Elected leaders and advocates for immigration reform staged a boisterous and sometimes angry protest Saturday outside the Texas Governor’s Mansion, where they called on Gov. Greg Abbott to meet with immigrant families and show more leniency to undocumented workers.
Many of the protesters, a few hundred in all, traveled to Austin from around the state to make their voices heard. Some participated in a three-day, 37-mile march from a federal detention center in Williamson County to downtown Austin. After crossing the Capitol grounds their final stop was the Governor’s Mansion — and the target of their ire was the chief occupant inside.
“It’s a shame and it’s a disgrace that these politicians are allowed to play with the lives of the people that work so hard by cleaning houses, by being nannies, by serving at hotels and restaurants, by building skyscrapers, by helping the U.S. to be the most powerful nation due to their sweat, blood and tears,” said activist Montserrat Garibay of Education Austin, a local union group. “Greg Abbott, we have a message for you... you don’t have the best interest for Texas and for our country.”
Requests for comment from Abbott’s spokesmen were not answered Saturday.
In recent weeks the governor has put immigration and border security at the front and center of his public statements and frequent appearances on Fox News.
Abbott sent out a fundraising email Friday, seeking donations while touting his support for his border crackdown and warning that too many criminals are crossing into the U.S. at the southern border.
He referred to the San Francisco murder of Kathryn Steinle, allegedly killed by an undocumented immigrant with multiple felonies and deportations on his record.
“Sadly, stories like Kathryn’s are far too common,” Abbott wrote in the campaign solicitation. “Far too many folks with evil intentions view our 1,933-mile border with Mexico as a gateway to commit crimes all over the United States.”
Outside the Mansion, protesters railed against Abbott for taking a leading role — in his former position as attorney general — in successfully challenging President Obama’s deferred action programs, which would have granted legal presence to millions of undocumented immigrants. Much of the deferred action program, known as DACA and DAPA, remains blocked in the federal courts after Abbott and 25 other states sued, saying it Obama had exceeded his authority in issuing the executive orders that created them.
Among those criticizing Abbott at the rally Saturday was U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin.
“Gov. Abbott, if you believe in family values, how about meeting with some of our families? You look into the eyes of the mother with children in the schools right here in Austin, Texas right now,” Doggett said. “She is not documented, they’re American citizens, and you tell me why that family should be torn asunder.”
Doggett also weighed in on a local controversy related to immigration — how or whether Travis County should cooperate with U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, when undocumented immigrants are jailed.
Some Democrats and liberal activists want the county to quit cooperating altogether with ICE — precisely the type of “sanctuary city” policy that critics say led to the Steinle murder in San Francisco. Many conservatives, meanwhile, want an immediate special session of the Legislature to require Texas jails to cooperate with ICE.
Doggett argued for a middle ground.
“We need to keep confined, of course, violent offenders, but the notion that ICE can review every minor misdemeanor offense and every traffic violation for possible deportation, I don’t think that’s the way to go,” he said. “It’s not a matter of quitting cooperation, it’s a question of what level of cooperation. I think the focus needs to be only on violent offenders."