Austin is under siege from Trump's immigration policy

But the Texan city isn't giving up without a fight

Austin is under siege from Trump's immigration policy

A painting on a wall in Austin, Texas, saying 'We are all Mexico'

It’s hot in Austin. Very hot by Irish standards.

When I arrive at the home of Carmen Zuvieta on the outskirts of the Texas capital, she immediately sees my struggle with the humidity and offers to talk in her back garden. 

Carmen, a mother of three, is a Mexican immigrant. She is an activist for undocumented Central American immigrants, who make up a sizeable chunk of Austin’s population.

That community is now living in fear of raids by federal authorities. Since Donald Trump’s election, Carmen’s phone hasn’t stopped ringing.

Carmen Zuvieta

“We must resist. We must persist. We have nothing left,” she says as she chokes back tears.

For her, this is deeply personal.

Her husband was deported to Mexico and now she is taking it upon herself to stop other families from sharing her heartbreak.

“You don’t know who you can trust,” she says. “I know 11 people who’ve been sent to Mexico. They’ve done nothing wrong. I can feel my own pain and my own frustration. I want to scream and I want to fight.

“I don’t want any other child running to the door after hearing keys at the door or a car outside and thinking their father is coming home. Their father is not coming back. How do you explain this to your children?,” she cries.

“They say (the Government) wants to control terrorism. They are the terrorists to us.”

A loner in the Lone Star state

This is a conversation that is taking place in thousands of homes across Austin, Texas.

It’s a city that has found itself on the frontline of Trump’s clampdown on illegal immigration and the attempts to ban travel from certain Muslim countries. For that reason, it has become the city of resistance.

When we think of the Lone Star state, we often resort to the stereotypes of ‘god, guns and guts’ but Austin, the State’s capital, prides itself on being different.

Here you have a blueberry dropped in a deep red state soup.

Austin backed Hillary Clinton over Trump by a more than two-to-one margin in last November’s election, putting it immediately at odds with its hinterland.

“Keep Austin Weird” has been the de facto slogan around here for the past few decades. But its identity has never been challenged like this before.

The real conflict at the heart of the city isn’t simply about ballots or bumper stickers, but the future of thousands of Austin’s residents.

'Sanctuary city'

Authorities, including Democrat Austin Mayor Steve Adler and Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez, tell me they are under ‘siege’ by both the Trump administration and Governor of Texas who are trying to force Austin to drop its protected ‘sanctuary city’ status.

This means city police won’t co-operate with federal immigration agents.

That doesn’t rest easy with Republicans for whom stopping ‘uncontrolled’ immigration remains their major rallying cry.

Austin Mayor Steve Addler

“My public safety professionals,” Mayor Adler says, “tell me we need this (sanctuary) policy to keep our people safe. I’m the mayor of this city. People expect me to fill potholes, make sure the garbage is collected and make sure our people are safe.”

Austin is not alone in fighting for its undocumented status. Seattle, Boston and Chicago among others are joined with them in this struggle but none of them face quite the same challenge as Austin.

Of the city's million residents, an estimated 35% are Hispanic. The Mexican consulate says four to five Mexicans are detained on average daily.

The state's proximity to the southern border (a five hour drive) means suburban and rural dwellers around the city have strong views on what they say is a need to control the borders and remove illegal immigrants.

That battle over the the treatment of undocumented immigrants is likely to intensify in the months ahead as Donald Trump’s Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, has ratcheted up the rhetoric about ‘dangerous’ sanctuary policies, and has threatened further cuts to funding and ‘other measures’.

Other cities, including Detroit and New York have dropped their ‘sanctuary’ tag. 

Austin’s undocumented and its citizens who have fought to keep the sanctuary city policy going remain resolute.

“A lot changed in our election last November but something that did not change is what this city is,” says Mayor Adler.

For tens of thousands of Austin’s people, they will nervously wait to see how long that lasts.

news cards