Grassroots Leadership In The News

Sep 5, 2019
Austin Chronicle

Council, Community Urge APD to Halt Marijuana Arrests

On Tuesday afternoon (Sept. 3), Austin Police Depart­ment Assistant Chief Troy Gay had the displeasure of being the guy who had to tell everyone in a room packed with citizens, community leaders, and members of City Council's Judicial Committee exactly what they didn't want to hear: "Marijuana is still illegal under both state and federal law."

The veteran cop plainly and courteously laid out the department's stance: "APD has not increased our enforcement efforts, but we continue to cite-and-release and/or arrest as deemed necessary." The discussion of an item first outlined two weeks ago by Mayor Pro Tem Delia Garza and Council Member Greg Casar waded deeply into the muddy waters of discretionary enforcement for misdemeanor pot charges.

Since July 3, when Travis County Attorney David Escamilla and District Attorney Margaret Mooreannounced that they'd reject all possession charges until law enforcement agencies could use accredited testing to discern whether confiscated cannabis is illicit marijuana or newly legal hemp, APD has continued to cite offenders and – to some degree – make arrests. Casar takes issue with that practice. "It doesn't make any sense to me to arrest someone [if] they're not going to get prosecuted," he told the Chronicle last week, emphasizing that arrests can result in serious life complications – interrupted income, getting your vehicle impounded, and potentially losing your job.

Several citizen speakers at Tuesday's meeting brought up how these impacts are not spread equally among Austin's cannabis users. "When APD makes these arrests, who are they arresting? What does the data show?" asked Annette Price, statewide director for Grassroots Leadership's Texas Advocates for Justice. "The data shows that the majority of these arrests are still people of color." Read more about Council, Community Urge APD to Halt Marijuana Arrests

Aug 24, 2019

How an Austin organization says you can help the crisis along the border

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Conversation, education and action. That is how one Austin organization says people in central Texas can help with the crisis along the border.

The organization held a forum on Saturday as part of a way to connect the community with issues they say could be distant to many people not living along the U.S.-Mexico border.

“It’s important for us as Texans to be educated on this topic and know exactly what’s going on so we can know how to act,” said Laura Hoyos, an Education Coordinator for Austin Tan Cerca de la Frontera.Advocates with the organization aim to raise awareness about social and economic injustice along the border, which is one reason why they hosted the forum. Read more about How an Austin organization says you can help the crisis along the border

Aug 21, 2019
The Texas Observer

The Consequence of Trump’s New Family Detention Rules

On Wednesday morning, Trump administration officials announced a final rule that will allow the government to detain migrant children indefinitely in family detention centers while they and their parents await resolution of their asylum cases. Currently, kids may generally be held in such facilities for no longer than 20 days. The final rule will not be published in the Federal Register until Friday, and it won’t take effect for two months. A legal challenge is likely. 

OK—so let’s take about five steps back. 

In the summer of 2014, a wave of Central American minors and families was arriving at our Southern border—a trend that continues through the present. At the time, the Obama administration had virtually no capacity to hold these families. The notorious Hutto family detention facility near Austin had been converted into an all-women lockup five years prior, leaving the feds with nothing but a tiny 96-bed center in Pennsylvania. So, to the dismay of his liberal base, Obama resurrected family detention, launching a short-lived center in New Mexico and two South Texas lockups that remain today: the 830-bed Karnes County Residential Center and the 2,400-bed South Texas Family Residential Center, in Dilley. 

Quickly, stories of abuse and psychological trauma began emanating from the facilities, as some families were held for months on end. Until, in the summer of 2015, a federal judge intervened.  Read more about The Consequence of Trump’s New Family Detention Rules

Aug 21, 2019
Fort Worth Weekly

Border Trauma

Bethany Carson, immigration policy researcher and organizer for Grassroots Leadership, a nonprofit trying to eliminate all private for-profit prison firms nationally, said, “Part of what is happening is that private companies are running these places, and they use private services from commissary to medical staff to other necessary people. And all of them have a hand out for a piece of the pie.”

