Travis County

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Police respond to suspicious substance found in building downtown

Police responded to a call Friday morning after a report of a suspicious white, powdery substance found in a Travis County office building downtown.

An initial investigation determined the substance to be benign, according to Austin Fire Department spokesman Palmer Buck. The substance will additionally be tested in a lab.

Seven people were exposed to the unknown white powder substance, according to Buck. Those people were being monitored by the Travis County EMS, but had not exhibited any symptoms.

The Austin Police Department, Travis County Sheriff’s office, FBI and Fire department responded to the call that came in at 10:30 Friday morning at the building located at Lavaca and 7th Street downtown. Buck said once the fire at the DoubleTree Hotel was under control, some firefighters were immediately sent to respond to the substance call.

Karina Roque, international relations and global studies junior, showed up to her internship to find the building sealed by the police. Roque said she was surprised to find the building surrounded by law enforcement.

“You run the risk, but I didn’t expect [a bomb threat] to happen,” Roque said. “You don’t come expecting there to be a bomb threat.”

Buck said the police and fire departments take bomb and substance threats seriously in an effort to protect the public.

“We take these types of calls seriously,” Buck said. “We want to make sure the people inside the building are okay and we want to make sure we do our due diligence in the investigation to make sure that we can reassure the people in the building that everything is going to be okay.”

The primary tenant in the building was the Travis County Auditor’s Office. It was unclear what floor of the building the substance was found.

 

Syphilis has been on the rise in Travis County over the past few years, but the disease has not increased to the same extent at the University. 

Reported cases of syphilis, a sexually transmitted disease that’s often spread through unprotected sex, increased in Travis County by 68 percent between 2006 and 2013. 

Austin/Travis County Health and Human Services reported 81 syphilis cases in 2006 and 136 cases in 2013. 

UT did not see any reported cases at University Health Services in 2006, but in 2013, there were seven. UHS nurse practitioner Sherry Guyton said seven cases in a campus with over 50,000 students is still relatively insignificant.

Guyton said one reason UT has not experienced an outbreak of syphilis cases might be UHS’ efforts to prevent STDs on campus. Cases that do occur, Guyton said, might arise because of alcohol use that leads to unsafe sex or as a result of students’ reluctance to ask their partners if they carry an STD. 

“There still are a lot of students who, for some reason or another, don’t think it’s going to happen to them and aren’t as careful as they might be,” Guyton said. “It’s probably more often related to partying and just not being as careful with condoms.”

UHS program coordinator Sherry Bell said UHS does not know why the number of cases increased between 2006 and 2013.  

Additionally, 53.7 percent of Travis County’s cases in 2012 occurred in people between the ages of 20 and 34, which matches the age range of many students at UT.

“That’s the age where people are maybe not even necessarily very promiscuous, but in the age where people are trying to find people who they are going to be with for longer-term relationships and are more likely to have more sex partners,” Guyton said. “The more partners you have, the more risk there is.”  

The report found that 94 percent of syphilis cases in 2012 in Travis County occurred in males. At UT, all syphilis cases in 2012 occurred in males. Over the eight-year period, males accounted for 95 percent of all cases at UT.  The report also found that a large percentage of those who contracted syphilis were men who have sex with men. In almost half of those cases, the men also had HIV.

Phil Huang, medical director of Austin/Travis County Health and Human Services said he attributes the increase of syphilis in the county to the prevalence of dating apps, such as Tinder and Grindr.

“We are concerned about social media apps that are out there, especially in the men who have sex with men [category],” Huang said. “These facilitate the opportunity for people to have large numbers of sexual partners, anonymous sex partners … and unprotected sex.”

UHS health education coordinator Susan Kirtz said UHS prevention programs are inclusive to all genders and sexual orientations.

“We don’t have anything in particular that targets that [population of men who have sex with men],” Kirtz said. “It’s possible that more targeted programs could roll out in the future, but right now, our programs are pretty inclusive.”

