Mayors from across the state were stunned today when the acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Thomas Homan, went on Fox News and threatened to jail and prosecute elected officials in so-called sanctuary cities who do not fully cooperate with federal authorities in rounding up and deporting undocumented immigrants.
“Did he mention me?” an incredulous Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner asked when reporters brought up the remarks.
When I asked Austin mayor Steve Adler for a response, he characterized Homan’s remarks as un-American. “Threatening to jail political opponents, especially for laws they aren’t breaking, is not the America I grew up in,” he said. “Austin is the safest big city in Texas, and we follow the law. I will oppose anti-immigrant policies, regardless of the personal consequences, because spreading fear and making threats makes us all less safe.”
San Antonio Mayor Ron Mayor Nirenberg said that it’s up to the federal government to enforce immigration laws, not the local police force. “I trust our police department’s guidance on the proper way to ensure public safety to the best of our ability. Community policing requires the community’s trust in the police department,” Nirenberg said. “It is unfair to punish local law enforcement for the federal government’s failure to do its job.”
During his weekly news conference, Turner said that remarks such as Homan’s do not create a “unified America.” Houston is the most diverse city in the United States, he said, and anyone living in Houston will be treated as a Houstonian. “We have to be very careful when you start talking about jailing and prosecuting elected officials,” Turner continued. “You talk about transparency, and then you start talking about jailing people for being diverse and respecting the diverse society in which we live. That’s going a bit far.”
Turner also reiterated that he will not be using the Houston Police Department to enforce federal immigration laws. “I’ve said repeatedly that HPD is not ICE, and HPD is not going to be ICE. Does that make us a sanctuary city?”
Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings told the Dallas Morning News that Homan’s statements were “total hogwash.” Dallas already cooperates with ICE, he said. “No one is going to be arrested, especially here in Dallas. We’re not a sanctuary city. We cooperate with ICE. This is basically rattling a saber to make good sound bites.”
“This isn’t the America I grew up in,” Homan said in the Fox interview. “We got to take these sanctuary cities on. We got to take them to court. And we got to start charging some of these politicians with crimes.”
Homan was reacting to a new California sanctuary state law signed by Democratic governor Jerry Brown. He also expressed disgust that a jury had recently found Jose Ines Garcia Zarate, an undocumented immigrant who had been deported multiple times, innocent in the killing of Kate Steinle. The jury found that Zarate shot Steinle by accident as she walked on a San Francisco pier in 2015, but Homan blamed lax sanctuary city attitudes for the jury’s verdict.
In response to the California law, Homan also promised to increase the number of federal immigration agents serving in the state. “If the politicians in California don’t want to protect their communities, then ICE will,” he said.
At the request of Governor Greg Abbott, last year’s Texas legislature passed a so-called sanctuary cities law to allow for the removal of any local official who did not fully cooperate with ICE. Known as SB4, it has been challenged in federal court by multiple Texas cities. A federal court in San Antonio blocked implementation of most of the law, but the state has appealed to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.