Grassroots Leadership In The News

Feb 24, 2017
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The Christian Science Monitor

Sessions memo: Reversal on private prisons could portend shift on justice, observers say

Private prisons could be here to stay, Jeff Sessions signaled on Thursday.

In a memo to the Bureau of Prisons Thursday, the attorney general rolled back Obama-era guidance in which then-Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates directed the BOP not to renew contracts with private prisons. Attorney General Sessions wrote that Ms. Yates’ August order “impaired the Bureau’s ability to meet the future needs of the federal correctional system.”

The move may not have a significant impact immediately: The BOP has contracts with just 12 private facilities, housing only about 21,000 of the nearly 190,000 inmates in federal prisons, according to the Justice Department. But for observers, the rethink on private prisons from one administration to the next is indicative of their very different values – and may foreshadow the future of criminal justice under President Trump. 

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“A large part of the impetus for privatization among both Republicans and Democrats is this notion of efficiency – it just sounds really appealing,” says Professor Mears. 

And with a lack of "apples-to-apples" comparative research on similar inmates at the two prison types, politicians' ideology may be the guiding force behind their determination of whether private prisons offer a way to house inmates that is equally as humane, secure, and cost-effective as publicly-operated facilities, he says.

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Campaign donations may also have helped inform the Trump administration’s decision, some suggest. GEO Group, one of the largest for-profit prison operators in the country, gave $250,000 to support Trump's inauguration events, Pablo Paez, the company's vice president of corporate relations told USA Today. CoreCivic, another major private prison operator, gave $250,000 to the inauguration as well.

“Private prison companies were major donors to the President’s campaign.... No doubt there was an expected policy shift in exchange for their support,” writes Michele Deitch, a longtime attorney who is a senior lecturer at the University of Texas at Austin’s Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, in an email to the Monitor.

Private prisons with government contracts lauded Sessions’ memo.

“Our company welcomes the memorandum by the Attorney General reinstating the continued use of privately operated facilities,” Mr. Paez, of the GEO Group, said in a statement emailed to the Monitor. 

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“It appears that this administration is deeply committed to increasing incarceration, particularly of immigrants, and has very close ties to the private prison industry,” says Bob Libal, the executive director of Grassroots Leadership, a criminal justice reform group based in Austin, Texas. Read more about Sessions memo: Reversal on private prisons could portend shift on justice, observers say

Feb 24, 2017
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Marketplace

White House overturns private prison policy as undocumented immigrant crackdown boosts demand

Last year, the Obama administration announced it was going to phase out federal government use of private prisons after reports surfaced of safety and security issues. Yesterday, that plan was overturned by the new attorney general, Jeff Sessions. The news immediately boosted share prices of the two largest companies that run private prisons. With the Trump administration’s crackdown on undocumented immigration creating thousands of detainees, all signs suggest it's a growth industry. Read more about White House overturns private prison policy as undocumented immigrant crackdown boosts demand

Feb 23, 2017
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WALB News10

Immigrants fearing deportation under Trump change routines

Around the country, President Donald Trump's efforts to crack down on the estimated 11 million immigrants living illegally in the U.S. have spread fear and anxiety and led many people to brace for arrest and to change up their daily routines in hopes of not getting caught.

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An undocumented Guatemalan migrant mother and her son have called an Austin, Texas, church home for more than a year. Hilda Ramirez says they were fleeing the danger of their country and were caught by immigration authorities as they illegally crossed the border at Texas in 2014. After they were released from a holding facility, a pastor allowed them to live on church grounds.

The unease among immigrants has been building but intensified in recent weeks with ever-clearer signs that the Trump administration would jettison the Obama-era policy of focusing mostly on deporting those who had committed serious crimes.

The administration announced Tuesday that any immigrant in the country illegally who is charged with or convicted of any offense, or even suspected of a crime, will now be an enforcement priority. That could include people arrested for shoplifting or other minor offenses, or those who simply crossed the border illegally.

Some husbands and wives fear spouses who lack legal papers could be taken away. And many worry that parents will be separated from their U.S.-born children.

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An organization in Austin, Texas, that runs a deportation hotline said it normally would receive one or two calls every few days. After recent immigration raids, the phone rang off the hook.

"We got over 1,000 phone calls in three days about the raids," said Cristina Parker, immigration programs director for Grassroots Leadership. "And certainly a lot of those were people who wanted information about the raids saying, 'I'm scared, I'm worried, what can I do?'... A lot of them were people who were impacted by the raids who saw a friend or family be taken." Read more about Immigrants fearing deportation under Trump change routines

Feb 22, 2017
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The Detroit News

Deportation fears adjust immigrants' daily routines

Around the country, President Donald Trump’s efforts to crack down on the estimated 11 million immigrants living illegally in the U.S. have spread fear and anxiety and led many people to brace for arrest and to change up their daily routines in hopes of not getting caught.

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The unease among immigrants has been building for months but intensified in recent weeks with ever-clearer signs that the Trump administration would jettison the Obama-era policy of focusing mostly on deporting those who had committed serious crimes.

The administration announced Tuesday that any immigrant in the country illegally who is charged with or convicted of any offense, or even suspected of a crime, will now be an enforcement priority. That could include people arrested for shoplifting or other minor offenses, or those who simply crossed the border illegally.

Some husbands and wives fear spouses who lack legal papers could be taken away. And many worry that parents will be separated from their U.S.-born children.

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An organization in Austin, Texas, that runs a deportation hotline said it normally would receive one or two calls every few days. After recent immigration raids, the phone rang off the hook.

“We got over 1,000 phone calls in three days about the raids,” said Cristina Parker, immigration programs director for Grassroots Leadership. “And certainly a lot of those were people who wanted information about the raids saying, ‘I’m scared, I’m worried, what can I do?’… A lot of them were people who were impacted by the raids who saw a friend or family be taken.” Read more about Deportation fears adjust immigrants' daily routines

Feb 21, 2017
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Austin American-Statesman

Waves of deportations predicted as Trump changes immigration orders

The Department of Homeland Security on Tuesday released a set of documents translating President Donald Trump’s executive orders on immigration and border security into policy, bringing a major shift in the way the agency enforces the nation’s immigration laws.