Suzanne Bryant, left, and Sarah Goodfriend celebrate after being granted a marriage license Thursday morning at Highland Lounge.
Photo Credit: Daulton Venglar | Daily Texan Staff

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton petitioned the state Supreme Court on Friday to declare a single marriage license issued to one same-sex couple invalid. 

Paxton asked the Supreme Court to act after Sarah Goodfriend and Suzanne Bryant married Thursday, becoming the first same-sex couple to receive a marriage license in Texas. Hours after the ceremony, the Texas Supreme Court, at Paxton’s request, issued a stay that prevented future same-sex couples in Texas from marrying.

“The rogue actions of Travis County judges do not withstand the scrutiny of law,” Paxton said in a statement Friday. “The same-sex marriage license issued [Thursday] is not valid because it conflicts with the Texas Constitution and state law — the license is therefore void ab initio.”

Sen. Charles Perry (R-Lubbock) and Rep. Cecil Bell (R-Mongolia) also worked to prevent same-sex marriage licenses from being issued Friday. The two lawmakers filed legislation Friday in the House and Senate that would make the secretary of state the only official who would be allowed to issue marriage licenses. Currently, couples can obtain marriage licenses from individual county clerks’ offices.

Under the proposed legislation, the secretary of state would maintain the right to authorize certain county clerks to continue the issuance of marriage licenses under the secretary’s supervision.

Perry said in a statement Friday that his bill will work to protect marriage as defined in the Texas Constitution: “the union of one man and one woman.”

“Yesterday, Travis County officials acted in direct conflict with the Texas Constitution,” Perry said in a statement. “SB 673 ensures rule of law is maintained and the Texas Constitution is protected.”

Chuck Herring, the couple’s attorney, said state officials’ attempts to alter government procedures for obtaining marriage licenses will not ultimately prevent same-sex marriages.

“It’s obviously punitive and retaliatory and it makes no sense to change the system of government we have in Texas, including local control and local authority,” Herring said. “We all know the U.S. Supreme Court is the court that is going to decide any remaining issues concerning the constitutionality of same-sex marriage prohibition.”

Paxton’s filing is without merit and will not effectively void the couple’s marriage, according to Herring.

“We think it is a backdoor attempt to attack the validity of a marriage that has already occurred,” Herring said. “The case is over. The marriage is over and done. Our clients are married and very happy.”

Lawmakers file bills to move marriage license distribution to Secretary of State's office

Sarah Goodfriend (left) and Suzanne Bryant celebrate their marriage at The Highland Club on Thursday evening. A public celebration centered around the couple, who obtained Texas’ first same-sex marriage license.
Sarah Goodfriend (left) and Suzanne Bryant celebrate their marriage at The Highland Club on Thursday evening. A public celebration centered around the couple, who obtained Texas’ first same-sex marriage license.

One day after the Travis County clerk issued a marriage license to a same-sex couple, two state lawmakers filed bills that would grant the secretary of state the power to issue marriage licenses rather than county clerks.

Sen. Charles Perry (R-Lubbock) and Rep. Cecil Bell (R- Mongolia) filed legislation in the House and Senate that would make the secretary of state the only official who would be allowed to issue marriage licenses. Currently, couples can obtain marriage licenses from individual county clerk’s offices.

The secretary of state would maintain the right to authorize certain county clerks to continue the issuance of marriage licenses under the secretary’s supervision.

Sarah Goodfriend and Suzanne Bryant married Thursday, making them the first same-sex couple to get married in Texas. Hours after the ceremony, the Texas Supreme Court, under the order of Attorney General Ken Paxton, issued a stay that prevented other same-sex couples in Texas from marrying.

Perry said, in a statement, his bill will work to protect marriage as defined in the Texas Constitution —  “the union of one man and one woman.”

“Yesterday, Travis County officials acted in direct conflict with the Texas Constitution,” Perry said in a statement. “[SB] 673 ensures rule of law is maintained and the Texas Constitution is protected.”

According to the bill, the secretary of state withholds the right to “withdraw authorization” of a county clerk if they issue a license to a same-sex couple.

