AUSTIN, Texas – Local activists were standing up and fighting back in Austin after ongoing rumors of Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids in the city were confirmed Friday. ICE detained 44 Mexican immigrants in Austin since Thursday — an "unprecedented" level of enforcement, according to local immigration advocates.
Protests formed Thursday and Friday evening outside the J.J. Pickle Federal Building in downtown Austin, where ICE was reportedly processing detainees. Another protest was held in North Austin near where a public ICE arrest took place Friday morning, documented in a viral video by El Mundo.
Eren Uribe arrived at the J.J. Pickle Building Friday in time to see ICE agents block protesters from four vans, which activists suspected contained immigrant detainees who had been nabbed and processed earlier that day, that were leaving the building. It was the first time she took part in a protest.
"We are all immigrants," Uribe said in an interview. "I am legal in this country but my mother isn't, so I'm here to fight for her rights."
"This is what resistance looks like," immigration activist Alicia Torres said in a speech to the protesters before the group march from the federal building down 6th Street, Austin's main entertainment drag.
Torres is undocumented.
"I am directly fucking affected by this, so that's why we need to be out here," she said in an interview. "My siblings are all in Austin, and they literally are refusing to go out because they're scared they're going to get picked up."
The raids had a palpable impact this week in parts of the city with large immigrant communities.
"I'm getting lots of reports from my constituents about seeing ICE on the streets," Austin City Council member Gregorio Casar told the Dallas Morning News. "Teachers in my district have contacted me — certain students didn't come to school today because they're afraid," Casar said. "I talked to a constituent, a single mother, who had her door knocked on this morning by ICE."
This uptick in enforcement comes amid a crackdown on sanctuary-city policies, which allow municipalities to dictate whether they will require local law enforcement to enforce federal immigration law. Texas is one of six states in which ICE officials have carried out raids and traffic stops since Thursday.
In January, newly inaugurated Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez declared Austin a sanctuary city, meaning her office will not comply with ICE detainer requests for possible deportation unless individuals have been charged with "very serious crimes," the Texas Tribune reported.
The policy went into effect Feb. 1, and 37 individuals were released from Travis County that day. Hernandez's sanctuary policy is under attack from Texas Gov. Greg Abbott as well as President Donald Trump. Casar and others have said the ICE raids in Austin are not coincidental, given Austin's sanctuary efforts and pushback against state and federal immigration policy platforms.
Abbott vowed to overturn the sanctuary policy, canceling $1.5 million in state criminal justice grants to Travis County and even promising to pursue legislation that would remove state lawmakers who support sanctuary cities from office — a clear aim at Hernandez, who was elected with more than 60% of the vote and campaigned heavily on the sanctuary cities platform she has now enacted.
Trump already promised to defund sanctuary cities via executive order on Jan. 25.
"I am following all state and federal laws, and upholding constitutional rights to due process for all in our criminal justice system," Hernandez said in a statement. "Our community is safer when people can report crimes without fear of deportation."
Watch video from Friday night's protest in Austin below.