That piece of the pie used to be about $700 per night per minor at the notorious tent city in Tornillo, Texas, run by BFCS, an international nonprofit that is not currently involved in any of the border facilities, a spokesperson for the organization told us. Read more about Border Trauma

Aug 15, 2019
Telemundo Austin

Activistas denuncian a APD por incumplimiento de políticas de "Ciudad de Libertad"

La Policía de Austin publicó recientemente su segundo reporte trimestral en conformidad con los requisitos de las resoluciones de "Ciudad de Libertad" el municipio.

Estas políticas tienen la finalidad de limitar el uso de perfiles raciales en la aplicación de la ley, el contacto con las agencias de inmigración, además de dar discreción a los oficiales para emitir citatorios y no arrestar por ofensas menores.

El reporte incluye cifras de los arrestos realizados por la corporación y su contacto con la población entre abril y junio. Según el informe, APD realizó 84 arrestos, 21 menos que el primer trimestre del año.

Doce o el 35% de los detenidos fue de origen hispano, y 14 o el 41% de raza negra.

Las cifras alarmaron a algunos activistas.

“No bajó el perfil racial, no bajó el hecho de que la comunidad afroamericana es arrestada cuatro veces más que otra raza de la población en Austin”, dijo Alicia Torres, representante de Grassroots Leadership.

El informe también menciona siete instancias en que el departamento contacto a ICE para indagar sobre los antecedentes de ciertos individuos.

“Esto lo que nos dice es que el perfil racial sigue siendo parte de la actividad diaria del departamento de policía de Austin”, agregó Torres. Read more about Activistas denuncian a APD por incumplimiento de políticas de "Ciudad de Libertad"

Aug 14, 2019

Immigration Hardliners Will Run Texas’ New Domestic Terrorism Task Force

The task force will be led by the state’s top Republicans, including Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Attorney General Ken Paxton. All of them have championed a surge of state police troopers at the border that has burned through more than $2 billion over the last five years, according to the Texas Observer. All three of them also supported Senate Bill 4, a 2017 state law that bans so-called sanctuary policies that limit cooperation between immigration authorities and local law enforcement. 

More recently, they backed a state-led effort to remove thousands of naturalized immigrants from the voter rolls, contending without evidence that unauthorized immigrants might be casting illegal ballots. Multiple lawsuits forced Abbott’s administration to abandon the purge. 

The fact that backers of the 2017 anti-sanctuary law are part of the mix is particularly concerning, said Claudia Muñoz of the criminal justice reform group Grassroots Leadership. Abbott should instead investigate how the law “has contributed to the culture of hate and how it can be repealed as quickly as possible,” she said. 

“The governor should actually listen to communities impacted by white supremacist violence, instead appointing a panel exclusively made up of law enforcement, including people who have actively implemented policies targeting immigrants and people of color,” Muñoz said. Read more about Immigration Hardliners Will Run Texas’ New Domestic Terrorism Task Force

Aug 9, 2019
Austin Chronicle

Don’t Book ’em, Danno: DPS Backs Off on Pot Busts

Texas marijuana users who are caught with under a quarter pound of cannabis are now less likely to have handcuffs slapped on their wrists. Leaders at the Texas Depart­ment of Public Safety have directed its officers to issue citations for misdemeanor pot charges instead of making arrests.