Under the Obama administration, undocumented immigrants convicted of serious crimes were the priority for removal. Now, immigration agents, customs officers and Border Patrol agents have been directed to remove anyone convicted of any criminal offense.

That includes people convicted of fraud in any official matter before a governmental agency and people who “have abused any program related to receipt of public benefits.”

Austin-area immigration supporters call Trump’s policy too wide-ranging, saying it will lead the government to deport more immigrants who have committed minor offenses — or are merely suspected of a crime.

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The change in enforcement priorities will require a considerable increase in resources. With an estimated 11 million people in the country illegally, the government has long had to set narrower priorities, given the constraints on staffing and money.

In the so-called guidance documents released Tuesday, the department is directed to begin the process of hiring 10,000 new immigration and customs agents, expanding the number of detention facilities and creating an office within Immigration and Customs Enforcement to help families of those killed by undocumented immigrants. Trump had some of those relatives address his rallies in the campaign, and several were present when he signed an executive order on immigration last month at the Department of Homeland Security.

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But the officials also made clear that the department intended to aggressively follow Trump’s promise that immigration laws be enforced to the maximum extent possible, marking a significant departure from the procedures in place under President Barack Obama.

That promise has generated fear and anger in the immigrant community, and advocates for immigrants have warned that the new approach is a threat to many undocumented immigrants who had previously been in little danger of being deported.

Alejandro Caceres, immigration organizer at Grassroots Leadership in Austin, said the changes are scary for the immigrant population.

“Expanding the definition of criminal now puts everyone and anyone at risk for deportation,” he said. Read more about Waves of deportations predicted as Trump changes immigration orders

Feb 18, 2017
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Austin American-Statesman

In 'sanctuary' fight, a new question of justice emerges

When Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore was alerted to the case against Hugo Gallardo-Gonzalez, accused of repeatedly sexually assaulting a young girl and targeted by federal immigration agents, she had a clear vision for his future.

She wanted to take him to trial on the most serious felony charge possible.

Then see him do time.

And then — and only then — possibly see him expelled from the country.

As the battle over so-called sanctuary cities continues, Moore’s pursuit exposes what has been a largely unexamined dimension of whether Texas sheriffs should be bound to hold inmates for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement for possible deportation: What happens to the original cases that landed those suspects in jail?

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Bob Libal, executive director of the criminal justice reform group Grassroots Leadership, said, “The immigration system actually can interfere with the criminal justice system. Not having immigration involved helps the criminal justice system carry out its duties, whereas when you mix immigration and criminal justice, you end up not doing justice by anybody.”

After collecting inmates from local jails across the state, federal authorities often offer suspects a chance to leave the country voluntarily, and many immigrants, especially those without adequate legal representation, do so, said Jose “Chito” Vela III, an immigration and criminal defense attorney in Austin. Read more about In 'sanctuary' fight, a new question of justice emerges

Feb 17, 2017
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The Daily Texan

Hundreds protest downtown for national "Day Without Immigrants" strike

More than 400 protesters marched downtown Thursday as part of the national “Day Without Immigrants” in response to the federal government’s recent crackdown on undocumented immigrants.

At 10 a.m., a rally of about 200 people convened outside City Hall, where council members later that day approved granting $200,000 in emergency city funding to cover immigration legal fees. 

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A separate group of protesters organized by Grassroots Leadership, an immigration rights advocacy group, started its trek from the J.J. Pickle Federal Building where ICE detainments occurred the past few weeks.

The group then merged with protesters from City Hall at the Capitol. The collective mass walked back down Congress Avenue to the J.J. Pickle Federal Building around 3:25 p.m, where more than 200 gathered, according to Austin Police.

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Bob Libal, executive director of Grassroots Leadership, said people coming out of their homes following recent ICE raids is powerful.

“This is the biggest immigration outpouring I’ve seen since 2006,” Libal said. “Many of them have been really traumatized by these raids. They have family members who were detained out here.” Read more about Hundreds protest downtown for national "Day Without Immigrants" strike

Feb 14, 2017
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The Guardian

How immigration activists mobilized to thwart deportation raids last weekend

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While hundreds of people around the country have been arrested by federal immigration officers in recent days, the Kansas City suspicions proved unfounded.

But the rapid mobilisation there showed that with communities on edge as the Trump administration’s immigration crackdowns begin, grassroots groups are learning to act quickly to form information-sharing networks and raise awareness of legal rights.

In US cities, more than 680 people were arrested last week by Ice officers, including in and around Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta, San Antonio and New York City, according to a statement on Monday from John Kelly, the Department of Homeland Security secretary. Kelly said the operations “targeted public safety threats, such as convicted criminal aliens and gang members, as well as individuals who have violated our nation’s immigration laws, including those who illegally re-entered the country after being removed and immigration fugitives ordered removed by federal immigration judges”.

Immigration advocates have started to form plans to respond to these raids in various forms.

In Austin, an initiative called Sanctuary in the Streets has trained US citizens to form a literal physical barrier between undocumented immigrants and enforcement agents. When agents arrive at the door, undocumented immigrants can call for help and one or more US citizens will quickly arrive to stand in front of the door, watching, challenging and filming law enforcement with the goal of ensuring constitutional rights are respected and encouraging a media spotlight.

“Any time we heard of an action happening, folks responded, were ready to go, knew what to do,” Cristina Parker, of Grassroots Leadership.

But with last weekend’s immigration raids, she said: “We found, though, that a lot of the actions happened so quickly that a lot of times folks arrived there and it would already be gone, already be done, so that’s definitely something to think about.”