The bill prevents local funds from being used to license, register, certify or support a same-sex marriage or to enforce an order to recognize a same-sex marriage. It also prohibits a government official from recognizing a same-sex marriage.

Equality Texas issued an action report in response to the legislation, calling for Texans to urge elected officials to oppose the bills.

“Tell Sen. Charles Perry and Rep. Cecil Bell that Texas and Texans respect the constitution, respect the rule of law, and respect the right of loving couples to make their own decisions absent unnecessary government intervention,” the statement said.  

Suzanne Bryant (left) and Sarah Goodfriend hold up their marriage license after a press conference on Thursday afternoon. They became the first same-sex couple to marry in Texas on Thursday morning.
Photo Credit: Mariana Munoz | Daily Texan Staff

Updated (5:14 p.m.): According to Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir, the marriage of Suzanne Bryant and Sarah Goodfriend is valid despite the Texas Supreme Court issuing a stay order for the trial court ruling.

 

"The Texas Supreme Court order on the Motion for Temporary Relief has stayed further proceedings in the trial court, and is not directed at the County Clerk," DeBeauvoir said. "I have every reason to believe that the actions I took this morning were legally correct based on the trial court's order and that the license my office issued was then and now valid. There is no further action for me to take at this time."

 

Updated (4:10 p.m.): The Texas Supreme Court granted Paxton’s request for a stay in the trial court rulings regarding the constitutionality of same-sex marriage.

“The Texas Supreme Court has granted a stay of two trial court rulings that Texas’ constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages violates constitutional protections to equal protection and due process of law,” Osler McCarthy, staff attorney and public information contact for Texas Supreme Court, said in a statement. “Motions to stay orders by two Travis County judges, one in a probate case and the other a temporary-restraining order granting a same-sex couple a marriage license, were sought by the Texas Attorney General’s Office.”

Since Goodfriend was diagnosed with ovarian cancer last May, the Travis County Court decided her condition warranted the licensing. Of the two daughters, Goodfriend adopted one, and Bryant adopted the other. If Goodfriend were to die without being legally married to Bryant, Bryant's adopted daughter would not receive certain provisions. For this reason, the court decided to bypass the 72-hour stay on the Tuesday decision and issue the license immediately.

Bryant and Goodfriend attended a press conference to discuss their marriage Thursday.

“This is bittersweet for us because there are many other Texans who would like to be able to have their loving, committed relationship recognized,” Goodfriend said.

When Bryant and Goodfriend asked whether they thought the attorney general would step in and nullify their marriage, Bryant said they are not concerned.

“We can’t control what the AG office wants to do,” Bryant said. “If they want to come in and try and undo this, they will. But we have a valid marriage license, and I don’t think they can.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas congratulated Bryant and Goodfriend following the announcement that the couple were the first same-sex couple to marry legally in Texas.

“Now, it’s time for other loving couples across our state to have the same chance to celebrate,” Anna Núñez, communications coordinator for ACLU of Texas, said in an email. “We call upon Governor Abbott and Attorney General Paxton to stop wasting taxpayer money to defend Texas’ unconstitutional marriage ban. Let the people marry!”

Updated (2:30 p.m.): Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has requested that the state's Supreme Court block a ruling that allowed an Austin same-sex couple to marry.

Paxton said in a statement Thursday the ruling was not in line with the Texas Constitution.

"The law of Texas has not changed and will not change due to the whims of any individual judge or county clerk operating on their own capacity anywhere in Texas," Paxton said. "Activist judges don’t change Texas law, and we will continue to aggressively defend the laws of our state and will ensure that any licenses issued contrary to law are invalid."

Updated (10:12 a.m.): Two days after Travis County Judge Guy Herman ruled Tuesday that Texas’ ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional, two Austin women, Sarah Goodfriend and Suzanne Bryant, were legally married outside the Travis County Clerk's Office early Thursday morning. The two women are the first same-sex couple to get married in the state of Texas. 

State district judge David Wahlberg ordered Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir to grant the marriage license after a county judge ruled that the state ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional earlier this week.

