Sanctuary City Penalties Shine Light on Intertwined Fate of Addiction and Immigration Policy

Last month, Attorney General Jeff Sessions took to the White House briefing room and announced that cities where police arrested illegal immigrants for other crimes and knowingly kept their immigration status from the federal authorities (aka sanctuary cities) would be subject to funding freezes if they continued to fail to comply with federal law. The declaration sent shockwaves through many communities and have left hundreds of thousands of people, including those who are in the country legally, wondering if the city in which they live will be able to provide basic services like police, fire and emergency response in the coming months.

Here in Austin, a known sanctuary city in close proximity to the Mexican border, such apprehension has taken the form of action as advocates have started a crowdfunding page to keep the lights on and the city running, so to speak. Organizers claim that the Trump Administration’s sanctuary city policies have already cost Travis County $1.5 million dollars that would have been used for a variety of social services, including drug courts. They also fear that the funding freeze is here to stay, and will eventually impact other services like state-run addiction treatment and mental health services in a region that sorely needs increased access.

Organizers of the campaign include supporters if Travis County’s new sheriff, Sally Hernandez who fear that the crackdown on illegal immigrants will discourage ongoing cooperation from the community on more serious crimes. They’re hoping the money gained from the fundraising efforts will go toward providing vital services like helping war vets with PTSD and parents with drug addictions get treatment and put their families back together. Austin and the rest of Travis Country have felt the impact of the nation’s opioid crisis particularly hard and is home to an increasingly large population of homeless addicts that need quality help.

The situation has created a palpable tension in the community as Hernandez and others are left to wonder just how much residents are willing to give to keep thee services going and to preserve the cooperation of Austin’s undocumented population. So far the crowdfunding campaign, which went live in early February, has raised about $136,000—less than one tenth of the lost funding. Veterans’ courts are slated to run out of money in May and Travis County hasn’t even actually lost any federal funding yet. It’s hard to ignore the prospect of these types of scenarios playing in communities all over the country with high populations of addicts in need of treatment. As political will changes, from state to state, lives may very well hang in the balance.