News of a surge in immigration enforcement activity in Austin began to spread on social media on Thursday. Ice said that 51 people were arrested in the San Antonio-Austin area; 23 of them had criminal convictions. Though the agency said it does not set up checkpoints or conduct indiscriminate sweeps, that the majority of those detained did not have convictions will add to anxiety among unauthorised immigrants that they are now at increased risk of deportation even if they are not viewed as dangerous.

Parker said that the number of detentions was “extremely beyond the norm” and led to a flood of calls to a hotline where callers can report Ice activity and seek advice. “We’ll usually have one or two calls every day or couple days, something like that. And we had hundreds of calls over the past three or four days,” she said.

Parker claimed that Austin was singled out because the liberal-leaning city has led the fightback in Texas against attempts by the state and federal governments to compel local authorities to co-operate with immigration enforcement. Texas’ Republican governor, Greg Abbott, this month cut off $1.5m in criminal justice grants to Travis County, which includes Austin, because the sheriff is limiting the circumstances in which her department will hold suspects for Ice agents.

“There’s been a lot of progress here locally in the immigrant community being able to fight for and win some good policies at the local level, some people call us a sanctuary city because of that,” Parker said. “From the governor to apparently now the federal government, folks want to make an example out of Austin for having the audacity to disagree.”

... Read more about How immigration activists mobilized to thwart deportation raids last weekend

Feb 13, 2017
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Free Speech Radio News

Immigrant rights advocates piece together details on recent sweeps with little official information

Immigration police have arrested at least 600 people in raids in about a dozen states, including in so-called sanctuary cities, during the past week, in what officials call ‘routine enforcement actions.’ The full scope of the sweeps is unclear, and advocates for undocumented immigrants say they may be much broader than currently known. But following President Trump’s executive order on immigration enforcement, many fear the dragnet is now much more widely cast. 

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Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the authority behind the detentions, has repeatedly stated that the arrests are routine, targeted enforcement, but organizations with close ties to immigrant communities say this is clearly not the case.

Cristina Parker is immigration projects coordinator with Grassroots Leadership in Austin, Texas – a city where dozens of undocumented people have been picked up in recent days.

“I think we know that what happened over this past weekend and the end of last week here in Austin was not routine at all. One of the ways we can really gauge that is the fact that we run a deportation crisis hotline here – we’ll usually hear between one or two calls every one or two days, something like that, and we had hundreds of calls in the past few days,” Parker told FSRN in a telephone interview. “Now, a lot of those were just people calling because they were worried and wanted to know their rights and such information, but many, many of them – at least a dozen – were folks who were calling because they had had a family member picked up. When we combine that with the numbers we hear from the Mexican consulate, that’s how we know it was about 60 to 70 people who were picked up.”

News of the coordinated arrests spread quickly across social media platforms. Parker says her organization began receiving reports early on, but has been cautious to vet the information to avoid panic: “We’ve received tons and tons of reports about, you know, ‘I see this’ or ‘I see that happening.’ We usually ask folks when they’re reporting that to us to snap a picture and send that to us. The reason we do that is because we’ve had a lot of pranks; unfortunately, our information went out on some white supremacist websites and so they were definitely sending some false leads to us. So we ask people to snap a picture, and that’s actually how we were able to really early on confirm this.”

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In his first week in office, President Donald Trump signed an executive order on internal enforcement of immigration laws. He billed it as a get tough strategy to go after quote ‘criminal aliens’. However, the order isn’t specific about what kind of crime constitutes a priority for deportation and those targeted for removal don’t have to be convicted – only charged.

Further, the order calls for officials to detain anyone suspected of violating any law, including Federal immigration law – which could make anyone who has crossed the border without authorization subject to arrest. Read more about Immigrant rights advocates piece together details on recent sweeps with little official information

Feb 11, 2017
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Herald Net

Chaotic immigrant sweep causing panic across the US this week

U.S. immigration authorities arrested hundreds of undocumented immigrants in at least a half-dozen states this week in a series of raids that marked the first large-scale enforcement of President Donald Trump’s Jan. 26 order to crack down on the estimated 11 million immigrants living here illegally.

The raids, which officials said targeted known criminals, also netted some immigrants who did not have criminal records, an apparent departure from similar enforcement waves during former President Barack Obama’s administration that aimed to just corral and deport those who had committed crimes.

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Immigration activists said the crackdown went beyond the six states DHS identified, and said they had also documented ICE raids of unusual intensity during the past two days in Florida, Kansas, Texas and Northern Virginia.

That undocumented immigrants with no criminal records were arrested and could potentially be deported sent a shock through immigrant communities nationwide amid concerns that the U.S. government could start going after law-abiding people.

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A video that circulated on social media Friday appeared to show ICE agents detaining people in an Austin shopping center parking lot. Immigration advocates also reported roadway checkpoints, where ICE appeared to be targeting immigrants for random ID checks, in North Carolina and in Austin. ICE officials denied that authorities used checkpoints during the operations.

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Immigration officials acknowledged that authorities had cast a wider net than they would have last year, as the result of Trump’s executive order.

The Trump administration is facing a series of legal challenges to that order, and on Thursday lost a court battle over a separate executive order to temporarily ban entry to the U.S. by citizens of seven majority-Muslim countries, as well as by refugees. The administration said Friday that it is considering raising the case to the Supreme Court.

Some activists in Austin and Los Angeles suggested that the raids might be retaliation for those cities’ so-called “sanctuary city” policies. A government aide familiar with the raids said it is possible the predominantly daytime operations – a departure from the Obama administration’s night raids – meant to “send a message to the community that the Trump deportation force is in effect.”

