Grassroots Leadership Blog

Welcoming University of Texas intern Ashley C. Rivera

Grassroots Leadership is pleased to welcome Ashley C. Rivera to our team this semester. 

Originally from U.S.-Mexico border town El Paso, Texas,  Ashley is an undergraduate at the University of Texas at Austin studying both Sociology and Anthropology. Ashley is also a member of the Bridging Disciplines Program which aims to offer students interdisciplinary certification in areas outside of their majors. Her areas of interest include Human Rights and Social Justice, Women’s and Gender Studies, Black and Latino Studies, Immigration, Media, Culture and Identities.

Ashley recently took interest in detention, private prisons and immigration policy following a study abroad program in Rio de Janeiro, Brasil, and is very excited to be part of a movement advocating for human rights against for-profit corporations who lobby for and profit from the criminalization and detention of migrants and other marginalized groups.

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Humpday Hall of Shame: Get with the program, feds.

Yesterday, Grassroots Leadership board member Megan Quattlebaum’s piece in the Huffington Post called out the federal government, and specifically the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), for seriously slacking on criminal justice reform. Her post, “States Lead - Will the Feds Follow?”, shines a light on the fact that while states across the country are taking steps toward progress, the federal government is shamefully lagging behind.  

One way they have fallen behind is in the treatment of women prisoners. While states like Iowa and Washington are putting the concept of “gender responsive” prison programming into practice, the BOP has closed the only minimum security facility for women in the Northeast, converting it to a prison for men only. As a result, some women were transferred far from their families and communities, making it particularly difficult for children to maintain connections to their incarcerated mothers.

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Si Kahn: Please join me to help Grassroots Leadership keep on keeping on

Dear Sisters and Brothers,

I am proud and grateful to have been a member of the Grassroots Leadership team for almost 35 years, the best sustained experience I’ve had in my almost 50 years as a civil rights, union, and community organizer.  Looking back across the years, I especially appreciate the support of people like you who have contributed from the heart to help sustain Grassroots Leadership in our long-term work around issues of racial and economic justice.  We quite literally could never have done it without you.

Today, as for the past 15 years, Grassroots Leadership initiates and supports campaigns that fight the for-profit private prison industry – an industry that preys on and profits from the pain of incarceration and detention, particularly among the poor, immigrants, and communities of color. 

For-profit incarceration simply has no place in a just society – and for 15 years Grassroots Leadership has been on the front line of the fight to end this appalling practice. 

Call for Involvement of Faith Communities in Detention Visitation Programs

Visiting Immigrant women in Detention in Taylor, Texas, came into my life at a particular time.  The first year of my return to Austin, after more than 4 years teaching in Xalapa, Mexico was rough.  Finally I turned 62 and began to receive a small income from sociasecurity– as well as land a studio apartment in a Foundations Communities property. Within weeks of moving into my own place and regaining some stability in my life, I attended an Orientation to Visitation.  Geoff Valdes, who was an old friend from when we were part of Accion Zapatista, had suggested the Hutto Visitation Program to me when I told him that I wanted to get involved with something meaningful – where I could use my Spanish.

In November of 2011 I made my first visit to Hutto, with a woman who had been visiting a woman from Guatemala for a month or so already.  After talking to me on a couple of visits, the Guatemalan woman told me that she knew a woman from Honduras who really needed a visit. That is when I met the first woman I would know from Honduras.  Then there was another woman who wanted a visitor; she was from El Salvador.  I have continued to visit, woman after woman, as ICE continues in its relentless seize and capture mission of Central American refugees.  I have never been to Central America – though some astute students of Colonial and Imperialist history of the region might allow me to count three months in Chiapas as Central America.

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Humpday Hall of Shame: Nayely is only 7 and fighting brain cancer in detention

UPDATE: Nayely and Sara were finally relased on Wednesday, September 3 after hundreds of calls poured into the facility demanding their release.

This week on Humpday Hall of Shame we are highlighting the Karnes County family detention center, which is operated by GEO Group. Beginning August 1 of this year, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) began using Karnes to hold more than 500 women and children who have recently come to the U.S. from Central America seeking refuge.

Recent reports indicate that ICE is unwilling to grant any bonds, or grants exorbitantly high bonds — even to those women with children who are able to pass a credible fear interview and qualify to apply for asylum status. According to ICE spokeswoman Nina Pruneda, bond decisions are now being made on a case-by-case basis with consideration given to flight risk and public safety.  However, the majority of the women currently being denied bond can prove that they have family members or others who are available to receive them. This new policy was handed down as a reaction to the influx of women and children fleeing from increasing violence in Central America.

