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Austin’s immigrant advocates are optimistic about a Biden administration—but experts caution patience
Local immigration advocates expect that, very soon after President-elect Joe Biden is inaugurated on Jan. 20, he will begin overturning federal policies implemented during the Trump administration. And then they expect demand for immigrant legal services in Austin to jump.
"We should see an immediate influx," said Justin Estep, director of immigration legal services at Catholic Charities of Central Texas.
In particular, Estep and other local advocates expect Biden to reinstate Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, which allows certain undocumented individuals who were brought to the U.S. as children to receive a renewable two-year period of deferred action from deportation and become eligible for a work permit.
The Trump administration attempted to stop the program, prompting the U.S. Supreme Court to rule in July that it must be reinstated. However, the Department of Homeland Security then announced that it would reject all requests associated with DACA and limit the period of renewed deferred action to one year.
Once in office, Biden will be able to overturn the Trump-era changes relatively easily, with a memo, said Sarah Pierce, a policy analyst at the Migration Policy Institute.
For many Austinites, this will be a welcomed change.
Nearly one in five city residents is foreign-born, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, and the Austin-Round Rock metro has the 19th largest population of unauthorized immigrants in the country, according to a 2019 report from the Pew Research Center.
"We absolutely expect there to be some changes that make things easier for our clients," said Robert Painter, managing attorney for American Gateways, which provides immigrant legal services to low-income residents in Austin and San Antonio.
Both Painter and Estep expressed optimism that other policy changes—especially around the asylum seeking process—would come with the new administration.
But Pierce said they may be disappointed.
In particular, Trump's "Remain in Mexico" program, which allows U.S. border officers to send non-Mexican asylum seekers to Mexico as they await a ruling on their immigration claim, will be harder to undo.
Immigration was the Trump administration's top policy priority, Pierce explained. As such, his appointees helped transform the federal immigration landscape over the last four years, using multiple bureaucratic tools to "layer" policies—and making them harder to undo
"It's genius," she told Austonia.
The Biden administration, as a result, has its work cut out for it when it comes to immigration policy—not to mention managing the federal COVID response and addressing the economic fallout of the pandemic.
"Immigration will not even be in their top five priorities," Pierce said. "There's so much more going on in the country, and also immigration has never been a politically beneficial issue for the Democrats to pursue."
Despite this, she expects there to be an increase in the number of migrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border come January.
"This is a business opportunity," she said, adding that smugglers pay attention to policy changes.
Painter expects to see an increase in local demand for certain legal services, such as asylum claims, that were effectively non-starters under the Trump administration. He is also looking forward to more stability in federal immigration policy.
"It can change day-to-day," he said of the bureaucratic layering that Pierce observed, which made his clients' cases more complex.
But until Biden is in office, there is little Painter can do for his clients other than encourage them to think through their immigration status and prepare any relevant paperwork.
"The thing that we want to emphasize to all of our clients is there is no Biden administration yet," he said. "People have to be patient."
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Tesla CEO Elon Musk announced a record-setting second quarter during an earnings call broadcasted from the Giga Texas construction site in Southeast Travis County on Monday.
The electric carmaker reported more than $1 billion in quarterly net income and the production of more than 200,000 vehicles for the first time despite challenges such as a global semiconductor shortage.
"It … seems that public sentiment towards electric vehicles is at an inflection point, and at this point, I think, almost everyone agrees electric vehicles are the only way forward," Musk said.
Exterior shots taken just a while ago of Giga Texas (while @elonmusk is reportedly at the Gigafactory!) during today's earnings call!
Hope @peterdog15 got to catch the technoking in his video! #fastestinhistory #Tesla pic.twitter.com/WqeDlb5wU3
— Austin Tesla Club (@AustinTeslaClub) July 26, 2021
Despite rising consumer demand and adequate factory capacity, Tesla faces what Musk described as a "quite serious" global semiconductor shortage, which will determine the company's growth rate for the rest of the year.
With increased revenue and production, Tesla is investing in new factories, Chief Financial Officer Zachary Kirkhorn said. These include Giga Texas, the $1.1 billion manufacturing plant that broke ground last summer and is slated to open later this year.
The Giga Texas factory in Southeast Travis County has rapidly increased in size since ground broke last August. (Tesla)
Musk commended the construction team for "incredible progress," transforming what was basically a vacant site into "a mostly complete large factory a year later."
I was at Giga Texas yesterday. Team is making excellent progress. Building will be almost a mile long when complete.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) July 25, 2021
Giga Texas will produce the highly anticipated Cybertruck, along with other models, but Musk said scaling its production will be difficult, especially given the supply chain delays caused by the pandemic. "It's going to move as fast as the slowest of its up to 10,000 unique parts," he said.
In other news, Musk said Monday's earnings call would likely be his last regular appearance, only jumping on future quarterly calls when big announcements warrant it.
Tesla Solar recently made news when it announced plans to build the nation's most sustainable residential community in Southeast Austin earlier this month. The newly built homes will feature Tesla solar roof tiles and Powerwall battery storage as well as electric vehicle charging stations.
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The city of Austin released a shortlist of seven candidates for the police chief position left vacant when Brian Manley retired in March.
City Manager Spencer Cronk hopes to announce an appointment by the end of August, which will require City Council approval.
The finalists, chosen from a field of 46 applicants, include:
- APD Interim Chief Joseph Chacon, who previously served as an assistant chief in the department for almost five years
- Anne Kirkpatrick, former police chief in Oakland, California, who was fired last year after a federal monitor criticized her handling of a fatal 2018 police shooting of a homeless man
- Dallas Police Department Assistant Chief Avery L. Moore, who is a 30-year veteran of the department
- Atlanta Police Department Deputy Chief Celeste Murphy, who manages the department's community services division
- Dekalb County Police Chief Mirtha V. Ramos, who previously served as division chief in the Miami-Dade Police Department
- Wichita Police Department Chief Gordon Ramsay, who is a former president of the Minnesota Police Chief's Association as well as one of the first police chiefs of a major U.S. City to call George Floyd's death a murder, as reported by the Wichita Eagle
- Los Angeles Police Department Deputy Chief Emada E. Tingirides, who is also commanding officer of the department's newly formed Community Safety Partnership Bureau, which serves L.A.'s underserved communities
City staff will interview the finalists in the coming weeks, with several community input opportunities to come, according to a Monday press release.
The city conducted a public survey in March and hosted community input meetings in April to learn more about what residents are looking for in their next police chief, which helped shape the selection criteria for the position.
"They want to see the Chief be reform-minded and transparent and have a track record of fostering community involvement and accountability," Cronk said in the release. "The candidates selected show these characteristics in various ways."
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Days after Austin began once again recommending masks in public spaces, Austin ISD announced Monday that kindergarten through sixth-grade classes will have virtual options this fall.
The district will discuss the move in a special board meeting Monday evening starting at 5 p.m., while full details will be released Friday.
Teachers will not have to fret about the new option—no educators will have to juggle both virtual and in-person learning. Instead, certain teachers will specialize in virtual education, according to a press release.
The news comes after a recent spike in COVID cases in Travis County and across the nation. Children typically suffer fewer symptoms of COVID when contracted, but they are now catching the virus more often than their older counterparts without a vaccine available to them and as the more contagious Delta variant is quickly being spread.
While local health officials are recommending everyone wear masks, public school districts are unable to mandate masks due to an executive order issued by Gov. Greg Abbott in May.
Parents have expressed concern about classrooms with masks unenforceable and children under the age of 12 ineligible for a vaccine. Some have even said they would look for alternative schooling if AISD did not offer a virtual option for students.
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