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“We’re trying to make sure that families who have been impacted are getting legal services as quickly as possible. We’re trying to do some legal triage,” said Bob Libal, the executive director of Grassroots Leadership, which provides assistance and advocacy work to immigrants in Austin. “It’s chaotic,” he said. The organization’s hotline, he said, had been overwhelmed with calls. Read more about Chaotic immigrant sweep causing panic across the US this week

Feb 10, 2017
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KUT 90.5

After ICE Actions, Advocates Mobilize in Support of Austin-Area Immigrants

Immigration advocates are mobilizing following reports of a number of arrests by Immigration and Customs enforcement agents in Austin over the past 24 hours. 

“These ICE actions are politically motivated and morally bankrupt attempts to punish our community for standing up for our collective civil rights,” City Council Member Greg Casar said at a press conference with Delia Garza outside Little Walnut Creek Branch Library. “They are attempts to silence us, and these are attempts to strike fear into our hearts. But we will not be silenced.”

Casar was referring, in part, to a policy change at the Travis County Jail, which will no longer honor detainer requests from ICE as of Feb. 1.

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A hotline had been set up for community remembers to report ICE action in Austin. Grassroots Leadership, a national immigration advocacy group based in Texas, said it is rallying to let people affected by the actions know that "they will not be alone.” Read more about After ICE Actions, Advocates Mobilize in Support of Austin-Area Immigrants

Feb 10, 2017
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Rewire

Have Trump’s Mass Deportations Begun? Immigration Arrests Reported Around the Country

Multiple accounts of immigration arrests have been reported in California, North Carolina, and Texas, among other states, according to numerous sources. Advocates working to confirm the identities of those detained say the suspected raids mark the beginning of President Trump’s mass deportation efforts.

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As news of suspected raids travels on social media from around the country, attorneys and advocates are left wondering if such arrests will be the “new normal” under the Trump administration. In a press release, Grassroots Leadership, a Texas-based immigration advocacy organization, said that “Trump’s deportation force” has hit Austin, with multiple undocumented immigrants targeted in an ICE raid. Much is still unknown about the populations taken into ICE custody, but there are reports in Spanish media outlets that at least some of the immigrants targeted did not have criminal records.

Cristina Parker, Grassroots Leadership’s immigration programs director, told Rewire in an email that her organization is working to confirm the identities of those detained in Austin. She suspects ICE sought out immigrants with prior orders of removal during the mass arrests, a practice that was common under President Obama. Read more about Have Trump’s Mass Deportations Begun? Immigration Arrests Reported Around the Country

Feb 10, 2017
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Al Jazeera

Protests over detention of immigrants across US

Protests have erupted across the US after the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency swept across several US cities, detaining undocumented migrants.

Early Friday's raids came quickly after President Donald Trump signed three executive orders on Thursday reportedly aimed at crime reduction.

Los Angeles, Austin and Phoenix have all seen demonstrations.

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In Austin, at least five undocumented residents have been detained.

Cristina Parker, the immigration programmes director at Austin-based Grassroots Leadership, which organises against deportations and mass incarceration, informed Al Jazeera there may be more.

"Everyone is scrambling to get information. There are unconfirmed reports of detentions across the city. Those who are most affected by these actions are the hardest to get in contact with, currently," Parker said.

Austin has been the epicentre of the national battle over so-called sanctuary cities, an unofficial designation of cities that generally offer safety to undocumented migrants and often do not use municipal funds or resources to advance the enforcement of federal immigration laws.

According to local reports, the ICE detained each of the five in separate, targeted raids. Read more about Protests over detention of immigrants across US

Feb 10, 2017
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The Daily Texan

Five undocumented immigrants detained in Austin according to advocacy group

 An immigration rights organization said five undocumented immigrants in Austin were detained by federal immigration enforcement Thursday, according to the Texas Observer.

“I’ve never heard of five people getting picked up in one day,” Grassroots Leadership organizer Alejandro Caceres told the Observer.

Caceres said the organization received reports of the detainments in East and North Austin through its hotline. ICE agents could not be reached for comment.

Reyna Alvarado said Immigration and Customs Law Enforcement agents detained her husband, Francisco Alvarado, on Riverside Drive on his way to landscaping work around 8:30 a.m. Reyna Alvarado said an unmarked car pulled over her husband and ICE agents got out of it to detain him.

“I had to go to school and tell my daughter that they’ve taken her father away,” Caceres said translating for Reyna Alvarado in a video from the Observer.

Reyna Alvarado and members of ICE Out of Austin, an advocacy group against ICE agents detaining locally jailed undocumented immigrants, protested the arrest outside the J.J. Pickle Federal Building, according to the Statesman.

Reyna Alvarado said their family fled Honduras 10 years ago after a gang, called the “Maras,” killed several of their family members. Reyna Alvarado said her children are billingual and are afforded the education she never had.

“What am I supposed to do now?” Caceres translated. “They’ve taken my husband away. Who’s going to take the suffering away?”

On Feb. 1, Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez said her office would not comply with ICE agents who ask to detain undocumented immigrants held in local jails without warrants. Detainers make requests for investigations if they suspect someone is undocumented, and Hernandez said the requests only ask but do not require local law enforcement to honor them.

Hernandez has said her deputies cannot act as federal immigration law enforcement, and should be expected to handle only local matters. Reyna Alvarado said she fears getting caught off guard by ICE then getting detained as a result.

“I feel that I’ve been corralled,” Caceres translated. “I feel that I can’t watch a car stop next to me because I think that it’s an immigration agent.”

Caceres said he expects future raids in the area.

“This might just be the beginning,” Caceres told the Observer. “Immigration [agents] have stepped up their tactics and we need to think about how we keep our friends and families protected.” Read more about Five undocumented immigrants detained in Austin according to advocacy group

Feb 10, 2017
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The Austin Chronicle

Sanctuary Cities and the Ways We Fight for Human Rights

On the Sunday morning after Donald Trump won the presidential election, Austin Mayor Steve Adler stood in blue jeans and a white button-down shirt before a crowd outside of City Hall. "I understand that you're angry and scared, hurt and confused," he said, pausing so an interpreter could translate his words from English to Spanish. "Many of us are. And that includes me."