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Grassroots Leadership is pleased to welcome Young Adult Volunteer Emma Randles

Grassroots Leadership is pleased to welcome Emma Randles to our Austin staff.

Emma is originally from Claremont, California and graduated from Gettysburg College in 2013 where she studied psychology and Spanish. She is very excited to have been placed at Grassroots Leadership for her assignment as a Young Adult Volunteer (YAV) for the Presbyterian Church (USA). The YAV program is an opportunity for young people to serve others both internationally and domestically while they focus on social justice issues, community connection, simple living, and vocational discernment. 

“I first became aware of the massive injustice surrounding the national immigration policies as a senior in high school,” she says, “and after many years of wondering how to approach effecting change, working with Grassroots Leadership feels like a concrete step towards bringing about a shift towards a more just system.”

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Humpday Hall of Shame: Travis County's million dollar deportation program

Travis County Sheriff Greg Hamilton submitted an unfunded budget request totaling more than $7.4 million this summer. In response, the Travis County Commissioners Court asked him to put the request in priority order. Those priorities totaled $1.8 million dollars, and included things such as more mental health counselors at the jail, and other staff as well as license plate readers, fingerprint technology, and other upgrades.
Sheriff Hamilton and his top officers testified about the need for this budget increase — for a budget that already totals more than $153 million — on Wednesday August 13, where he was met with more than 30 people protesting his continued compliance with the federal mass deportation program.
Missing from the discussion were the millions of dollars the Travis County Sheriff's Office is spending by detaining immigrants for Immigration and Customs Enforcement through the "Secure Communities" program. 
Today we released a report showing that the Travis County Sheriff's Office has spent more than $3.8 million in the last two years holding people in the jail for ICE.

Families for families: The fight against detaining immigrant families begins today

This Saturday, Grassroots Leadership joined more than 50 other members and supporters of the Texans United for Families coalition for a vigil at the T. Don Hutto detention center, a private prison in Taylor, Texas.  The vigil marked the 5th anniversary of the long but successful campaign to end the shameful practice of detaining immigrant families — including small children — at the facility.  

The mood was solemn at the vigil as protesters were confronted with the renewal of mass family detention of refugee children and families from Central America.  The Obama Administration has announced the opening of a family detention center in Artesia, New Mexico and has begun detaining families at a GEO Group-operated facility in Karnes County, Texas. The administration has asked for funding for up to 6,300 family detention beds across the country.  

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#TBT: When a movement helped end family detention at T. Don Hutto

In the last month, the reaction to the rise in refugee children and families from Central America at the southern border has been decidedly mixed.  On one hand, faith groups and residents of border communities have rallied to provide relief for migrants often badly depleted after a long and dangerous journey.  On the other hand, vigilantes and their political allies have used the humanitarian crisis to call for an even more militarized border and draconian enforcement efforts.   Read more about #TBT: When a movement helped end family detention at T. Don Hutto

Humpday Hall of Shame: Corrections Corp. of America wants to lock up your puppy?

Private prison company Corrections Corporation of America has long been accused of caging incarcerated people like animals for a profit.  Now the private prison giant — founded on the simple principle that prisons could be sold "just like you were selling hamburgers" — is looking to branch into a new market — building an animal shelter for a Florida county.

With CCA's track record of staff misconduct, squalid conditions, and unsafe prisons for people incarcerated in its facilities, we aren't optimistic this is will turn out well for the animals of the Citrus County.  Here are the details from GTN News in Gainesville:

Citrus County and Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) are considering a partnership to build a new animal shelter. The county says there is a definite need for the new facility.

Citrus County Spokesperson, Tobey Phillips, says, "Space issues-- we have-- we need new runs for the animals, we have kennels that are being doubled up, it's just this facility has been here for a while and we've made it work, but we need a new facility."

The CCA's proposal says the company will handle the logistics and building the facility, but the county has to foot the $2.8 million bill. 

Phillips says, "The county pays CCA a per diem rate per inmate. So CCA's proposal is to increase that per diem rate to cover financing."

 The proposal suggests upping that per diem rate by $5.25, meaning each inmate could now cost the county just over $74 per month. If the new facility is build it will be on county property right next door to the jail. The CCA and the county agree this could be a benefit because inmates could help with the upkeep. Read more about Humpday Hall of Shame: Corrections Corp. of America wants to lock up your puppy?