The directive to cite and release came via a July 10 internal DPS memo recently obtained by The Texas Tribune. The missive, addressed from Deputy Director Randall Prince to "All Commissioned Personnel," reiterated the department's commitment to marijuana prohibition in the wake of hemp legalization laws that have made weed cases difficult to prosecute. "Departmental personnel are expected to continue enforcing marijuana related offenses," the memo read. "However, effective immediately, personnel will cite and release for any misdemeanor amount of marijuana, as authorized by Article 14.06 of the Texas Code of Criminal Pro­ced­ure. A citation in these circumstances is only authorized when the suspect resides in the county where the offense occurred." Depending on that county prosecutor's current stance on cannabis, the suspect may still have to face charges in court. Read more about Don’t Book ’em, Danno: DPS Backs Off on Pot Busts

Aug 3, 2019
Austin-American Statesman

10 civil rights groups call on Travis County to drop pending marijuana cases

Ten civil rights groups are calling on Travis County to drop all pending marijuana possession cases in the wake of a decision from the district and county attorneys not to pursue most new cases on that charge.

District Attorney Margaret Moore announced that her office would dismiss 32 felony possession cases filed in the three weeks since June 10, when the Legislature passed a state law legalizing hemp. County Attorney David Escamilla said his office would dismiss 61 misdemeanor cases filed in the same period.

Just like other prosecutors across Texas, Moore and Escamilla have said they will not pursue most marijuana possession cases moving forward because the new law requires them to prove whether a suspected drug is hemp or marijuana, which means conducting a costly test of the substance’s THC content. However, Moore said it’s not her intention to stop prosecuting marijuana cases on a long-term basis. She has not said if or when her office would resume marijuana possession prosecutions. Read more about 10 civil rights groups call on Travis County to drop pending marijuana cases

Jul 31, 2019

Most Democrats Want Border-Crossings Decriminalized, Poll Says

Some 64% of respondents who identified as Democrats voiced support for the proposal, compared to 31% of Republicans. Total support, including by independent and unaffiliated voters, clocked in at 48%, with 32% opposed, 11% expressing no opinion, and 8% saying they didn’t know. 

“It shows that progressive voters want to see bold ideas on immigration that roll back the mass criminalization and deportation that we’ve seen for the last 15 to 20 years,” Bob Libal, the executive director of the Austin-based criminal justice group Grassroots Leadership, told HuffPost. “Reforming the federal criminal justice system also has to include ending these mass prosecutions for simple immigration offenses.” Read more about Most Democrats Want Border-Crossings Decriminalized, Poll Says

Jul 29, 2019
Austin Monitor

Council, neighbors plan meetings on how to manage South Austin shelter

Among those who may be feeling less safe in Austin’s current climate are people experiencing homelessness. Earlier this month, a couple was targeted when a lit firework was thrown from a moving vehicle into their tent. The advocacy group Grassroots Leadership posited the violence was a direct result of the heated rhetoric that has surrounded the issue of homelessness since City Council’s June actions. Violence within the homeless community has also been in the local media spotlight in recent weeks.

Petricek said her group still hopes to challenge the city’s decision to purchase the office building, or put enough restrictions on its operations to keep it from creating a setting similar to the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless, which is located downtown and attracts hundreds of people gathering outside on a daily basis hoping for assistance and shelter. Read more about Council, neighbors plan meetings on how to manage South Austin shelter

Jul 17, 2019

Sanctuary Leaders Fight Back Against ICE’s ‘Psychological Violence’ and Steep Fines

Ivan Ramirez, a 13-year-old Guatemalan asylum seeker, says he can’t remember a time in his life when he felt free. Now that the federal government intends to fine his mother more than $300,000, he worries that whatever semblance of safety they have in sanctuary is being threatened.

Ivan and his mother Hilda Ramirez came to the United States fleeing familial violence in 2014. Since then, they have been “under attack” by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the elder Ramirez said. They were detained together for almost a year after first arriving in the United States. Since their release from detention, they have been targeted for deportation. Because of ups and downs in their immigration cases, they have been forced to take sanctuary twice in St. Andrews Presbyterian Church in Austin, Texas. On July 4, soon after receiving a letter from ICE informing her of a $303,620 fine, Ramirez told Rewire.News she sees these financial penalties as part of a larger pattern of attacks against immigrants in sanctuary. Read more about Sanctuary Leaders Fight Back Against ICE’s ‘Psychological Violence’ and Steep Fines

Jul 16, 2019
Austin-American Statesman

Austin immigrant community on alert amid possibility of ICE raids

The Central Texas immigrant community and advocacy organizations are on alert this week amid expected nationwide immigration sweeps.

