Grassroots Leadership In The News

Feb 1, 2017
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Austin American-Statesman

Immigrants, former inmates team up against prisons, deportations

A coalition of more than 100 immigrants, activists and former inmates marched through downtown Austin on Wednesday, urging lawmakers to give them a break as they consider legislation aimed at punishing so-called sanctuary cities and rolling back “fair chance” hiring policies.

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The experiences of former jail and prison inmates are not always the same as those of immigrants who entered the United States illegally, but Sofia Casini, immigration programs coordinator for Grassroots Leadership, said there are many parallels to the challenges they face.

“There is a (cross section) between the same communities who are being exploited and oppressed for profit and for gain from these private prison corporations, and from those who would wish to push us down through these bills in the legislature,” Casini said.

Lewis Conway Jr., a towering man who spent eight years in prison and another 12 on probation shouted into a megaphone as the crowd rumbled through downtown behind a booming drum line.

“Make Some noise for no more prisons, no more deportations, no more ICE, no more police brutality, no more drug wars in our community,” he said.

Conway now serves as a criminal justice program associate for Grassroots Leadership, a group that seeks an end to mass incarceration, deportation and privately run prisons. He called the prison system a social control mechanism.

“Many of the members of our community are locked in that jail, and they keep making excuses for keeping them locked up. But we’re not going to accept any more excuses,” Conway said. “The same excuses they made for those jails they made for slavery. The same excuses they made for why black lives don’t matter (are) why that jail exists.”

Melvin Halsey, a Navy veteran with the Texas Advocates for Justice said he wants to promote unity between the LBGT community, immigrants and the formerly incarcerated, and band together against the challenges the groups face.

Halsey, who said he suffers from mental health issues and has been incarcerated four times for offenses related to drugs and alcohol, said he is looking for a chance to be a good father and grandfather.

“There are so many of us who are formerly incarcerated who need a job, who need housing, who need to take care of our children and grandchildren,” Halsey said. “To kill that would just be devastating to a lot of us.” Read more about Immigrants, former inmates team up against prisons, deportations

Feb 1, 2017
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The Texas Tribune

Ahead of Thursday hearing, Texas Senate adds muscle to anti-sanctuary city bill

Ahead of a hearing on the measure that is expected to draw hundreds, Senate Republicans have updated their bill that would ban sanctuary cities in Texas to cover college campuses and expand potential punishments for local entities that choose to not enforce immigration laws.

The modified version of Senate Bill 4, by state Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, was given to members of the Senate State Affairs Committee Tuesday, and a public hearing on the proposal is scheduled for Thursday morning.

On Tuesday, Gov. Greg Abbott declared the issue one of four emergency items of the session. That designation means lawmakers could debate and pass the bill within weeks rather than adhering to the traditional 60-day waiting period to hear bills on the floor of either chamber. 

Sanctuary policies refer to entities — such as cities, counties or colleges — that do not comply with federal immigration law. Perry’s bill would allow local police to enforce immigration laws but only if the officer is working with a federal immigration officer or under an agreement between the local and federal agency. It would also punish local governments if their law enforcement agencies — specifically county jails — fail to honor requests, known as detainers, from federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers to hand over immigrants in custody for possible deportation. The punishment would be a denial of state grant funds.

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Bob Libal, the executive director of watchdog group Grassroots Leadership, said Perry's bill opens the door to local leaders being bullied by the state's leadership. 

"Threats to localities that are trying to do right by their residents is a big problem," Libal said. "It threatens to make our communities less safe."

Libal also said that demanding local entities comply with ICE will lead to mass deportation that would also sweep up nonviolent offenders.

"We can safely assume that we [will be] back to the peak numbers because of this program," he said. 

The UT-Austin chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) also plans to protest Perry's bill during Thursday's public hearing, according to a chapter spokesman. Read more about Ahead of Thursday hearing, Texas Senate adds muscle to anti-sanctuary city bill

Jan 30, 2017
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Texas Observor

Taking Shelter

FOR DECADES, RESIDENTIAL SHELTERS HAVE OPERATED AS HUMANE ALTERNATIVES TO IMMIGRANT DETENTION. COULD THEY WORK ON A LARGER SCALE?