Immigrants and allies, also wearing white, had gathered to protest one of then-President-elect Trump's most alarming cam­paign promises: plans to deport 11 million undocumented immigrants. Austin welcomes immigrants and will stand with them, Adler said, before offering his reassurance in Spanish himself. "Quiero que sepan que sus líderes, en este edificio que se encuentra a nuestras espaldas, nos comprometemos a la seguridad de ustedes y de sus familias," he said. "You need to know that your leaders, in the building behind us, are committed to your safety and your family's."

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But throughout his speech, Adler did something interesting. The mayor never referred to Austin as a sanctuary city.

The term "sanctuary city" is a controversial, evocative, and vague one. It bears no legal standard or definition. It's wholly interpretable. For some, the phrase conjures images of the early Christian church offering refuge to the desperate. For others, it alludes to a set of concrete policies that limit a city's cooperation with U.S. Immi­gra­tion and Customs Enforcement (ICE). In recent years, "sanctuary city" has become a bogeyman for GOP lawmakers, who use it in statements and stump speeches to typify a threat to local safety – or, worse, a symbol of defiance that they will punish. While cities like San Francisco have proudly declared themselves sanctuaries, Austin lawmakers have shied from its use since at least 1985, avoiding the lightning-rod term in favor of more neutral phrasing like "welcoming city."

"Sanctuary city" routinely pits cities against states, as evidenced here in Travis County. On Feb. 1, the Travis County jail stopped releasing inmates to federal immigration authorities – a so-called "sanctuary policy" introduced by the county's new sheriff, Sally Hernandez. That same morning, Gov. Greg Abbott cut $1.5 million in criminal justice grants to Travis County in response to Hernandez's policy. Members of both the state's Senate and House of Representatives have filed anti-sanctuary bills this session – bills that would dramatically affect public safety operations in every Texas city. President Trump has put forth an executive order that would force local law enforcement to cooperate with federal authorities, and even take on the role of immigration agents.

The groundswell raises an important question: Moving forward, what will "sanctuary city" mean to Austin?

"Is Austin a sanctuary city?" Sulma Franco considers the question from a booth at a noisy Waffle House, pausing over a plate of eggs. The Guatemalan activist raises her eyebrows: "No," she says, jabbing her fork in the air to punctuate. "No, no, no, no."

Ironically, it is Franco who brought sanctuary to Austin's religious communities. Facing deportation orders, in 2015 she walked through the doors of the First Uni­ver­salist Unitarian Church and stayed there for 10 weeks until her legal case was temporarily resolved, thus becoming the first person in Texas to claim church sanctuary since the Eighties (see "New Name, Same Game," July 10, 2015). But Franco persists: "The Latino community does not feel that Austin is a sanctuary city – por nada. Not at all."

Fearing deportation, Austin's undocumented immigrants do not feel safe in their daily lives, says Franco. She explains a term widely used in the city's Latino community: polimigra. It's a blend of the Spanish words for "police" and "immigration," reflecting the notion that the two law enforcement entities – one local, one federal – are, in fact, one and the same.

That perception has roots in reality, says Franco. Greg Hamilton, Hernandez's predecessor, who served as sheriff from 2005 through 2016, made no bones about his willingness to work with ICE, the deportation arm of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Under its Priority Enforcement Program (PEP), which in 2015 expanded the Bush-era program known as Secure Communities (S-Comm), immigration authorities ask local jails – which are usually run by the county sheriff's department – to hold people after they've been ordered released. These "detainers," as they're called, give ICE time to investigate inmates' immigration statuses and transfer them to a detention center, possibly deporting them.

Federal courts have ruled that ICE detainer requests are just that – requests. During Hamilton's tenure, Travis County honored every such request, resulting in some of the highest deportation rates in the country, according to a 2014 resolution from City Council. Until 2009, the Travis County jail fielded less than 10 detainer requests each year, according to records held by the sheriff's department. That number has since skyrocketed: In the two years between 2012 and 2014, said Council's resolution, Hamilton complied with roughly 5,500 detainers, nearly three-fourths of which were for people whose criminal charges were eventually dropped. In the four years between June 2009 and June 2014, an average of 19 people were deported from the county each week. The Austin American-Statesman reported that nearly 10,000 ICE detainers have been issued in the last decade – more than half for people charged with one misdemeanor. ICE rarely sends warrants with detainers, says professor Elissa Steglich at UT School of Law's immigration clinic. That, in and of itself, is a violation of residents' Fourth Amendment rights to proper search and seizure.

That all changed with Hernandez's election, and, in turn, her Jan. 20 announcement. "Our jail cannot be perceived as a holding tank for ICE," the sheriff, previously a county constable in Precinct 3, said in her filmed statement. She later told the Chronicle: "We in law enforcement have had a difficult time with trust in our community and especially in our communities of color. And so the ability to have these communities feel like it's safe to call and cooperate with us – I feel like it's going to have a huge impact."

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Offering shelter and support can prove complicated when authorities are involved, said Rev. Babs Miller, a minister at St. Andrew's Presby­terian Church, part of the Austin Sanctuary Network. Since early 2016, St. Andrew's has housed Hilda Ramirez and her son Ivan, a Guatemalan family fleeing death threats and domestic violence. Both held deportation orders that have recently been paused. "We said we wanted to support them and that we were willing to offer sanctuary," Miller recalled. "We said that having no idea what it really meant."

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Though many faith communities have offered support to undocumented immigrants, not every house of worship has the resolve or resources to house those fighting their deportation orders in court. St. Andrew's congregants asked themselves what a family in hiding might need. The ministers called for donations; clothing and furniture poured in. Volunteer tutors arrived for both mother and son. When the church threw Ivan a birthday party, residents from the nearby apartment complex brought cakes. The boy's eyes were big, Miller recalled: He'd never had a party, let alone a bouncy castle.

