Grassroots Leadership In The News

May 10, 2017
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The San Antonio Current

Will Texas Lawmakers License "Baby Jails" For Asylum-Seeking Families?

This week, Texas lawmakers advanced a bill crafted by for-profit prison interests that would license lockups for asylum-seeking immigrant families as child care providers.

Senate Bill 1018, which would lower state standards for two South Texas immigrant detention centers so they can qualify as Texas-approved "family residential centers," passed its first hurdle in the Texas Senate on Tuesday with a 20-11 vote along party lines. Immigrant rights advocates opposed to it say it's just the state's latest attempt to help keep the family lockups open as federal court orders threaten to shutter them. Democratic lawmakers fighting the bill say it would license "baby jails." 

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The feds' last foray into family detention was at the infamous T. Don Hutto detention center in central Texas that was run by CCA. There, immigration lawyers and human rights activists complained of children dressed in prison-like jumpsuits and kept in small cells for 14 hours a day. A legal challenge by the ACLU ultimately forced the feds to pull children out of Hutto in 2009, citing a longstanding legal settlement that was supposed to bar the feds from ever again holding immigrant kids in a prison-like environment. 

Which is why lawyers challenged the practice of holding kids at Dilley and Karnes, sometimes for months. A year after they opened, a federal judge in California delivered a pair of court rulings that unambiguously condemned the practice of child detention, writing that the government hadn't provided "any competent evidence" to support its argument for jailing asylum-seeking families as a default measure. As part of her ruling, the judge said the feds couldn’t hold kids in facilities that aren’t licensed to house or care for children.

Advocacy groups like Austin-based Grassroots Leadership, which has criticized the conditions immigrants are housed in at Dilley and Karnes, thought the courts were on the verge of forcing an end to family detention. After all, when dealing with complaints over facilities like Hutto, the Texas Department of Family Protective Services had previously insisted it had no oversight role over private prison-run immigrant detention centers that house children in Texas and couldn't license them or hold them to a higher standard. 

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Grassroots had to sue to force Texas child welfare officials to even hold apublic hearing on the matter, which did not go particularly well for the agency. Child welfare experts, immigrant rights advocates, former immigrant detainees and even a woman born behind barbed wire in a Japanese internment camp condemned the practice of family detention and insisted state licensing would only enable a practice that's destructive to healthy child development. Mothers spoke of being separated from their children for extended periods of time and inadequate medical care. Mental health experts who'd visited the facilities spoke of children losing weight, shedding hair and exhibiting symptoms of anxiety and depression in lockup. Social workers claimed they'd been reprimanded by private prison staff for trying to help suffering mothers or children navigate the facility's grievance process. 

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Then last December, a Travis County judge blocked DFPS from licensing the child lockups, ruling that the state can't arbitrarily lower its standards in order to cover a couple of private prison facilities. 

So lobbyists with the GEO Group, which operates the Karnes detention center, decided to try another route. As the Associated Press reported last month, the company helped draft the proposal now snaking through the Texas Legislature that would give DFPS the authority to license the detention centers. Its supporters argue it's a way to ensure families aren't separated in detention; Democrats arguing against the measure in the Senate Tuesday called it a "vendor bill." 

If the bill passes a third reading in the Senate, it moves on to the state House. Still, it's unclear whether lawmakers will have enough time to send the measure to Gov. Greg Abbott's desk before the fast-approaching end of the session on May 29.

But to Grassroots executive director Bob Libal, whose group sued the state over the licensing issue, the episode constitutes just another state attempt to help private prison corporations keep alive the controversial practice of family detention.

"The push to license the family jails has never been about protecting children, but about protecting the profits of private prison companies," Libal said in a prepared statement last month. "The state should stand up to these interests and for the rights of children and reject these unjust bills." Read more about Will Texas Lawmakers License "Baby Jails" For Asylum-Seeking Families?