More than 300 local volunteers distributed informational fliers to the immigrant community in the Austin, Bastrop, Elgin and Manor area last weekend. Information included how to reach a hotline at (512) 270-1515 as well as how to access resources such as legal clinics.

Volunteers with the nonprofit Grassroots Leadership and the community group ICE Out of Austin are monitoring streets this week checking for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement activity as well as following up on community reports.

Since Monday, there has been at least one confirmed arrest, according to Grassroots Leadership. ICE Out of Austin has also said that immigration officials this week have been visiting several apartment complexes and asking for tenant information from apartment staffers. Read more about Austin immigrant community on alert amid possibility of ICE raids

Jul 15, 2019
Austin Chronicle

How to Help Detained Migrant Families

With in-kind donations to detention centers being refused by Customs and Border Protection authorities, many are looking for ways to help improve conditions for refugees. Here is a list of organizations in need of volunteers and donations providing direct support and relief to detained refugees in Texas.

Grassroots Leadership

This Austin-based civil and human rights organization seeks donations for its Hutto Community Deportation Defense Bond Fund as well as a visitation program for the women detained inside the T. Don Hutto Detention Center, which is the only all-women’s facility in the country for asylum-seekers. Read more about How to Help Detained Migrant Families

Jul 12, 2019
Spectrum News

"Lights For Liberty" Vigils held in Texas, Nationwide

NATIONWIDE — Hundreds of vigils all across the nation took place Friday to shine light on migrant border facilities housing undocumented women, men and children called "Lights for Liberty." 

  • Rallies held in San Antonio, Austin, and around the country
  • Raising awareness on current migrant border facilities 

Hundreds of people made their way to Travis Park in Downtown San Antonio to stand in solidarity.  Many people brought posters and signs to demonstrate their feelings towards the current U.S. immigration policy and how undocumented people are being treated in the holding centers. One mother brought her three children and said she wants her children to witness an event like this and not be afraid to speak up. Read more about "Lights For Liberty" Vigils held in Texas, Nationwide

Jul 6, 2019

There’s A Democratic Civil War Brewing Over Decriminalizing Migration

Johnson’s statement that decriminalizing border-crossings would amount to open borders is patently false ― decriminalization would leave the civil enforcement system intact ― but it reflects the concerns common among DHS officials that human smugglers will take advantage of any change in border enforcement to convince more migrants to make the journey. 

“I have yet to see a really clear argument about how criminal prosecutions help anything in immigration policy,” Kagan said. “It seems like the argument for it is that we have to somehow display our willingness to be harsh ― to show that we’re serious. … I find it hard to justify being harsh to a human being because you think it’s a good political play.” 

The liberal backlash against the decriminalization proposal is an unwelcome intrusion for progressive groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union, Grassroots Leadership or Mijente, which have for years pushed Democrats to take notice of the issue with little success.  Read more about There’s A Democratic Civil War Brewing Over Decriminalizing Migration

Jul 5, 2019
CBS Austin

Civil rights groups bracing for post-Fourth of July ICE raids

Grassroots Leadership's Rebecca Sanchez says families and other civil rights groups are concerned.

"It is really devastating. We know of a lot of folks who did not go to work today because of that threat it's going to happen right after the Fourth of July holiday. We know of a lot of folks thinking of new routes to work, trying to figure out alternative ways to live their day-to-day lives," Sanchez said.

Now, Grassroots Leadership members are working around the clock to prepare families who may be targeted.