Same-sex marriage licenses are still not widely available in Travis County. The clerk's office will only grant additional marriage licenses to same-sex couples if those licenses are court-ordered, office representatives said.

Rabbi Kerry Baker, an Austin-based rabbi who has known Goodfriend and Bryant for more than two decades, performed the marriage ceremony. Baker said he was aware of the historic nature of the marriage.

“Of course it’s an historic moment, and that’s always remarkable when you can be involved in history as it’s being made, but frankly, my relationship with Sarah and Suzanne is not about two people who are making history,” Baker said. “They’re my friends. They’re my fellow congregants. That’s what comes first, as a rabbi – not the history, but the impact on people’s lives.”

Baker, who provides spiritual counseling through his website “Everybody Needs a Rabbi,” said the couple contacted him Wednesday night about the possibility of getting married.

“For at least eight or so years, Sarah and Suzanne have actively been trying to get permission from the state to have an actual marriage ceremony and receive a license,” Baker said. “I got a call from them last night saying that today might be the day, so I was ready.”

Paxton said his office asked the state Supreme Court to stay Herman's ruling and ultimately overturn it.

“Texas law is clear on the definition of marriage, and I will fight to protect this sacred institution and uphold the will of Texans," Paxton said in a statement Wednesday. "The probate judge’s misguided ruling does not change Texas law or allow the issuance of a marriage license to anyone other than one man and one woman.”

Baker, who also served as Texas Hillel director from 1987 to 1997, said he wasn’t concerned about Paxton’s definition of marriage as a sacred institution.

“The attorney general, with all due respect, doesn’t know much about religion,” Baker said. “I don’t pay much attention to him on that score. And frankly, from an American point of view, I support the equal protection clause of the constitution."

Goodfriend and Bryant's two daughters, Ting, 13, and Dawn, 18, joined them at the ceremony. 

Original story: Travis County Judge Guy Herman ruled Tuesday that Texas’ ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional, but the county did not immediately begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Herman issued his ruling as part of a case in which Austin resident Sonemaly Phrasavath pushed the Travis County Probate Court to recognize her eight-year partnership with Stella Powell as a common-law marriage. Powell died last summer before her will was validated, leading to a legal dispute between Phrasavath and two of Powell’s siblings.

Although Travis County Court clerk Dana DeBeauvoir commended Herman for his decision, she has no immediate plans to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, according to a statement the County Clerk’s office released Wednesday.

“In his order, Judge Herman did not instruct the County Clerk to begin to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples,” the statement said. “The Travis County Attorney’s office is examining the order as well as the status of the current federal litigation related to marriage equality at the Fifth Circuit and in the Supreme Court.”

The ruling came Wednesday, after an hour-long hearing in the Travis County Courthouse in which Phrasavath argued against the prohibition on same-sex marriage.

Brian Thompson, Phrasavath’s attorney, said he interpreted the ruling to mean same-sex marriage is now legal in Travis County.

“I don’t see why the county clerk doesn’t rely on [the ruling] to start issuing marriage licenses,” Thompson said. “Every single day that goes by that we don’t have marriage equality in the state of Texas is an opportunity lost.”

Herman’s ruling allows DeBeauvoir to immediately issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, according to Thompson. 

LGBT advocacy group Equality Texas issued a statement Wednesday urging DeBeauvoir to begin issuing licenses immediately.

“Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir previously stated she would be happy to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples once the law allows for it,” said Chuck Smith, executive director of Equality Texas. “The law in Travis County now allows for the freedom to marry. Equality Texas calls upon the county clerk to stand with us — on the right side of history.”

University students in fall 2014 hail from 226 out of 254 different Texas counties, primarily from the eastern half of the state, according to data from the Office of Institutional Reporting, Research, and Information Systems.

In both 2013 and 2014, the greatest number of UT students from each county adjusted for population came from Travis, Austin, Houston and Williamson counties — all of which are within a 200-mile radius of the University. This means that for every 201 people that live in Travis County, one person goes to UT. Austin, Houston and Williamson counties’ student numbers are 202, 221 and 275, respectively.