May 10, 2017
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teleSUR

Texas Senate Passes 'Baby Jail' Bill Backed by Prison Company

Senate Bill 1018 was advanced with a wide margin of 20-11 votes along party lines, with all the Senate Republicans voting in favor.

The Texas Senate on Tuesday passed a new bill written by the GEO group, the second-largest private prison company in the U.S., that legitimizes the existence of immigrant family detention centers as child care facilities.

The bill’s passage comes amid a slew of anti-immigrant ordinances passed by state lawmakers.

Bob Libal, executive director of Grassroots Leadership, a group that opposes mass incarceration told the Texas Observer, “It’s outrageous that the Texas Senate just passed a bill bought and paid for by private prison corporations whose sole purpose is to detain immigrant children for longer."

Senate Bill 1018 was advanced with a wide margin of 20-11 votes along party lines, with all the Senate Republicans voting in favor. Three out of four people who approved the bill were GEO members, according to America's Voice, a grassroots nonprofit organization.

The federal government uses these sub-standard family detention centers to hold women and children seeking asylum, and who are often fleeing violence in Central America. According to the federal court rulings, the centers can hold children for few weeks but the new bill would allow the detention centers to hold women and children for the duration of their asylum cases. Read more about Texas Senate Passes 'Baby Jail' Bill Backed by Prison Company

May 8, 2017
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CBN

Gov. Abbott Signs 'Sanctuary City' Ban: 'Texans Expect Us to Keep Them Safe'

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed a "sanctuary cities" ban into law on Facebook Live Sunday night. 

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Abbott designated the ban as an emergency item in January and signed the bill four days after both chambers of the state legislature gave their final approval. 

The passage is a big win for Abbott and Republicans, who advocate for stricter immigration laws.  They have tried to pass a limit on immigration every session since 2011. 

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It will ban cities, counties and universities from prohibiting their local law enforcement officers from asking about immigration status and enforcing immigration law. 

It will create a criminal charge for police chiefs, county sheriffs and constables who violate the ban, and will charge local jurisdictions up to $25,000 for each day they violate the law. 

The law will also allow police officers to ask about a person's immigration status during any legal detention, which includes traffic stops. 

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Those who support the ban say it is necessary to keep criminal immigrants off Texas streets. They argue that if officers do not turn over unauthorized immigrants they could go on to commit more serious crimes. 

Critics, however, view the matter differently.

"It seems fitting that Greg Abbott would sign this disgraceful bill on the internet on a Sunday night, far from the press and the public," Bob Libal, executive director of Grassroots Leadership, said.  Read more about Gov. Abbott Signs 'Sanctuary City' Ban: 'Texans Expect Us to Keep Them Safe'

May 7, 2017
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The Austin American Statesman

Dozens protest law banning sanctuary cities at Governor's Mansion

About 100 people gathered in protest outside the Governor’s Mansion Sunday night after Gov. Greg Abbott on Facebook Live signed into law a controversial bill that will ban so-called “sanctuary cities,” where officials decline to enforce federal immigration policies.

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Protestors carried banners and balloons and lit candles, vowing to defeat the law, which will impose penalties on law enforcement officials who do not comply with Immigration and Customs Enforcement policies.

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Representatives from the United We Dream national nonprofit, the University Leadership Initiative, Grassroots Leadership and the Workers Defense Project are all in attendance at protests Sunday night.

Abbott’s office gave little advance warning of the highly anticipated signing, which ensured that protesters could not disrupt it.

The five-minute Facebook Live video had been viewed tens of thousands of times as of Sunday evening. Read more about Dozens protest law banning sanctuary cities at Governor's Mansion

May 7, 2017
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The Austin Chronicle

Abbott Signs "Sanctuary Cities" Bill into Law

Without warning Sunday evening, Gov. Greg Abbott signed the anti-immigrant Senate Bill 4 into law.

