Austin Approves $200,000 in Emergency Funds for Immigrant Legal Services

Feb 16, 2017

Austin City Council approved $200,000 in emergency funding for immigration legal services Thursday, while immigrants and advocates took to the steps of City Hall outside to protest ICE raids and national anti-immigrant policies. 

The grant expands a preexisting contract the city holds with Catholic Charities of Central Texas, which provides pro bono legal service to help immigrants understand their rights and legal statuses. Justin Estep, the director of legal services for Catholic Charities, says the money is much needed.

“We’re definitely running as high as we ever have been as far as capacity goes,” he said.

Catholic Charities currently serves about 140 people per month, according to Estep. He says the $200,000 grant will allow his organization and its partners to serve an additional 50 people per month.

Council originally approved the distribution of an unspecified amount of funding for these legal services in a resolution that passed in December by an 8-2 vote. Don Zimmerman, who has since been replaced by Jimmy Flannigan, and Ellen Troxclair, opposed the resolution, which directed the city manager to find enough emergency funding to help 100 people a month with immigration consultations and legal fees. 

Council member Greg Casar, who championed the item, thanked the city manager for coming up with the money Thursday but urged council to come up with a more sustainable solution.

“I think that this is an important starting payment and an emergency-type allocation, but in our budget process we will hopefully be able to plan for being able to take care of our community members long term,” he said.  

Troxclair stood in lone opposition to the item, testifying that her constituents “feel like their safety is being threatened when they see reports of undocumented immigrants committing crimes against people in our community and not being held accountable.”

Troxclair suggested an amendment, which entailed lowering the $200,000 grant to $50,000 with an offer of a public match or a call to action for the community to privately raise the additional funding. No other council member would second the amendment, and Casar accused her of fear mongering and bringing the “alternative facts” conversation home to roost in the council chamber.

“There is fear, legitimate fear, on one side, and the other side, including anecdotes you’ve expressed, are false,” he said. “And nothing we have said today on our side of this issue is untrue. Whereas what you have implied and what other leaders have implied is deliberately misleading to score political points on the vulnerable.”

Flannigan and Mayor Steve Adler spoke in support of the item, before Troxclair asked for a chance to respond to Casar's comments. She said she was hurt and frustrated by his unwillingness to understand the fears of many people she represents.

The item passed by a vote of 10-1, with Troxclair voting no.

The grant comes amid fears in Austin’s immigrant community over recent arrests by immigration authorities and a push for more deportations from President Trump.