"We are being super proactive. If you are approached, if somebody comes knocking on your door, don't answer it, don't let your kids answer the doors. Be vigilant, and exercise your right to remain silent as much as possible," Sanchez said. Read more about Civil rights groups bracing for post-Fourth of July ICE raids

Jul 4, 2019

Hundreds rally at Texas Capitol, call out treatment of migrant children at detention centers

The Austin protest was organized by Austinites Crystal Bird Caviel and Randi Jones Hensley. Local immigrant and advocacy groups provided speakers, including the Southwest Region Nation of Islam, who’s Director, Robert Muhammad, provided the closing speech.

“We could not provide protection for their women and their children and we could not even guarantee that their children would be present with them in their adolescent years,” Muhammad said, referring to children being transferred to other facilities.

Other speakers at the rally were from the nonprofit Grassroots Leadership, UndocuBlack Network and Girasol. Casa Marianella, YWCA Austin and Democratic Socialists of America also had tables at the event.

Organizers say donations collected at the rally will go to Girasol, which supports immigrants both during and after they’ve been detained. The organization is housed in the Texas Institute for Child and Family Wellbeing at the University of Texas at Austin. Read more about Hundreds rally at Texas Capitol, call out treatment of migrant children at detention centers

Jul 1, 2019
Austin360 by Austin-American Statesman

Willie’s Picnic: Celebrating America through Guy Clark’s ‘Immigrant Eyes’

She wove together various sources of film for the video, including shots of her father singing and playing guitar, historical clips from the Library of Congress and footage from rallies she attended at the Texas Capitol last year and at a South Texas detention center in 2015.

Participants in that 2015 demonstration, organized in part by Texas organization Grassroots Leadership, called for a shutdown of what was then the largest immigration detention center in the nation. “I felt that was a s sad as it could get. I had no idea where we were headed,” Amy says.

Amy will also perform at this year’s Picnic with Folk Uke, which includes Cathy Guthrie, daughter of folk singer Arlo Guthrie. They’ll play a short set on the main stage during a set change before Jamey Johnson’s performance.

Folk Uke’s material centers on humor rather than politics, but Amy said she might use the occasion to raise awareness about immigration issues. After O’Rourke’s appearance at the 2018 Picnic, the door seems open for more activism at the Independence Day event.

“Dad doesn’t get on the soapbox very often; he usually just does his show,” she notes. “But maybe I’ll say something. I’ll try to get people to support Grassroots Leadership, because they are doing some amazing stuff.”

If nothing else, she points out, Clark’s “Immigrant Eyes” speaks for itself. “I’d never heard Guy sing it until after Dad recorded it,” she said. “We’re hearing it with different ears today, now that this reality has set in.” Read more about Willie’s Picnic: Celebrating America through Guy Clark’s ‘Immigrant Eyes’

Jun 23, 2019

“Willful Recklessness”: Trump Pushes for Indefinite Family Detention

Meanwhile, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved a bipartisan $4.6 billion emergency supplemental funding bill on Wednesday that Republicans say will support a more humanitarian response to the migrant surge at the border in part by providing additional funds for holding families, ostensibly in better conditions. Democratic leaders like Sen. Chuck Schumer (NY) and Rep. Steny Hoyer (MD) have said they hope to pass it by the Fourth of July recess. “Now is the moment for Democrats to boldly hold the line and say we shouldn’t be detaining anyone in family detention centers,” said Bob Libal, director of Grassroots Leadership. The Austin, Texas-based nonprofit is appealing a court decision which allowed Texas to issue child-care licenses to facilities that hold parents and children and could open the door for ICE to detain them indefinitely under the terms of the Flores agreement. Last month the group hosted survivors of Japanese internment camps during World War II when they came to Dilley to protest outside the South Texas Residential Center. “One of our themes was that it should not take 70 years to recognize when something is a moral shame,” Libal said. “I hope it does not take us that long to recognize this round of family detention and family separation at the border is a moral tragedy. Read more about “Willful Recklessness”: Trump Pushes for Indefinite Family Detention