Offering no notice to media until after he signed the bill, Abbott only issued a press release and a video of himself via Facebook defending the legislation that attacks so-called “sanctuary cities." (The term carries no legal definition but refers to, in the eyes of Abbott, any municipality that isn't acting in lockstep with federal immigration policy.) The clandestine move assured no major citizen-led protests or demonstrations – like the all day sit-in at his offices last week – would prevent the governor from ushering the “Show Me Your Papers” bill into law.

"It seems fitting that Greg Abbott would sign this disgraceful bill on the internet on a Sunday night, far from the press and the public,” said Bob Libal, executive director of Grassroots Leadership. “But we will not be bullied by this law. Communities across the state are vowing that the resistance to SB 4 is only just beginning."

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SB 4 imposes civil and criminal penalties on law enforcement leaders who fail to cooperate with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainer requests and allows police to inquire about immigration status of those that they detain. The law also allows the removal of any elected or appointed official who does not comply with the law. Two weeks ago the Texas House held a 16-hour debate on SB 4, where Democrats sought unsuccessfully to soften the extreme piece of legislation, before sending it to the Senate for final approval. The bill is often cited as racist and unconstitutional, and stood as one of Abbott’s major legislative priorities this session. Barring a court challenge, SB 4 will become law Sept. 1. Read more about Abbott Signs "Sanctuary Cities" Bill into Law

May 2, 2017
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San Antonio Express-News

Protesters blocking doors at Texas Gov. Abbott's office over 'sanctuary city' bill arrested

State troopers arrested about 20 protesters denouncing Senate Bill 4, the so-called “sanctuary cities” bill, who refused to leave a state office building after it closed at 5 p.m. Monday

Split into two groups, protesters, including immigrants, faith leaders and elected officials, locked arms and blocked both entrances of the State Insurance Building for several hours. They called on Gov. Greg Abbott to veto SB4, authored by Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock which would require local governments to cooperate with federal immigration officers and hold jail inmates, otherwise eligible for release, for possible federal detention and deportation.

The measure, authored by state Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, would require police to enforce federal immigration law by asking for the immigration status of people they detain. Opponents have called it the “show-me-your-papers” bill.

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Organized by advocacy groups ICE Out of Austin, Austin Sanctuary Network, Grassroots Leadership and RAICES, the protesters attempted to keep people from entering the building by sitting just inside the doorways for about eight hours before it closed at 5 p.m.

At one teach-in, Barbara Hines, an immigration rights attorney, questioned the constitutionality of SB 4. It could allow a person to be placed in custody for 48 hours “just because of being asked about their immigration status at a traffic stop,” Hines said.

San Antonio Police Chief William McManus is among those who have spoken out against the bill.

Police chiefs of Austin, Arlington, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston and San Antonio and the Texas Police Chiefs Association released a letter Friday predicting the bill will “lead to distrust of police, less cooperation from members of the community and will foster the belief that they cannot seek assistance from police for fear of being subjected to an immigration status investigation.” Read more about Protesters blocking doors at Texas Gov. Abbott's office over 'sanctuary city' bill arrested

May 1, 2017
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The Texas Observer

Legislature Plans to Close Four Correctional Facilities. Will They Become Immigrant Detention Centers?

The lean, mean budgets proposed by the Texas House and Senate don’t do much to inspire optimism about the coming two-year cycle. But opponents of mass incarceration have found some solace in funding cuts.

Both chambers propose closing four state correctional facilities this session — a cost-cutting measure that criminal justice reformers say is worth celebrating.

“This is extremely exciting,” said Holly Kirby, criminal justice programs director at Grassroots Leadership, an Austin nonprofit that fights mass incarceration. “We have far too many prisons in Texas, so this is definitely a step in the right direction.”

On the chopping block are Williamson County’s Bartlett State Jail, Wise County’s Bridgeport Pre-Parole Transfer Facility, Mitchell County’s Dick Ware Transfer Facility and Terry County’s West Texas Intermediate Sanction Facility. Altogether,the facilities cost the state $51.2 million every two years and hold 1,755 inmates, according to officials with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ).