Student numbers were calculated by dividing each county’s population by the number of students in the county enrolled at UT.

David Laude, senior vice provost for enrollment and graduation management, said location is one of the primary reasons why many UT students are originally from Travis or Williamson counties.

“There are lots of people who don’t want to go far from home,” Laude said. “They’ll look at UT being in Austin, and they’ll realize they have this flagship university, which is literally just around the corner [and] is one of the best universities they can find for 1,000 miles in any direction.”

Kathy Ryan, associate superintendent for Austin Independent School District high schools, said many students from AISD might attend the University as a result of mentorship and school programs, especially Advise Texas.

Advise Texas, run out of the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement at UT, hires recent University graduates to advise first-generation and low-income high school students about the college application process.

“Personal connections with teachers or staff members just make [students] all the more want to go to that university,” Ryan said.

Of counties in Texas that have populations greater than 500,000 people, Fort Bend, Collin and Harris counties all top the list in the number of students who attend UT per capita. Collin County is part of the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, while Fort Bend and Harris counties help make up the city of Houston.

“Houston has always been an exceptional feeder for UT,” Laude said. “I think that once students are looking at the options for universities to attend, and they’re looking for a university of high-caliber, UT-Austin, being two-and-a-half to three hours away, affords a really great opportunity for them.”

Laude said when students have prominent universities in their hometowns that are farther from the city of Austin, they become less likely to attend UT. He said this is why high school students in El Paso — which has a per capita rate more than 4.5 times that of Travis County — may opt to enroll at UT-El Paso over UT-Austin.

To reach out to more high school students in the El Paso area, associate director of admissions Caroline Enriquez said the University opened the El Paso Admissions Center in 2011.

“We also host events for high school counselors in the fall and prospective students at different points in the admissions process to recruit them to apply and celebrate them when they’re admitted,” Enriquez said in an email.

Although there are fewer students who attend UT from El Paso than Travis County, Laude said undergraduates from El Paso tend to be more successful at the University than those who don’t travel too far from home to go to school.

“If you look at students here in the city of Austin or from Williamson County, they are less likely to live in a dorm,” Laude said. “One of the ideas about what promotes success is the building of community on campus.”

According to Laude, students who live on campus have more time to integrate into campus life, while those who live at home may not.

“If you live up in Cedar Park, you [could be] responsible for taking care of your little brother in the afternoon,” Laude said. “So when you drive into school in the morning [to] go to class and then leave in the afternoon, it decreases the likelihood that you’re going to be able to develop that relationship with the campus.”

Over the winter break, three former student-athletes will face criminal court hearings. Below is an update on their cases:

Sanders and Meander

The preliminary hearings for former Texas football players Kendall Sanders and Montrel Meander, both of whom were charged with second-degree felonies for sexual assault, have been rescheduled for 9 a.m. on Dec. 5 and Dec. 15, respectively, according to Travis County court records. Both cases have been rescheduled multiple times since the players’ first scheduled court date in August.

If convicted, they could face a sentence of up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000. According to Travis County Clerk Grace Ramirez, it could take up to a year before the players are indicted and the cases
move forward.

Sanders and Meander were originally arrested July 24 after allegedly sexually assaulting a female student in a campus dorm on June 21. Immediately following the arrests, Texas head coach Charlie Strong suspended both players from the team for an indefinite amount of time. He announced on Aug. 3 that they had been dismissed from the team because of the charges brought against them.

Bail was set at $75,000 for both Meander and Sanders for one count of sexual assault each. Sanders has an additional bail of $20,000 for a charge of improper photography.

Martez Walker

After being rescheduled multiple times, the hearing for former basketball guard Martez Walker, who is charged for alleged assault with injury and criminal trespass, is scheduled for Dec. 19 at 9:30 a.m., according to Travis County court records.

Head coach Rick Barnes suspended Walker from the team on Sept. 12 after Walker allegedly hit his girlfriend in an incident at San Jacinto Residence Hall, according to a statement released by the University. Walker turned himself in at the Travis County Courthouse after the incident, and a judge issued an arrest warrant in which bond was set at $7,500.

