
I will do my best to keep Austin safe and will go to court to do so. That’s the job I was elected to do, and I’ll keep doing it as long as the people keep me in office.
Disclosure: Steve Adler has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune and is a former chairman of the Tribune’s board of directors. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.