Trump moves roil Austin City Hall

Im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy, travel ban en­liven City Coun­cil de­bates.

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Nolan Hicks nhicks@states­

Wash­ing­ton, D.C., may be some 1,300 miles away, but dis­tance hasn’t stopped Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s first month as pres­i­dent from dom­i­nat­ing the con­ver­sa­tion at Austin City Hall.

Just days af­ter Trump signed his hotly con­tested ex­ec­u­tive or­der that tem­po­rar­ily barred trav­el­ers from seven Mus­lim-ma­jor­ity na­tions from en­ter­ing the U.S., sev­eral City Coun­cil mem­bers left a brief­ing on the city’s mas­sive zon­ing code re­write to at­tend a pro-Mus­lim rally at the Capi­tol.

A de­bate over grant­ing Catholic Char­i­ties an ad­di­tional $200,000 to pro­vide le­gal ser­vices for im­mi­grants fea­tured an emo­tional row be­tween two coun­cil mem­bers. The city’s Hu­man Rights Com­mis­sion backed a res­o­lu­tion call­ing on the City Coun­cil to “boy­cott all Trump-branded ser­vices and prod­ucts.” And the City Coun­cil, with Coun­cil Mem­ber Ellen Trox­clair dis­sent­ing, ap­proved a res­o­lu­tion Thurs­day con­demn­ing Trump’s travel ban.

In­ter­views and press con­fer-

ences blast­ing the White House’s lat­est pol­icy an­nounce­ments or ex­ec­u­tive or­ders have be­come sta­ples.

“I think the rea­son that I speak out pub­licly on the im­mi­gra­tion mat­ters is not as an aca­demic ex­er­cise, but be­cause I’m hope­ful that the de­bate and dis­cus­sion might help change the prac­tice,” Austin Mayor Steve Adler said. “If I think there’s some­thing that’s hap­pen­ing that will make us less safe as a com­mu­nity, it’s my job to say that.”

He added, “There are con­cerns that I have now that I didn’t have six months ago.”

Even as she pro­vided the coun­ter­point in last month’s de­bate over the Catholic Char­i­ties grant and ex­plained why some vot­ers had backed Trump, Trox­clair noted the dis­cus­sion was a de­par­ture from the usual busi­ness of City Hall.

“I wasn’t elected to City Coun­cil to talk about the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion or to ar­gue against fed­eral im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy,” Trox­clair said at the Feb. 16 meet­ing. “I was elected to fo­cus on the many is­sues that our city is fac­ing and those is­sues that we have di­rect con­trol over.”

While no stranger to demon­stra­tions or Austin’s role as the lib­eral bas­tion of a con­ser­va­tive state, the lo­cal furor sur­round­ing Trump’s elec­tion and sub­se­quent im­mi­gra­tion or­ders has few re­cent par­al­lels.

Protests shut down downtown streets al­most ev­ery night for a week af­ter the Novem­ber elec­tion. There were more demon­stra­tions af­ter Trump’s in­au­gu­ra­tion in Jan­uary and ral­lies against his ex­ec­u­tive or­der on im­mi­gra­tion and refugees. Teach­ers in Austin’s main school dis­trict sent fliers home with stu­dents that ad­vised par­ents on how to deal with im­mi­gra­tion of­fi­cers.

On top of that, state of­fi­cials threat­ened leg­is­la­tion that would push Travis County Sher­iff Sally Her­nan­dez from of­fice over her re­fusal to hold some peo­ple, picked up as suspects in other crimes, in jail for fed­eral of­fi­cers on al­leged im­mi­gra­tion vi­o­la­tions. Gov. Greg Ab­bott pulled $1.5 mil­lion in grant fund­ing for county ser­vices in re­tal­i­a­tion for Her­nan­dez’s move.

Against that back­drop, Austin’s nor­mally low-key mayor and the coun­cil’s youngest mem­ber, Dis­trict 4’s Greg Casar, have be­come two of the most prom­i­nent faces of the city’s anti-Trump push.

Adler was spot­ted at an In­au­gu­ra­tion Day protest, along with Casar and U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin. The mayor also ad­dressed the Texas Mus­lim Day demon­stra­tion at the Capi­tol, went off script dur­ing his Jan­uary State of the City speech to blast the pres­i­dent’s travel ban and re­cently ap­peared on Na­tional Pub­lic Ra­dio to dis­cuss raids by Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment.

“The mayor’s job here is re­ally prac­ti­cal. We need to make sure the pot­holes get filled and peo­ple are safe,” Adler said. “I am re­ally look­ing on who we are, and try­ing to pre­serve and pro­tect who we are.”

For Casar, an ac­tivist for the Work­ers De­fense Project in a past life, the fight with Trump be­gan on elec­tion night, when the 27-year-old de­clared he wouldn’t shake Trump’s hand.

His will­ing­ness to blast the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s im­mi­gra­tion moves as “rep­re­hen­si­ble” and “po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated” has gar­nered Casar na­tional me­dia at­ten­tion, in­clud­ing a re­cent quote in The Wash­ing­ton Post.

“A lot of the rea­son we’re deal­ing with is­sues re­lat­ing to Trump is be­cause his pol­icy di­rec­tives and di­rec­tion di­rectly im­pact our con­stituents,” Casar said. His of­fice has fielded hun­dreds of phone calls and emails from con­stituents, a spokes­woman said, but couldn’t pro­vide an ex­act fig­ure.

“I think it’s our re­spon­si­bil­ity and duty to re­spond to those is­sues, and that’s what we’re do­ing,” he added.

Casar re­counted one such story dur­ing the coun­cil’s de­bate last month over grant­ing the ad­di­tional $200,000 to Catholic Char­i­ties to pro­vide le­gal ser­vices to im­mi­grants: The fam­ily of an Iraqi refugee, who had worked for the U.S. gov­ern­ment in Iraq, was banned from re­turn­ing to Austin by Trump’s Jan­uary ex­ec­u­tive or­der.

But that Feb. 16 meet­ing also showed the lim­its of Casar’s ag­gres­sive stance, when his de­bate with Trox­clair, the coun­cil’s lone con­ser­va­tive, de­volved into pointed, per­sonal at­tacks rarely seen on the dais.

Casar ac­cused Trox­clair of spread­ing “false” anec­dotes and be­ing “de­lib­er­ately mis­lead­ing” about the dan­ger posed by unau­tho­rized im­mi­grants. Trox­clair charged Casar was “con­tin­u­ing to stick your head in the sand” and fail­ing to rec­og­nize fears over im­mi­gra­tion.

The coun­cil ap­proved the grant on a 10-1 vote, with Trox­clair dis­sent­ing. Later, with­out sin­gling out ei­ther coun­cil mem­ber, Adler re­minded ev­ery­one of the need to re­main civil.

“I watched the tape, and I wouldn’t have said a thing dif­fer­ently,” Casar said. “I felt like I re­sponded the right way to that kind of dis­re­spect in the coun­cil cham­ber.”

Trox­clair de­clined to com­ment for this story. But in the hours af­ter the de­bate, she retweeted a flurry of mes­sages from sup­port­ers.

Then, the next day, she tweeted out a fundrais­ing link.


Austin Mayor Steve Adler joined pro­test­ers who marched in Novem­ber, days af­ter the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, against Don­ald Trump’s im­mi­gra­tion poli­cies.

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