Why are Austin’s leaders in El Paso?

Photo from Mayor Steve Adler’s Twitter feed. CMs Delia Garza and Kathie Tovo on far right.

Yesterday at least eight of Austin’s 11 City Council members drove or flew to visit the tent city in Tornillo, near El Paso, where migrant children are being held. They joined a bunch of other leaders from other cities, including NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Yesterday I sat in on the Austin Monitor’s “Reporters Roundtable” on KOOP along with Monitor colleague Caleb Pritchard and the Chronicle’s Nina Hernandez. Caleb asked us what we thought about the Council members traveling across the state to speak about an issue that they ostensibly have no influence over. Nina said that it was important to draw attention to the situation and speak out on the issue.

This is a perennial debate in local politics. It’s important that local officials not allow national issues, which they have much less power over, to distract them from the matters in the community that they do have a big say on. On the other hand, they can’t pretend that the community they serve is a bubble; it is greatly impacted by national politics, sometimes in tangible ways (e.g. federal funding, local residents being deported) and sometimes in intangible ways (e.g. loss of faith in civic institutions, a fear that racism has become acceptable).

It’s always a hard line to draw. But it’s heartening to see so many Council members decide that this issue merited their attention. It’s one of a number of reactions to the child separation fiasco that has renewed some of my faith in this country.

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