The proposed prison closures aren’t yet final. The House and Senate still have to reconcile the differences in their budgets, and Governor Greg Abbott has to approve whatever compromise the chambers reach. Still, shuttering these facilities seems likely.

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It’s not hard to see why the House and Senate both suggest closing a few prisons. The state is in toughfiscal straits, and it stands to save hundreds of millions in the years to come by closing the four facilities, which aren’t needed to the extent they once were. Each of the four facilities is operating at reduced capacity, according to TDCJ Executive Director Bryan Collier. Altogether, the four units the Legislature is considering for closure can hold more than 2,000 inmates; they’re currently more than 250 prisoners shy of capacity.

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If the recommended closures clear the Legislature, the state will maintain ownership of its two prisons should it need them again, Collier said. CoreCivic and the City of Brownfield, on the other hand, are free to sell their facilities or find new prisoners. That worries Kirby and other policy advocates, who fear they could be used forimmigrant detention.

“I think it’s important that we keep a close eye on how these facilities might be repurposed,” Kirby said. “It’s common practice for privately owned facilities to get used for other populations of prisoners, like immigrants, and it’s particularly concerning in the current political climate, with talk of expanding detention.” Read more about Legislature Plans to Close Four Correctional Facilities. Will They Become Immigrant Detention Centers?

May 1, 2017
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The Austin-American Statesman

All day sit-in protest of 'sanctuary cities' bill ends in arrests

More than 20 protesters, including immigrants, students, a pair of elected officials and a Christian pastor, were arrested Monday evening after staging an all-day sit-in demonstration in the lobby of a state office building to call on Gov. Greg Abbott to veto the bill banning so-called sanctuary cities.

It’s an unlikely proposition, given that Abbott has listed signing Senate Bill 4, which would impose stiff penalties on cities and counties that decline in some way to assist federal immigration enforcement, as one of his top priorities for lawmakers this year. But the demonstrators said they wanted to send the message that the fight over the bill, which is nearing the legislative finish line after being approved by the House last week, is far from over.

“I accept that sitting in means risking arrest, but what I’m not willing to accept is the harm that Gov. Abbott and others want to inflict on immigrant communities,” Austin City Council Member Greg Casar, one of the demonstrators at the State Insurance Building just southeast of the Capitol, said before his arrest.

The building houses one of the governor’s staff offices, but Abbott was not in the building during the demonstration. His office did not respond to a request for comment about the protest, which was organized by Grassroots Leadership, an Austin nonprofit that opposes private prisons and advocates for immigrants. Read more about All day sit-in protest of 'sanctuary cities' bill ends in arrests

May 1, 2017
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KUT 90.5 Austin's NPR Station

Demonstrators Arrested After Staging Sit-In At State Office to Protest 'Sanctuary' Bill

Officers arrested demonstrators who staged an all-day sit-in Monday to protest legislation banning so-called "sanctuary" jurisdictions.

Dozens of people staged the sit-in at the Texas State Insurance Building, calling for Gov. Greg Abbott to reject Senate Bill 4, which would require cooperation with warrantless detainer requests from Immigration and Customs Enforcement.  

After nearly nine hours, protesters were told to leave by Department of Public Safety officers. Those who did not were told they'd either be cited or booked on site by a judge. Roughly 20 people were either arrested or cited.

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Abbott made the issue an emergency item for the legislative session and has publicly criticized Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez's policy regarding the warrantless requests. Abbott also pulled $1.5 million in criminal justice grants from the county because of the policy, which honors requests only if someone has been charged with murder, human trafficking or aggravated sexual assault.

The sit-in was organized by the immigrant advocacy group Grassroots Leadership. Cristina Parker, a projects coordinator for the group, said early in the day, “We’ll do what we have to do to get our message across today. We’re not leaving until they hear it or they drag us out of here.”   Read more about Demonstrators Arrested After Staging Sit-In At State Office to Protest 'Sanctuary' Bill

May 1, 2017
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KVUE

Council member Greg Casar, protesters arrested after sit-in at Governor's office

Austin City Council Member Greg Casar was among 18 protestors who were arrested Monday evening and issued citations for criminal trespassing after staging a sit-in at Governor Greg Abbott's business office.

