Grassroots Leadership Blog

Immigrant rights advocates rally at the Texas Capitol to protect in-state tuition for DREAMers

By guest blogger Marlon Saucedo, who recently joined our Austin staff as an intern and will be blogging at Texas Prison Bid'ness

A crowd of over 300 people rallied on February 11 in front of the Capitol to advocate in support for immigration reform aimed towards the benefit of the immigrant community.

“It is important for you all to educate yourselves on the economy so that you know how many dollars our children are paying in college. $42 million is how much we and our families contribute to our colleges,” said Ramon Romero Jr., one of several state representatives who spoke during the event.

Much of the rally was specifically in opposition to legislative action that would repeal House Bill 1403 and Senate Bill 1528, which grant in-state tuition and a claim to residency for higher education to immigrant students, respectively.

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Texas’ Civil Commitment Program Stymied By Scandal Over Bias Allegations and Housing Crisis

In the past four months, District Judge Michael Seiler of Montgomery County has been recused from hearing eight civil commitment cases due to allegations of bias. These eight cases accounted for half of the sixteen petitions in total made by defense attorneys to have him removed from proceedings. Read more about Texas’ Civil Commitment Program Stymied By Scandal Over Bias Allegations and Housing Crisis

Seven things to know about uprising at Texas private prison for immigrants

2009 "Tent City" Protest This weekend, a private prison incarcerating immigrant prisoners in Willacy County, Texas erupted into a major uprising.  While most of the media over the weekend has focused narrowly on the uprising itself (with some notable exceptions, including this excellent article from Fusion), incarcerated immigrants and advocates have for years been warning that these prisons are tinderboxes of horrendous conditions waiting to explode (and at times have already done so).  Here are some things about the Willacy County Correctional Center and the context of incarcerating immigrants in substandard private prisons that has made these facilities so very dangerous.  
 
1) The Willacy facility was so plagued with abuse and mismanagement that ICE ended its contract.  The Willacy County Correctional Center was formerly an Immigration and Customs Enforcment (ICE) contracted detention center where sexual and physical abuse and medical neglect were so rampant that ICE ended its contract in 2011.  Immigration advocates regularly protested the facility and a Maria Hinojosa-reported exposé for Frontline was one of the many pieces denoting the appalling conditions at Willacy.  
 
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Humpday Hall of Shame: Another Texas county removes face-to-face jail visits

We are disappointed to learn that Denton is the newest Texas county to eliminate face-to-face visitation between those incarcerated at the county jail and their loved ones.  Like Travis and Bastrop counties, Denton County is now forcing "visitors" to use a video visitation system provided by Dallas-based Securus Technologies which charges users up to $20 for 20 minute "visits."  Consistent with reports from other counties, the system in Denton is sub-par.  "It was very choppy and pixelated, and at times where it would cut off completely and say it's trying to reconnect us," said one user.  Shame on Securus and Denton County for extorting those who are committed to mainting face-to-face ties with their loved ones by forcing them to pay for a system that doesn't work.  If you're as angry as we are, we invite you to join us for a protest at Denton County Jail next Thursday, February 26th and to sign and share this petition to Denton County Commissioners demanding that they find a way to restore in-person visitation.  

Just as we were about to pull our hair out learning of the news from Denton, our partners at the Prison Policy Initiative released this series of hilarious videos that shine a spotlight on the very complaints that we hear from those who have been forced to use video visitation services.  We applaud and give thanks to those who can use humor to shed light on these disgraceful practices and feel hopeful that messages like the ones below are the keys to making the ills of video visitation something everyone can relate to.     

 

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Welcome Lauren Johnson!

Grassroots Leadership is ecstatic to welcome Lauren Johnson to our team!  Lauren is our very first Criminal Justice Advocacy and Mobilization Fellow, a new initiative to create leadership experiences during the Texas legislative session for individuals who have been impacted by the criminal justice system.  Lauren will be supporting the Criminal Justice team with our Texas Prison Closures and Video Visitation campaigns.  

Lauren Johnson is a native Austinite and currently serves as a board member with Conspire Theatre. Conspire  does theater and creative writing with women who have been impacted by incarceration. Lauren studied business communications with the University of Phoenix and is an active member of the X-Offenders Council, as well as the Travis County Reentry Planning Council. She is committed to being a voice for the people who don't know that they have one.

Lauren can be reached at LJohnson@GrassrootsLeadership.org

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Humpday Hall of Shame: Human Resources laurels for Securus' inhumane corporate practices

This week's Humpday Hall of Shame is written for us by guest blogger Jorge Renaud, policy analyst with the Texas Criminal Justice Coaliton


Words matter, as do the accolades we give to each other to recognize achievement and progress. Both must be grounded in an agreed-upon understanding of terms. Otherwise, we have a grotesquerie similar to the one achieved when Henry Kissinger – whose idea to deescalate the Vietnam War by bombing Cambodia resulted in 40,000 deaths there – was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1973.

An entity named DallasHR saw fit to award its 2014 Human Resource Executive of the Year Award to Kate Lengvel, a vice president in Human Resources for Securus Technology. If your memory needs refreshing, Securus is the Dallas-area company that provides telephone and video services to a bunch of U.S. jails and prisons and also trumpets a product line called Satellite Tracking of People (STOP). This latest is reminiscent of a long-time Texas tradition whereby ranchers staple identifying markers to the ears of their cattle to keep accurate counts of their herds, and it’s pretty well indicative of what Securus does – dehumanize incarcerated individuals and their families, all for profit.

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ICYMI: Bob Libal tells the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights what's wrong with immigrant detention (video)

Last week, we tuned in to watch Grassroots Leadership's own Bob Libal testify before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights about the monstrous U.S. immigrant detention system. He told the Commission that the system was too dependent on for-profit private prisons and that all types of human rights abuses fester in this massive system.  Read more about ICYMI: Bob Libal tells the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights what's wrong with immigrant detention (video)

Private Corrections Institute Announces Annual Awards for Activism, Advocacy and News Reporting Related to Private Prisons

Today, the Private Corrections Institute (PCI), a non-profit citizen watchdog organization, announced its 2014 awards for individual activism, organizational advocacy and excellence in news reporting related to the private prison industry. PCI opposes the privatization of correctional services, including the operation of prisons, jails and other detention facilities by for-profit companies. Read more about Private Corrections Institute Announces Annual Awards for Activism, Advocacy and News Reporting Related to Private Prisons

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