There was also the day-to-day of sanctuary, full of unexpected hang-ups. The sink installed in the converted Sunday school classroom was too high for the tiny woman and boy to reach. The church began to lock its doors. As time passed, Miller said, "the church community gained a great deal more understanding of the immigration system." She spread her hands across the table where she sits, her fingers stretching wide. "You start doing justice work in one area, and it just grows."

As Trump's crackdown on immigration unfolds, the Austin Sanctuary Network has seen requests for sanctuary increase. There may come a day, Miller said, when there is "no room at the inn." Besides, no city or even state can restrict federal authorities from arresting noncitizens – regardless of local law enforcement's cooperation. So they have begun to expand their tactics: Sanctuary in the Streets, a newly formed group modeled after one of the same name in Philadelphia, stands ready to erect its own kind of wall in Austin: a barrier of people willing to stand between immigrants and ICE.

The network of immigrant advocates, attorneys and faith groups is now 150 people strong and growing. New volunteers assembled for a training session in early January at St. Andrew's. "Policy has never saved us," said Alejandro Caceres, an organizer with Grassroots Leadership, who spoke before a large group of Sanctuary in the Streets trainees. Behind him stood an easel marked up with promises from Trump's campaign: Build a wall. Muslim registry. Deport 11 million. Punish sanctuary cities. "We have to rely on ourselves," said Caceres.

"Sanctuary is not passive," he said during a later interview. "Sanctuary is active. We're struggling, we're fighting alongside you. We're saying, 'This person's life matters more to me than the law.' ... It's an act of resistance."

Sanctuary in the Streets does not intend to wait for people to come asking for sanctuary. Rather, the organization aims to disrupt future raids. Rev. Miller told the Chronicle the group practices this scenario: An undocumented immigrant refuses to let an ICE agent into her home without a warrant; she calls a hotline (512/270-1515) that sends a small group of volunteers to the scene. Politely and silently, three or four people edge between the agent and the door, standing shoulder to shoulder. Only one speaks. "We are trained and certified immigration observers," the volunteer will say, as another stands nearby and films. "We have been notified that there is a situation to be observed. May I see your warrant please?"

In training sessions, Miller often plays the role of immigration officer. Sometimes she plays good cop; sometimes she is less lenient. "Does your husband know that you're doing this?" she'll ask one of the role-players, trying to rattle them. She wants to prepare volunteers – mostly white U.S. citizens – for an experience many have never had. "They don't live in a world where cops and immigration officers are confrontational and abusive toward them," said Miller. "I'm trying to help them understand it won't be like, 'Did you realize your blinkers are out, sir?'"

The volunteers must decide what to do if the agent threatens to arrest them, said Miller. Do they stand aside? Or do they stay put, and force the immigration official, who lacks the authority to arrest U.S. citizens, to call for police assistance? "We are using our white privilege to slow down the process," Miller said, noting that it doubles as an effort to buy time for reporters to arrive.

"Enforcement officers do not like media coverage," said Miller.

The reverend stressed that Sanctuary in the Streets' methods are nonviolent, though they are confrontational. "You can play nice and still go after the abuse of power," she said.

Sanctuary in the Streets may be the closest Austin has come to the spirit of the Eighties' Sanctuary Movement, which embraced civil disobedience. Then, the network of churches, synagogues, and safe houses stretched from Mexico to Arizona to Canada, sheltering and transporting roughly 1 million refugees. In Texas, sanctuary workers drove to the border to pick up Central Americans fleeing civil wars and genocides that activists accused the United States of fomenting. Informants infiltrated their network, stoking division and paranoia. Eighteen people – including nuns, priests, and a minister – were jailed and indicted for smuggling aliens.

Miller is hopeful that today's circumstances won't reach that point. Immigrants in 2017 have more grassroots support, she said. The Eighties movement came before the internet and was more isolated. The shift toward a more resistant strand of sanctuary is a result of that effort. "We're standing on their shoulders," Miller said.

When Sulma Franco declared sanctuary in the Unitarian church, she was not well-versed in this history. She calls her stay a mistake-filled learning process. But while the declaration was a cry for help, it was also a show of strength. With the help of her girlfriend and UT students, Franco built the chain-link fence that surrounded her church living quarters. "I wanted to show other women that we don't have to be scared all the time, that we can do something to defend ourselves."

Hilda Ramirez and her son followed Franco's lead. Though 28, Ramirez appears younger, with round cheeks and a quiet, measured way of speaking Spanish. Mam, an indigenous language, is her native tongue.

Ramirez was fearful when she first came to St. Andrew's. She jumped at small noises and anxiously watched the sheriff's patrol cars that were camped outside, knowing their presence was routine but still unable to shake the feeling that sheriff's deputies were watching her. Having spent 11 months in a family detention center with her son just seven months before that, she felt terribly sad to be confined again – even in a kind place like St. Andrew's. During her first week, Ramirez recalled, pastors asked if she wanted to meet the congregation. Ramirez said no. "I stayed in my room," she said, pulling her arms close as if clutching a blanket. The second Sunday, she was ready to meet the church.

Rev. Miller believes Ramirez's arrival made it clear to the congregants what was at stake with sanctuary. "What will you do if Immigration comes?" Caceres asked the churchgoers. He pretended to be an ICE officer. "We're here for Hilda Ramirez," he called out into the church.

The members began to move. Ramirez suddenly found herself in a circle deep with people. Some blocked the doorway. Others formed an outer ring. More pushed closer, she recalled, linking elbows together, saying to her, "We're not going to let them take you. You're safe."