The group staged a sit-in at the office after a morning protest at the south gate of the Capitol to speak against Senate Bill 4 (SB4).

The bill, which was passed by the Senate in February and the House of Representatives last week, will require all Texas law enforcement honor ICE detainers.

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Governor Abbott made banning "sanctuary cities" an emergency item during his State of the State address, indicating his plans to support legislation like SB4. But the protestors are asking him to instead veto the bill

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Troopers informed the group they would be cited for criminal trespassing and asked them to leave peacefully, saying they did not want to arrest them, but the protestors sat unmoved.

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Casar said he and the protestors were told because of the capacity of the jail, the magistrate had come to them. The group was processed, received citations, then released.  Read more about Council member Greg Casar, protesters arrested after sit-in at Governor's office

May 1, 2017
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CBS Austin

Austin City Council Member Greg Casar, 18 protesters cited at SB4 sit-in

Austin City Council Member Greg Casar and 18 protesters were handcuffed and cited Monday evening after they refused to leave a state office building as they protested SB 4.

The group had met at the building earlier Monday afternoon as they protested Senate Bill 4, commonly referred to as the Sanctuary Cities Bill. Protesters were attempting to convince Governor Greg Abbott to veto the bill. The building houses offices for the Governor.

At 5 p.m., the group was warned the building would be closing and were asked to leave but protesters insisted on staying, saying they preferred to be arrested. Texas DPS Troopers were on scene and a Justice of the Peace was called in to assist with the citations of the group. All protesters were cited with a Class B misdemeanor of Criminal Trespass. They were released after their citations were given. DPS warned the group they'd be arrested if they didn't leave after. Read more about Austin City Council Member Greg Casar, 18 protesters cited at SB4 sit-in

May 1, 2017
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Austin Council Member greg

Austin City Council Member Greg Casar along with nearly two dozen other people were arrested and cited for criminal trespassing after they staged a sit-in to protest Senate Bill 4 at Gov. Greg Abbott’s office Monday afternoon.

Immigrant community members, faith leaders and other elected officials were at the Texas State Capitol to protest the so-called sanctuary cities bill, which is expected to head to Abbott’s desk in a few weeks. The protest was organized to urge Abbott to veto the legislation when it gets to his desk. But if he does sign the bill into law, the group says they will continue with protests in the streets.

Once the protesters were removed from the building, the group started chanting: “Down, down with deportation. Up, up with liberation.”

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Despite passionate pleas from Democrats to stop SB 4, Republicans had the votes to push the measure through last week. During the heated debate, supporters managed to beef up the bill from the original version. House members approved anamendment from Rep. Matt Schaefer, R-Tyler, that gives police more leeway to ask about a person’s legal status. It lets a police officer ask about a person’s immigration status while they’re being detained. Some departments currently limit officers to asking those questions only after a person has been arrested and charged with a crime. Read more about Austin Council Member greg

May 1, 2017
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The Daily Texan

Protesters participate in sit-in demanding Gov. Greg Abbott to not sign 'sanctuary cities' bill

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About 50 people blocked the entrance to the State Insurance Building on Monday and demanded Gov. Greg Abbott veto the bill he has vowed to sign once it reaches his desk. During the sit-in, about 20 protesters ­— including Austin city council man Greg Casar — were given citations for trespassing, according to The Dallas Morning News.

The sit-in was organized by advocacy groups including Workers Defense Project and Grassroots Leadership. A few streets away, chants of “How do we build sanctuary? Student workers’ solidarity” resonated during an International Workers’ Day rally and walk-out at the UT Tower.