While banned, Walker reappeared on campus less than a week later, when he was arrested for trespassing by returning to the dormitory where the alleged assault occurred. He was taken into custody by UTPD and transported to Travis County Jail.

University officials confirmed on Oct. 9 that Walker had withdrawn from the University.

This election season’s early voting turnout increased by only 39 votes on campus since the last gubernatorial and midterm election in 2010. 

This year marked the start of new changes in Austin: City elections were moved from May to November to coincide with state and federal elections, and the Austin City Council was restructured from six citywide members to 10 members, each representing geographic districts. Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir said she thought the new districts in Austin, as well as the county’s updated ballot, would increase voter turnout. 

“This ballot is kind of a record breaker,” DeBeauvoir said. “It’s the longest ballot we have ever had, and it is new in the sense that it’s the first time that the City of Austin has done single-member districts. It’s the first time that we’ve had all of our large local entities on the November ballot. This is all brand new for Travis County voters.”

Max Patterson, director of Hook the Vote, a Student Government agency focused on increasing student voter turnout, said he thought the publicity of this year’s race would increase the number of early voters at the University. At the Flawn Academic Center, 6,164 voters cast their ballot, compared to 6,125 in 2010. 

“You would think that they would be a little bit higher, and I think they will be on Election Day, as opposed to in 2010 just because it’s a little bit more popular race,” Patterson said. “More people know about it.”

According to DeBeauvoir, she expected voter turnout in Travis County to be higher with the new system. 

“That is a nice turnout, right in line with the usual gubernatorial turnout,” DeBeauvoir said. “We were hoping for a little better this time around.”

Compared to other Travis County poll locations, the FAC poll location ranked eighth in voter turnout. The lowest early poll numbers are at the Dell Valle Administration Building which totaled 395 voters, with the poll closed on the final voting day. The highest early turnout in the county was at Randall’s on Research Boulevard and Braker Lane with 13,706 voters. 

Despite the similar early voting rates, Patterson said he saw more participation by students in this gubernatorial race. 

“I think we saw, not necessarily in Hook the Vote but in other organizations that have gotten involved in the political process — there’s a number of political organizations on campus, but I think we’ve seen a lot more membership, a lot more action, in them,” Patterson said.

Neurobiology senior Morgan Merriman said she tries to keep her friends accountable and politically involved. Merriman said she thinks low student voter turnout is definitely a problem.

“Civic engagement in general is really important to being a citizen in America, and exercising our right to vote is the most important duty that we have,” Merriman said. “Students who don’t participate aren’t putting their say into their own future.”

Alex Keimig, human development and family sciences sophomore, said her friends all encourage each other to continue to be politically involved and vote.

“Most of my friends are civically/politically engaged, but more so my long distance friends than my local ones,” Keimig said in an email. “We’re all pretty personally motivated to stay engaged, so we support each other but don’t really need to push.”

Merriman said voting at the FAC was ideal location-wise.

“I early voted out of convenience since I am in another district and the place I would have to vote on Election Day is really far out,” Merriman said

Even with the convenience of on-campus voting, Merriman said she didn’t see many other voters at the polls.

“I don’t think the student voting turnout was high because there was literally no line at all ever,” Merriman said. “Students should start caring now about voting because it is our future, which is coming up really quickly, that we are voting for.”

DeBeauvoir said she is expecting about 150,000 people to vote in Travis County on Tuesday, consistent with Election Day turnout in previous years.

Lizeth Urdiales, finance and Mexican American studies sophomore, speaks Tuesday night about issues with Travis County’s Secure Communities policy.

Photo Credit: Graeme Hamilton | Daily Texan Staff

After entering into its first debate of the school year, the Student Government passed a resolution voicing its opposition to Travis County’s Secure Communities policy in a 24-8 vote at a meeting Tuesday.

According to the resolution, which cites the National Conference of State Legislatures, “Secure Communities” is a program implemented to remove unauthorized immigrants who are convicted of an especially violent crime. The resolution also states 82 percent of the people convicted and deported in Travis County under Secure Communities are nonviolent.