"I'd felt so alone," Ramirez said, her slow-moving Spanish suddenly picking up pace, animating. "And now there was everyone, who'd come to protect me without even knowing me. All, all of the church! I'm so small – all I could see was their backs. I felt so much joy. I was crying. There I was made invincible." Read more about Sanctuary Cities and the Ways We Fight for Human Rights

Feb 3, 2017
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The Daily Texan

Immigration activists gear up for state-level battles

Donald Trump’s immigration agenda has hit Texas within days of his taking office. Over the weekend, Trump signed two executive orders to start building a border wall and ban immigration from seven majority Muslim countries. This week, Governor Abbott and the Texas legislature have mimicked his efforts, targeting immigrant communities. This is a time of great threat and great opportunity that has pushed students of all backgrounds to get involved in the formation of the laws they are governed by.

This week, Governor Abbott cut funding for Travis County programs benefiting children, women, families and veterans when Sally Hernandez, Travis County Sheriff, refused to cooperate with federal immigration enforcement on policies similar to Senate Bill 4 that she believed did not benefit Travis County. Following this, the Texas Senate proposed SB4, or the “sanctuary cities” bill, which, if passed, would require police officers to enforce federal immigration policy and allow noncitizens to be detained or deported for offenses as minor as traffic violations. Many are concerned that the bill will encourage racial profiling and deter victims and witnesses from reporting crimes. Over 500 people showed up to testify at the bill’s hearing this Thursday, which lasted well into the night. Tellingly, Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, its author, left before close of business.

This election has spurred a wave of grassroots movements throughout the city. The Women’s March in Austin drew around 50,000 protesters adorned with Viva la Vulva t-shirts chanting, “This is what democracy looks like.” The legislature is in session this semester and a number of organizations have cropped up on campus — including a student chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union — to host community organizing trainings and legislative session workshops. Because the legislature is in session, new laws are being considered. This means you can call the representatives who will be voting on these bills, from home in your pajamas (DailyAction.Org is a good site to get started). If you are looking to volunteer in your community, the TRUST Coalition is a group of nonprofits dedicated to promoting common sense immigration reforms. Many TRUST partners are eager for new volunteers, such as Grassroots Leadership and the ACLU of Texas. If the phone calls, community work or on-campus engagement sounds intimidating, try writing your opinions in the peace of your own home. You can submit an op-ed to the Daily Texan, like I am, and share your unique perspective on what’s affecting all of us. Read more about Immigration activists gear up for state-level battles

Feb 2, 2017
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The Washington Post

The 'sanctuary city' on the front line of the fight over Trump's immigration policy

 Last spring, Jim Rigby opened the doors of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church to Hilda Ramirez and her 10-year-old son, undocumented immigrants fleeing civil strife in Guatemala. He borrowed some furniture, set up bunk beds in the Sunday school teacher’s office — and trained church members to lock the doors and form a human shield if immigration officers come knocking.

“Do we stand up for human rights now? Or do we act like zebras on the Serengeti, hoping the lion eats us last?” said Rigby, 66, the longtime minister of one of Austin’s most liberal houses of worship. “People of good conscience,” he said, must put themselves between asylum seekers and “harm’s way.”

Rigby is part of a growing movement determined to oppose President Trump’s policies for cracking down on immigration. While thousands of protesters gather nationwide to decry Trump’s temporary travel ban on refugees and on citizens of seven majority-Muslim nations, Rigby and other activists in cities with large immigrant populations are bracing for what they fear will come next: a wave of raids and deportations.

Trump has called for the deportation of as many as 3 million undocumented immigrants who have committed crimes on U.S. soil. In one of his first acts as president, Trump ordered the Department of Homeland Security to look at withholding federal funding from cities that refuse to assist immigration officials, a loose collection of municipalities known as “sanctuary cities.”

Austin has become the first battleground in that conflict, where the governor and a local sheriff are now locked in a standoff over the issue. A liberal enclave in the heart of conservative Texas, the capital city lies a little more than three hours from the Mexican border. About 35 percent of its 931,000 residents are Hispanic, according to U.S. Census estimates, and the city is home to a vibrant sanctuary movement that sprang to life during President Barack Obama’s first term, when his administration carried out a record number of deportations.

In November, voters in Travis County, which includes Austin, elected a new sheriff, who campaigned on a promise not to detain people based solely on their immigration status. Hours after Trump took office, Sheriff Sally Hernandez (D) posted an eight-minute video on her official website explaining the new policy, which took effect Wednesday.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R), a Trump supporter and immigration hard-liner, quickly fought back, accusing Hernandez of playing “a dangerous game of political Russian roulette — with the lives of Texans at stake.”

This week, Abbott made good on a threat to withhold $1.5 million in state criminal justice grants, money that funds services for veterans, parents struggling with drug addiction and victims of family violence. He also asked state agencies by Friday to prepare a full list of all state funding provided to Travis County, suggesting that additional punishment may be forthcoming.

...

Abbott called on lawmakers to act urgently to ban sanctuary cities. A measure drafted by state Sen. Charles Perry (R-Lubbock), an Abbott ally, would withhold state funding from cities, counties and colleges that do not comply with immigration detainers. It also would require county jailers to determine and record the immigration status of every arrestee. Supporters and protesters of the legislation crammed into the Texas statehouse Thursday for a hearing of the bill, which, as Perry acknowledged under questioning, does not actually define “sanctuary city.”

Last week, Abbott threatened to oust Hernandez, who was elected with 60 percent of the vote. Legislation to permit him to do so has yet to be filed, but a spokesman for Abbott noted that the threat to cut off state funding was sufficient to persuade the Dallas County sheriff to abandon sanctuary policies last year.

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In Austin, sanctuary activists applaud the new sheriff’s stance. But they say that keeping ICE out of the county jail will not be enough to thwart the crackdown. So they’re planning mass acts of civil disobedience, soliciting churches to shelter undocumented immigrants, developing neighborhood warning systems so people know to hide when ICE comes through and training volunteers to act as human shields.

“Our plan is to prepare 500 people to do sanctuary in the streets,” said Alejandro Caceres, 29, a legal resident from Honduras who leads the ICE Out of Austin campaign for the civil rights group Grassroots Leadership.