Members of the UT community demanded the UT administration declare and establish UT as a “sanctuary campus” protecting its undocumented students. Read more about Protesters participate in sit-in demanding Gov. Greg Abbott to not sign 'sanctuary cities' bill

May 1, 2017
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The Houston Chronicle

Protesters stage sit-in at governor's office over 'sanctuary cities' bill

Roughly 100 people occupied the lobby of the state office building that houses the governor's office Monday demanding Gov. Greg Abbott veto a bill that would allow law enforcement officers across the state to inquire about individuals' citizenship.

With many wearing t-shirts calling for the rejection of the controversial Senate Bill 4 -- the "sanctuary cities" measure -- that passed the Texas House last week, the crowd sang and chanted in Spanish and English phrases like "You shall not pass" and "this entrance is closed" as they locked arms to block people from entering the building.

"SB4 is racist," they chanted as a woman shook a set of green maracas.

They said they planned to stay in the lobby of the building until the governor acquiesces to their request, he rejects the bill or until they forcibly are removed.

"They're going to have to drag us out of here or lock us in the building at the end of the day. We're not leaving," said Cristina Parker, an organizer with Grassroots Leadership, a group focused on detention and deportation.

The sit-in was put on by Grassroots Leadership and RAICES, a refugee and immigration education and legal advocacy group. Read more about Protesters stage sit-in at governor's office over 'sanctuary cities' bill

May 1, 2017
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The Austin Chronicle

Protesters Stage Sit-in at Governor's Office to Oppose Sanctuary Cities Bill

Texas Department of Public Safety officers handcuffed then released at least 18 activists, including CM Greg Casar and Austin Pastor Jim Rigby, after they refused to leave the governor’s offices today. Following an all-day sit-in and protest against anti-immigrant bill SB 4, DPS officers forced journalists to exit the building when it closed at 5pm or face arrest, and blocked the entrance.

Inside, officers gave the protestors a verbal warning then began issuing Class B misdemeanor citations for criminal trespassing. Those that did not leave after being cited were tied with plastic cuffs and processed by Judge Nicholas Chu. Event organizers said DPS officers “lied” by telling protesters their attorneys were not allowed in, a rule contradicted by Chu. Just before 7pm, the protestors were released from cuffs by DPS and addressed a growing crowd outside.

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Early Monday morning, during a brief press conference organized by Grassroots Leadership at the south gates of the Capitol, Rigby delivered a message to his undocumented neighbors: “We love you and want you here. We would rather suffer by your side than be guilty bystanders to the cruel and undemocratic tyranny of this administration.”

Afterward, protestors marched with handmade signs to the steps of the governor’s office. They entered and took a defiant seat in the middle of the lobby, announcing they would not budge until Abbott kills the bill. The group chanted: “SB 4 is hate! SB 4 is racist!” and “The people united will never be divided!” in between songs and speeches that castigated the legislation as “unconstitutional” and “unjust.” The sit-in, organized by Grassroots Leadership, RAICESICE Out of AustinSanctuary in the Streets, and Austin Sanctuary Network, began at roughly 10am.

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After roughly one hour, protestors linked arm-in-arm and blocked both entrances of the building. Immigration attorneys started leading teach-ins about the impact of SB 4 around 1pm. Texas Department of Public Safety officers, while watching the event, have yet to threaten arrest. Read more about Protesters Stage Sit-in at Governor's Office to Oppose Sanctuary Cities Bill

Apr 26, 2017
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The Texas Observer

Bill to License 'Baby Jails' as Child Care Facilities Clears First Legislative Hurdle

The private prison companies that run detention centers for immigrant kids and their mothers have a problem: They can’t legally hold families for an extended period in Texas unless they are licensed as child care facilities. The Texas Legislature has a solution, though. On Wednesday, a Senate committee advanced legislation that would simply lower the state standards for family detention centers. The prison firms could skip all the burdensome regulations that other child care facilities must deal with.

“The point of the bill is to slap a license on the family detention center without substantially changing their operation,” said Bob Libal, executive director of Grassroots Leadership, an immigrant rights group. “It’s an attempt to maintain and expand the system of for-profit family detention.”

