After 8 years, Austin lifts employee travel ban to Arizona that protested controversial immigration bill

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Since 2010, City of Austin employees have been prohibited from going on business-related trips to Arizona.

However, more than 8 years after Arizona passed a controversial immigration bill that aimed to criminalize undocumented people, Austin lifted its self-employed travel ban to The Copper State on Nov. 27.

Upon the Arizona legislature’s passage of SB 1070 in 2010, law enforcement officials throughout the state were mandated to jail people they suspected as illegal immigrants and could not provide documentation.

In response, Austin and 16 other U.S. cities banned business-related travel to Arizona by city employees, believing the law would permit racial profiling and violate the U.S. Constitution’s equal protection clause under the Fourteenth Amendment. City officials feared Arizona’s new law could target some Austin employees, according to the Austin City Council resolution passed in May 2010. The resolution stated the city’s “affirmative interest in making sure its employees are not subjected to unfounded detentions while on official business.”

“The City of Austin has a vested interest in, and an established practice of, limited business dealings with entities that espouse discriminatory practices,” the resolution read.

However, the law, as passed by Arizona’s legislature in 2010 never took effect as the U.S. Supreme Court overturned several key provisions. So, in a memo to mayor and city council members Tuesday, City Manager Spencer Cronk said he was lifting the travel ban as subsequent court rulings and developments in the state since 2010 had essentially removed the teeth from the Arizona law.

The federal courts essentially ruled that local authorities could not establish penalties for, or specifically enforce, federal immigration laws on their own. Local authorities could only conduct immigration checks after they lawfully detained someone for a separate offense.

Since 2010, many of the 16 other cities that protested the initial bill have taken similar action. Most recently, Los Angeles rolled back its ban in April 2018.

A city spokesperson said Tuesday the move to lift the ban was not sparked by any planned travel to Arizona, but rather, it was something city staff had been working on for months.

“In its original form, SB 1070 placed City of Austin employees traveling to Arizona on City business at risk of racial profiling and unlawful detention,” a city spokesperson said in an emailed statement. “In the years since 2010, court rulings and settlements have rendered many provisions of SB 1070 unenforceable. As a result, the city manager has determined that SB 1070 no longer threatens the welfare of City employees traveling to Arizona on City business.”

Texas’ SB 4, colloquially known as the “sanctuary cities bill,” which was passed in 2017, drew comparisons from city and state officials, among others, to Arizona’s SB 1070. That law continues to be challenged by civil rights groups.

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Christopher Neely
Christopher Neely is Community Impact's Austin City Hall reporter. A New Jersey native, Christopher moved to Austin in 2016 following two years of community reporting along the Jersey Shore. His bylines have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Baltimore Sun and USA Today. He is a graduate of the University of Maryland's Philip Merrill College of Journalism.
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