Austin City Council authorizes funding for immigration legal services

District 4 Council Member Greg Casar hosted a press conference to announce the city would look to spend $200,000 to fund legal services for Austin's immigrant community.

District 4 Council Member Greg Casar hosted a press conference to announce the city would look to spend $200,000 to fund legal services for Austin's immigrant community.

UPDATE 11:40 a.m. - Austin City Council votes 10-1 to spend $200,000 to fund legal services for immigrants, District 8 Council Member Ellen Troxclair dissented.

Emotions ran high during the item’s discussion on the dais, as both District 4 Council Member Greg Casar and Troxclair fought back tears while explaining their contrasting viewpoints.

Troxclair did not support the item because she felt it was outside the role of the city and believed the responsibility fell on charitable organizations. She went on to say that the wider conversation on immigration in the United States is driven by fear on both sides and defended those who support the crackdown on illegal immigration.

Casar said he has received a lot of criticism for the item, and has received voicemails using terms like “illegal” and “wetback.” He said Troxclair, like the federal officials, was spreading “deliberately misleading” information and trying to “score political points on the vulnerable.”

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Amid peaceful protests against federal immigration law occurring today, District 4 Council Member Greg Casar announced on Thursday that the city would play its part by attempting to fund legal and counseling services for immigrants.

Later today, the Austin City Council will consider an agenda item that would authorize a $200,000 payment to Catholic Charities of Central Texas to provide free legal and counseling services to immigrants.

At a press conference on Thursday morning, council members and immigrant rights advocates joined Casar in voicing their support for the city’s immigrant community.

“I think it’s very fitting that on today’s day of protests that the city council is here at work, but here at work with nonprofit partners to protect immigrant families,” Casar said. “Where the federal government has attacked our community, our city is going to step up. Austin will not back down on our principles of justice, public safety and constitutional rights.”

The move is a response to the crackdown on illegal immigration by the federal government. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids last week resulted in the arrests of 51 people in Austin.

In a letter to the city sent Tuesday, Mayor Steve Adler voiced his objection to the raids and reaffirmed his support for all Austinites.

“The overly broad way these ICE raids are being conducted is making our community less safe and causing disproportionate harm,” Adler said. “I will continue to speak out in defense of our community and urge people on all sides of this issue to continue to make themselves heard clearly and peacefully.

On Thursday, Adler said the issue was not political, but a “real basic issue.”

“There could not be a more clear expression of what our constitution stands for,” Adler said. “What could be more American than working together to ensure that everyone who lives here knows their rights under the law?”

The city, through Austin Public Health, already has a contract with CCCTX to provide legal and counseling services to immigrants. According to city documents, the 12-month contract began in April 2016 with the goal of serving 84 clients. However, that goal was exceeded as 134 clients have been served to date.

CCCTX has expressed a need for more funds and said a boost in the general operating budget could be used to hire more staff, add appointment availability and expand the services listed in the current contract.

According to a Justin Estep, director of immigration legal services with CCCTX, while the organization currently serves 40-50 new clients a month, it also turns away roughly 50 people per month.

According to a memo from Greg Canally, the city’s interim chief financial officer, staff identified $200,000 one-time funds in the Law Department that can be used to expand CCCTX’s services.

“It is estimated that with these $200,000 in one-time funds, the contract with CCTX can be enhanced to serve an additional 50 clients monthly over the next 12 months,” Canally said in the memo.
By Christopher Neely
Christopher Neely is Community Impact's Austin City Hall reporter. A New Jersey native, Christopher moved to Austin in 2016 following years of community reporting along the Jersey Shore. His bylines have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Baltimore Sun, USA Today and several other local outlets along the east coast.


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