AUSTIN – A group of protesters were arrested near the state Capitol on Wednesday in a demonstration designed to both challenge the state's position on an Obama-era immigration program and test Travis County’s policies on how it deals with undocumented immigrants.
Protest organizers said four of the 15 people arrested for blocking a street are beneficiaries of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program, which grants its undocumented recipients a renewable, two-year work permit and a reprieve from deportation proceedings. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton last month asked the Trump administration to rescind the policy unless he wants Texas and nine other states to take the matter to court.
The Travis County Jail, where those arrested were transported, has been at the center of a national debate over so-called sanctuary cities, the term for local governments that don’t cooperate with federal authorities. Gov. Greg Abbott and other Republicans have accused Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez of letting people subject to deportation out of jail. Hernandez has responded by saying she communicates with Immigration and Customs Enforcement as federal law requires, and holds immigrants who are charged with serious crimes for potential deportation.
The protest was organized by Movimiento Cosecha, a national immigrant rights group that has an office in San Antonio.
Calls to the Travis County Sheriff’s Department seeking comment were not immediately returned.
“All the DACA beneficiaries are very aware of the risks of this action. We’re counting on Travis County not to cooperate with ICE,” said protest organizer Maria Fernanda Cabello. “If they do decide to cooperate with ICE and go against their policy, we’re going to make sure that all the media knows.”
In a statement Wednesday afternoon, DPS Staff Sergeant Victor Taylor said the protesters were charged with "obstructing a highway or other passageway," a Class B misdemeanor.
Wednesday’s events come seven years after protester Erika Andiola said she was arrested in Washington, D.C., as part of a campaign to urge lawmakers to pass federal legislation known as the DREAM Act, which would've allowed some undocumented immigrants to adjust their immigration status and earn legal residency. Andiola said she believes that DACA was the result of that movement, and said Wednesday’s efforts were a call to arms for people who want to see DACA remain intact.
“What we’re saying to our community is that this is how DACA was [created],” she said.
The protest comes as the fate of the state's immigration enforcement bill, Senate Bill 4, is being decided in two federal courtrooms in Texas. The law was signed in May and, if upheld, would subject local officials who don't enforce immigration laws to state charges.