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Senate Bill 1018 would effectively lower state standards for family detention centers in order to license them as child care facilities. For example, the bill would allow DFPS to permit minors to share a room with unrelated adults, as sometimes happens in immigrant detention.

Due to federal court rulings, family detention centers can currently only hold children for a few weeks at a time, but the legislation would allow the centers to detain mothers and children for the duration of their legal cases, which can take months or even longer.

The Associated Press reported last week that SB 1018 was written by a lobbyist for the GEO Group, a prison company that runs the 830-bed Karnes County Residential Center. The facility brings in $55 million per year for the company from the federal government.

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Despite opposition from advocates, formerly detained families and Democratic lawmakers, the bill will now move to the full Senate. Read more about Bill to License 'Baby Jails' as Child Care Facilities Clears First Legislative Hurdle

Apr 14, 2017
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The Texas Tribune

Trump greenlights a new immigrant-detention center in Texas

A private-prison company that has for years been in the crosshairs of immigrant rights groups announced Thursday it will build a $110 million detention complex in the Houston metro area.

The Florida-based GEO Group said in a news release its new facility will be built in the city of Conroe as part of a 10-year, renewable contract with federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The detention center will be finished toward the end of 2018, the company said. The Associated Press first reported the story.

Immigrant advocacy groups said the move signals the beginning of President Trump’s efforts to expand detentions and begin fast-tracking the deportations of millions of undocumented immigrants in the country. Part of the president's Jan. 25 executive order on immigration instructed the Department of Homeland Security to increase bed space for undocumented immigrants subject to removal. 

“We’re not surprised, but we are deeply disappointed that the administration is not only lining the pockets of the private-prison industry but expanding detention,” said Bob Libal, the executive director for Grassroots Leadership, an Austin-based immigrant rights and private-prison watchdog group.

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The new facility will add to the GEO Group’s heavy presence in Texas. The company’s website lists more than a dozen facilities it operates in the state. They range from smaller local jails used mainly by the U.S. Marshals Service to larger immigration-detention complexes near the border.

GEO Group was involved in a lengthy legal battle last year after Grassroots Leadership filed a lawsuit to prevent the company’s Karnes City facility from being licensed as a child-care facility by state officials. The center houses hundreds of women and children that were part of the surge of undocumented immigrants from Central America who began arriving to Texas in record numbers four years ago.

The child-care facility licensing has been necessary since 2015, when U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee ordered that immigrants held in Texas and elsewhere should be released because their detention violates the provisions of a 1997 settlement — the Flores v. Meese agreement — that requires undocumented juveniles be held in facilities that protect their health and safety.

A state district judge denied the state the ability to issue the licenses, but the facility continues to operate as a temporary processing center, Libal said. Read more about Trump greenlights a new immigrant-detention center in Texas

Apr 4, 2017
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Critics say lawmakers are trying to license 'little jails' to hold immigrant families

The state calls them family residential centers. Opponents have called them  “prisons for profit” and “little jails.”

On Wednesday, committees in both legislative chambers will address bills that would allow the Department of Family and Protective Services to license Texas facilities that house unauthorized mothers and children while they await their immigration hearings.

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In July 2015, a federal judge ruled that children can live in detention centers only if the centers are licensed by state child welfare agencies. Karnes and the South Texas facility, which is southwest of San Antonio, weren't licensed and faced closure.

To keep them from shuttering, in February 2016 the Department of Family and Protective Services gave itself the authority to license the facilities. Keeping them open helps the state deal with immigration control. But a state district court in December blocked Texas from issuing the licenses.

Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, author of the Senate bill, said in a meeting of the committee on Veteran Affairs and Border Security last week that his proposal was meant to address the court ruling. Lawmakers on the committee are expected to vote on the bill Wednesday, while members of the House State Affairs committee will hear testimony on an identical bill by Rep. John Raney, R-College Station.

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Bob Libal, executive director of Grassroots Leadership, which brought the suit that halted the licensing of the centers, said immigrants have in the past been released to family members in the country after being issued notices to appear in court for their immigration hearings.

