Interim Police Chief Brian Manley said the Austin Police Department will now allow officers to ask detainees about their immigration status.
The policy changes come a day after a federal court ruling allowed portions of Senate Bill 4, the controversial “sanctuary cities” ban, to go into effect.
“We will maintain a policy that our officers will not detain someone solely for the purpose of determining their immigration status,” Manley said at a news conference Tuesday. “That will remain against policy. However, officers that have lawfully detained or arrested an individual for a separate offense may make an inquiry into their immigration status, with a few limitations.”
Manley said officers will still be barred from asking immigration questions to victims or witnesses of crimes, except under specific circumstances.
The department’s new rules also say it will honor detention requests Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials place on people under police custody, but Manley said he doesn’t believe that issue will arise often.
“ICE detainers are not normally something that come across to the Austin Police Department or other municipal police departments. I do not expect that that will change, and I do not expect that our officers will be receiving information on ICE detainers during stops and detentions,” Manley said.
The new policy also says the department will assist federal immigration agencies when requested.
The department will require officers to get approval from a supervisor before providing the assistance, and give guidance to supervisors for things to consider when deciding whether officers can help.
Even with the policy changes, Manley said not having proof of legal immigration status if questioned does not constitute an arrestable offense for Austin police.
“We are not in the business of enforcing federal civil immigration law,” he said. “Officers have the authority under SB 4 to ask someone their immigration status, (but) the person they’ve stopped is not required to answer that question, and our policy absolutely outlines that.”
Manley urged members of the Austin’s immigrant community to continue to trust and work with Austin police, saying it is still just as important for those who are victims of crime, or who witness others being victimized, to come forward.
“The Austin Police Department stands for your safety along with everyone else, and this uniform means that we are concerned about your safety, not your status,” he said.
Attorney General Ken Paxton announced late Tuesday that his office is now accepting complaints about cities and counties that don’t comply with SB 4.
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