Under a proposal from Council Member Laura Morrison, the city would express support "for efforts to provide services" to unaccompanied minors from Central America who are illegally crossing the Texas border.
Morrison also wants the city to work with other government agencies and community groups to identify resources and funding to help such children. City staffers would have to report back to the council by late September.
The city and social service nonprofits might be able to provide temporary housing, medical care, legal help or other services, she said.
"One important piece of this is symbolism," she said. "Some cities have taken a proactive approach to say they do not want to welcome these children. I want to make sure we are welcoming."
A separate proposal from City Council Member Sheryl Cole would ask city staffers to study the possibility of creating a city-issued ID card, which could be helpful to migrants who need a form of identification to avoid arrest, detainment and deportation.
The City Council will vote on both proposals Thursday.
Helping migrant children
Since the fall, more than 57,000 unaccompanied minors have tried to cross the border, a sharp spike from the prior year. They are being held in detention facilities as they await court hearings. Many came from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala to escape high rates of poverty and violence.
Some cities, including Marble Falls, have passed resolutions saying they refuse to house such migrants -- even if the federal government hasn't asked them to.
Austin Interfaith -- a coalition of congregations, schools, unions and nonprofits -- has been pressing Austin officials and other local entities to help identify public and private resources to help house and support unaccompanied minors.
"These are the most vulnerable among us, and we have the wealth in this community to provide housing and connect them with health services and clinics and social and behavioral support," said Kurt Cadena-Mitchell, an Austin Interfaith leader and a member of Wildflower Unitarian Universalist Church, which has been collecting food, clothes and other goods for migrant children.
"The city shouldn't shoulder the entire cost of any expense. For this to work, it has to be partnerships," Cadena-Mitchell said.
In 2005, the city of Austin housed more than 4,000 evacuees of Hurricane Katrina at the Austin Convention Center, setting up a city-within-a-city there, with a library, computers, showers, cafeteria and more. Then-Mayor Will Wynn later said that Austin spent $8 million on the immediate response to Katrina and $17 million on rental assistance for evacuees for six months.
Morrison said she doesn't necessarily see Austin setting up that kind of full-scale shelter operation for unaccompanied minors.
But the city might work with social service and housing groups to provide short-term housing until the kids are placed in foster care or sent to live with relatives, she said.
Travis County Republican Party Chairman James Dickey said his group applauds the "compassionate" efforts of private groups to gather goods and services for unaccompanied minors.
"However, given the property tax and affordability crisis we already have in Austin, it is unwise for the City Council to further increase costs on Austin residents" by hosting children from across the border, he said.
Looking at ID cards
A handful of other cities, including New Haven, Conn., and San Francisco, offer municipal ID cards to residents, regardless of their immigration status.
Not having a government-issued ID can be a barrier for immigrants, homeless people and sometimes seniors to applying for and receiving housing, health care, education, bank accounts and other basic services, said Cole, the Austin City Council member.
Nearly one-fifth of Austin's population, or about 150,000 people, is foreign-born, Cole said.
Migrants who are stopped by police can be asked for personal identification, and those who can't provide it can be taken into custody, detained and possibly deported, said Carlota Garcia, a leader with Austin Interfaith.
"We are hoping that this will be a way for people to access an ID card that will be acceptable to local law enforcement," Garcia said.
Under her proposal, Cole wants to convene a stakeholder group to talk to other cities, discuss other issues associated with starting the ID programs and report back to the council about their work by Dec. 1. Cole would like to see a city ID card available next year.
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