Most of these families are asylum seekers, Libal said, so they're not flight risks because there's an incentive for them to return to court and keep in contact with immigration officials. He said that family residential centers are not the only option and that his group would oppose the legislation to license them.

“There’s a whole range [of alternatives] that are less harsh than detaining families,” he said. Read more about Critics say lawmakers are trying to license 'little jails' to hold immigrant families

Apr 3, 2017
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The Austin American-Statesmen

ICE officials: 24 in Austin-Waco arrested in new immigration sweep

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents say they arrested 153 people in Texas suspected of being in the country illegally — including 24 people picked up in the Austin-Waco area — as part of the second enforcement operation immigration officials have confirmed in the state this year.

The 12-day operation, which lasted from March 20 to March 31, differed in execution and results from another one performed in the area during the second week of February.

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ICE officials also said all of the people arrested in last month’s operation had previous criminal convictions, as opposed to the February raid. Federal documents obtained by the American-Statesman showed 28 of the 51 people arrested in February were deemed “non-criminals,” or people with no previous criminal convictions but suspected of living in the country illegally.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Andrew Austin said in open court last month that ICE agents alerted him and another federal judge about the February raid, which they said was retribution for the new Travis County sheriff’s policy limiting the jail’s cooperation with immigration officials, the Statesman reported last month.

ICE officials declined Friday to comment further on the arrests, but in a news release, Daniel Bible, field office director for enforcement and removal operations in San Antonio, said: “ICE’s primary immigration enforcement efforts target convicted criminal aliens. … Consequently, our operations improve overall public safety by removing these criminals from our streets, and ultimately from our country.”

Local activists criticized the new operation.

“I think this continues a trend of ICE instilling fear in our community and … arresting more people in our community,” said Bob Libal, with the Austin-based immigration support network Grassroots Leadership. Read more about ICE officials: 24 in Austin-Waco arrested in new immigration sweep

Mar 31, 2017
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Lexington Herald Leader

Empty jails hope to cash in on illegal immigration crackdown

Several Texas counties that are struggling with debt because their jails have few or no prisoners hope to refill those cellblocks with a different kind of inmate: immigrants who have entered the country illegally.

The debt dates back to the 1990s and the first decade of the 2000s, when some rural counties were losing employment prospects and population. To bring jobs and money, they built correctional centers with hundreds and sometimes more than a thousand beds that could be used to house inmates from other counties as well as prisoners for the state and federal governments.

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Jails and private prisons across the country are weighing their options after the Department of Homeland Security announced in January that it was shopping for more jail space as part of its efforts to secure the border.

In some places, the situation is the reverse of Texas, with public prisons full and states paying for extra beds. A private prison operator that had been housing 250 inmates for Vermont recently dropped the state as a client because the federal government will probably offer more for the same space.

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Three vacant Texas detention centers have been sold to private prison companies in the last few weeks, according to county officials and records filed with the national Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board.

Some of the jails require updating to meet U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement standards, but the existing facilities could put Texas at an advantage compared with other states where the companies would have to spend months building detention space.

Meanwhile, the traditional inmate-holding business is still declining. A proposed budget from the Texas Senate would end state contracts with four facilities, including three that are privately run, making it more important for those companies to get immigrant contracts to stay profitable.

ICE would not discuss how many beds the agency might need or its timetable for obtaining them. Agency spokesman Carl Rusnok declined to discuss any negotiations, citing the confidentiality of the federal contracting process.

At least one advocacy group is wary of the secretive process and of putting more detainees in privately run facilities after complaints and violations of inmate-care standards.

"If this is the plan to expand to the bottom of the barrel in detention centers, that should raise huge red flags for people concerned about immigrants' well-being and rights," said Bob Libal, executive director of Austin-based Grassroots Leadership, which seeks immigration and detention reform. Read more about Empty jails hope to cash in on illegal immigration crackdown

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