...

Rigby, the church minister, acknowledges that sheltering an undocumented immigrant is risky. “When you’re aiding someone who is being called a criminal, you’re protecting them in your church, you can be charged with violating federal law,” he said.

But Rigby insists that Americans have a humanitarian obligation to provide shelter to innocent people fleeing violence and lawlessness — even if it means defying the government in Washington and the Texas statehouse.

“You got a president and a governor who are rattling swords,” Rigby said. “Would you protect people being hunted? Well, now we get to find out the answer.” Read more about The 'sanctuary city' on the front line of the fight over Trump's immigration policy

Feb 2, 2017
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KXAN

Immigration advocates bracing for possible raids, training volunteers

Local immigration attorneys and activists are bracing for possible raids in Central Texas, after President Donald Trump recently signed an executive order that makes substantial changes to America’s immigration system. This federal order, combined with the current immigration policy back-and-forth battle between Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez and Gov. Greg Abbott, has immigration advocates concerned.

“Right now there’s a lot of rumors that Immigration and Customs Enforcement is beefing up their officers here in Austin because they plan to do a raid sometime in the weekend or sometime in the next few days,” said Alejandro Caceres, an immigration organizer for Grassroots Leadership. “I think that people should be on alert. I think that folks should be on the lookout.”

The activist group is going so far as to train volunteers on how to interact with law enforcement officials, local and federal, if an immigration raid breaks out in the area. The training is provided through a new program the organization started called “Sanctuary in the Streets,” which the organization said they’re borrowing from movements in Philadelphia.

“We’ve trained up to 130 people, but the plan is to train 500 people to get ready if a raid does happen,” said Caceres. The trained volunteers are already on-call and will be in the next few days.

Caceres says it comes as no surprise that members of the local immigrant community are fearful of possible raids.

“I think that they’re seeing what the state is doing. I think they’re seeing what the federal government is doing. I think it’s a really scary time,” he added.

...

Austin-area Grassroots Leadership is echoing the need for what they’re calling “Know Your Rights Education.”

“Don’t open your door if there isn’t a warrant. Make sure that your kids don’t open the door as soon as the door is knocked. If there is a warrant, make sure that it’s signed by a judge. Make sure that everyone’s information is correct,” said Caceres. “Don’t open your door. Don’t talk to officers if you don’t need to, and don’t sign anything.”

    Read more about Immigration advocates bracing for possible raids, training volunteers
    Feb 2, 2017
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    Texas Public Radio

    Immigrants rally against Governor's call to ban sanctuary cities

    Immigrants rallied at the Texas Capitol Wednesday to oppose Gov. Abbott’s calls to make a ban on sanctuary cities an emergency item. 
    At the State Capitol close to 100 immigrants and activist rallied against so-called sanctuary city legislation.  They’re worried about a bill filed by Sen Charles Perry a Lubbock Republican.  It would withhold funding from local law enforcement departments if officers arrest immigrants –even for minor charges – then don’t hold them longer for possible deportation.
     
    Maria Fructosa’s, 43, was one of dozens of legal immigrants who spoke at the rally.  In 2015, Fructosa’s adult son was detained by federal immigration agents after police in Pearsall southwest of San Antonio stopped him for a traffic violation.
     
    “So my son was detained because of a traffic stop because one of his lights was out and because of that he was then transferred and detained for three months," she says.
     
    Fructosa says her son was finally released – 3 months later -after federal agents determined he was in the country legally. She says every morning since she has clutched her son a little tighter.
     
    "Every morning I give him a blessing, I tell him to have a good day, to go with the blessing of God because sometimes we see each other in the morning and we don’t know if we are going to see each other that night," she says.
     
    Fructosa fears that under Sen. Perry’s bill, detention and deportations will increase.  She says Texas immigrants will be afraid of reporting crimes because they might end up being deported.
     
    Bob Libal with Grassroots Leadership, a non-profit fighting for fewer deportations, believes Latinos would be targeted if Perry’s bill passes.
     
    “There’s that old saying in Texas, you can beat the rap but you can’t beat the ride.  And a ride downtown now means deportation.  So this essentially opens up a license for individual officers to discriminate if they suspect someone is undocumented," he says.
     
    Libal claims when similar laws passed in other states deportations that began with minor traffic stop increased.   Read more about Immigrants rally against Governor's call to ban sanctuary cities

    Feb 2, 2017
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    Al Jazeera

    Protests grow as Texas moves against 'sanctuary' cities

    Hundreds of protesters took to the Texas capital on Thursday to rally against the halting of more than a million dollars towards law enforcement.

    Earlier, Governor Greg Abbott kept to his promise to withhold $1.5m from Travis County's law enforcement in an effort to penalise Austin's "sanctuary city" status.

    Sanctuary cities in general offer safety to undocumented migrants and often do not use municipal funds or resources to advance the enforcement of federal immigration laws. Sanctuary city is not an official designation.

    Now, Texas politicians are discussing Senate Bill 4, which aims to cut funding and impose other consequences on cities that provide safe harbour to the undocumented.

    "When I came in, there was a long line to sign up to testify in support of Austin's sanctuary city status … it's a lot of people," Cristina Parker, immigration programmes director at the civil rights group Grassroots Leadership, told Al Jazeera.

    Parker explained that Abbott's decision was viewed negatively by the community. 

    "We all rally around law enforcement. We don't see any reason behind cutting their funding," she said. "It doesn't make any sense."

    ...

    The protests in Austin come as US President Donald Trump continues to target the undocumented, threatening to deport them, and boasting about the construction of a wall along the border with Mexico to stem migration.

    But according to Parker, this has given vigour to the movement to protect the undocumented.

    "There's a lot more energy. I credit that with Trump supplying more fear. People feel a different sense of urgency," she concluded. Read more about Protests grow as Texas moves against 'sanctuary' cities

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