The resolution argues that students who are undocumented or who have undocumented parents are limited on campus because they or their family are at risk for detainment if they make any law violation.

“It kind of scares me — not knowing about it now — because I had my parents over on Sunday because it was my birthday yesterday,” said Jonathan Zapeta, an undeclared freshman whose parents are undocumented. “If I had previously known that them getting a minor infraction could have led to a deportation, I would have told them to just stay away.”

At the meeting, representatives from the League of United Latin American Citizens’ UT chapter and other students affected by the Secure Community policy voiced their support for the SG resolution.

“It is also good for everyone to understand the issues that face the Latin American community both in terms of their safety and their perceptions of safety,” said Christian Umbria Smith, LULAC vice president and a government and sociology senior. 

Lizeth Urdiales, international relations and global studies sophomore and one of the resolution’s authors, said she attends the University through the U.S. government’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which she said limits her student experience.  

“I do not partake in partying or anything else unless I am a designated driver because if I am caught drinking — despite the fact that I have a Social Security number and a work permit — it can be removed,” Urdiales said. 

Sergio Cavazos, College of Liberal Arts representative and one of the resolution’s authors, said the resolution has been altered drastically since it was first submitted to SG. After discussing grammatical errors in-depth, the assembly voted to open the floor to debate.

The major topic of debate was the wording of a statement that suggested UT students had been deported under the policy, although there are no records indicating this.

“I haven’t been able to find anything regarding the deportation of anyone associated with UT,” said Edward Banner, Cockrell School of Engineering
representative.

Cavazos said the authors kept the word “deportation” in the resolution because the policy does deport some members of the community and could possibly result in the deportation of UT students.

The assembly changed the wording to “detainment and/or possible deportation.”

SG will send the resolution to the Travis County Commissioners Court for consideration.

Correction: An earlier version of this editorial misstated the start date of enforcement of the Secure Communities Program in Travis County. It actually began in 2009.  

The Orwellian-named Secure Communities Program conducted by the Immigrations & Customs Enforcement Department in conjunction with local law enforcement entities, including the Travis County Sheriff’s Office, provides for anything but. The program allows for these entities to share the names of people accused of crimes and being detained so that, if the defendants are undocumented immigrants, deportation proceedings may begin. Never mind that most of these deportees are not suspected of violent crimes and never mind that we are ostensibly innocent until proven guilty in this country.

This brazen violation of due process has rightly been denounced already by the Austin City Council, unanimously, this past summer. On Tuesday, Student Government will vote on a similar resolution, urging the Travis County Commissioners Court to put an end to this wasteful and hurtful program.

The program, which originated in the Bush administration but was revved up following President Barack Obama’s taking office, is “a simple and common sense way to carry out ICE’s priorities,” according to ICE’s website, which also adds that ICE “[prioritizes] the removal of individuals who present the most significant threats to public safety as determined by the severity of their crime.”

But studies on the program’s effectiveness and implementation suggest it neither fulfills its titular promise (making the community safe) nor prioritizes the removal of dangerous criminals. Some 82 percent of deportees under the program, by some accounts, are non-criminals, without a conviction in any crime. Pertinent studies have also made a compelling case that it does not deter crime one bit. Rather, all this program does is continue the criminalization of immigrants and allow a president desperate for support to pander to one of the lowest common denominators of the electorate, xenophobes and nativists.

Accordingly, we strongly urge SG to pass the anti-Secure Communities resolution and hope this similarly applies pressure on the commissioners to end this misguided practice in the near future.

Since this program first began in Travis County in 2009, nearly $4 million have been wasted deporting an average of 19 people per week, the vast majority of whom have not been convicted of anything, much less a violent crime of any persuasion. Sheriff Greg Hamilton has insisted time and again that he is compelled to abide by these federal mandates, but ICE’s own website clearly states “Secure Communities imposes no new or additional requirements on state and local law enforcement.”

In any case, we hope unified messages from SG and the commissioners could clear up the ambiguity.