At the state level, Texas has been fairly reliable in terms of cooperation between immigration enforcement and state or local police. The passage of SB4 went a long way in ensuring that ICE would have the traditional levels of cooperation from police when it comes to identifying and detaining illegal aliens who wind up being arrested for other crimes. But the Lone Star State isn’t homogeneous in that regard, with pockets of resistance popping up here and there. One of those places is Austin, which this month decided that simply being a sanctuary city wasn’t good enough for them. No, they’re now declaring themselves to be a “freedom city.”
What does that mean? In some cases, you will now be free to break the law if you wish and the police won’t be able to arrest you. And if the cops decide to ask you if you’re in the country legally you can pretty much tell them to go pound sand. (LA Times)
Amid the controversy over sanctuary cities, Austin this month took its fight against strict immigration law enforcement a step further by declaring itself to be the first “freedom city” in Texas. City Council members unanimously passed two resolutions last week that will restrict police attempts to question immigrants about their status and curtail arrests for nonviolent crimes.
One of the new city resolutions requires officers who question immigrants about status to also say that their questions about immigration need not be answered. The other resolution directs police to avoid arrests for misdemeanors, including those for smoking marijuana, having drug paraphernalia, and taking part in petty theft — crimes that city data shows frequently end in arrests of black and Latino residents.
The details of the city resolutions aren’t all that different from other sanctuary cities in some regards. But in other areas, they go much further. Under state law, the city can’t forbid an officer from asking about immigration status. But now, at least in Austin, if the cop does want to ask the question he or she is required to tell the suspect that they’re under no obligation to answer.
Seriously? Can you imagine that rule being in place for any other crime on the books? Somebody robs a liquor store and a cop sees a person matching the description of the suspect so they pull them over. “You didn’t happen to rob the LiquorMart a few minutes ago, did you? Oh, and by the way, feel free not to answer if you feel like I’m infringing on your rights.”
The other new wrinkle in these resolutions is that Austin will seek to “avoid arrests for misdemeanors, including those for smoking marijuana, having drug paraphernalia, and taking part in petty theft.” This is being touted as a move toward decriminalizing low-level offenses and reducing incarceration rates for minor crimes. There’s an important debate to be had on that topic because we do wind up tossing too many non-violent, citizen offenders in jail, so I’m not just going to pour cold water on their efforts. But at the same time, there’s a reason that we leave such things up to the discretion of cops on the beat. There are times when the guy painting graffiti on a building, breaking a window or stealing a hubcap may be nothing more than it seems. But in other cases, it may be a subtle clue that could lead to the discovery of more serious criminal activity. Flatly ending arrests for such crimes basically just puts out the welcome mat and says that society no longer cares about such things.
Austin is once again going several steps too far. I’ll be surprised if Governor Abbott doesn’t bring the hammer down on this in some form or another, most likely in terms of state funding sent to that city.