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Residential shelters, in contrast, are based on a model that stresses humane treatment. They offer freedom of movement and a sense of community. Immigrants in shelters also have a dramatically better shot at finding legal representation and winning their cases.

Yet the federal government has shown little appetite for embracing such a model, instead expanding its detention regime. In October 2016, the detainee population hit an all-time high of42,000.

ICE does have a $126 million alternatives-to-detention program, the Intensive Supervision Appearance Program, or ISAP, but it’s run by a for-profit company and relies on punitive methods, such as GPS ankle monitors, rather than residential shelters.

Advocates for more humane alternatives faced a setback when President Trump won the election.Private prison corporations saw their stocks soar immediately after his victory. In his first week in office, Trump ordered the Department of Homeland Security to establish new detention centers along the border, begin construction of a wall and swell the ranks of Border Patrol and ICE.

Bob Libal, executive director of Grassroots Leadership, an Austin group that fights private prisons, said he predicts another round of growth for the immigrant detention regime. But that doesn’t mean he’s given up hope.

“Trump is volatile; he doesn’t know when he wakes up in the morning what he’s going to do,” Libal said. “There’s a fiscal argument to be made that might still hold sway.”

 
 
Read more about Taking Shelter
Jan 29, 2017
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News Channel 25

Central Texans discuss immigration in community

 

Waco's Immigration Alliance, an open forum presented "Welcoming Communities" on Sunday. 

Deshauna Hollie, a member of the Leadership Team for the group, helped put together the event weeks ago. She described the event happening this weekend after President Trump's recent executive orders as, "serendipitous."

For Hollie, and many others, this week was a reminder of why it's important to protect immigrants in the community.

Hope Mustakim spent her weekend protesting at DFW airport, before heading back to Waco to join the evenings discussion. Mustakim first became involved with Waco Immigration Alliance after her family's experience with the system.

"We bought a house in North Waco through Waco CDC every way you could plug into Waco. I was a student at Baylor so yeah we were living the Waco dream."

She said that dream was snapped into reality when immigration agents showed up at her front door.

Mustakim's husband was at risk of losing his green card after 20 years in the country. The long legal battle opened Mustakims eyes to what millions of [immigrants] are going through.

"We started becoming advocates for immigration reform instead of kicking people out instead of making a wall why not make the system functional."

Now a member of Waco Immigration Alliance, Mustakim works with the group to promote advocacy and understanding through education.
Sunday alongside Grassroots Leadership and members of the Austin Sanctuary movement, they met to share ideas on how to make Waco welcome for everyone. "Just feel very strongly about welcoming people in our community making sure that everyone feels safe like they're welcomed- we want everyone to be treated with dignity and respect.," Hollie said.

Mustakim knows that not everyone will agree but says it shouldn't stop the conversation.

"Let's do relationship with people let's get to know their story about their family whenever we have a face and a name to attach they are not just issues anymore they are real people." Read more about Central Texans discuss immigration in community

Jan 28, 2017
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NPR

Austin Sheriff Says She'll Limit Cooperation With Federal Immigration Authorities

Trump's war on sanctuary cities is playing out in Austin, Texas. The sheriff vowed to defy federal demand to turn over immigrants in the country illegally. The governor is threatening to remove her.

SALLY HERNANDEZ: The public must be confident that local law enforcement is focused on local, public safety, not on federal immigration enforcement. Our jail cannot be perceived as a holding tank for ICE or that Travis County deputies are ICE officers.

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BURNETT: With this action, Travis County joins 300 other jurisdictions around the country, such as New York City, Chicago and the state of California, that reject ICE detainers. These are requests by ICE to local law enforcement to hold unauthorized immigrants in jail so federal agents can decide whether to pick them up for possible deportation. In deep-red, law-and-order Texas, the sheriff's announcement, which she campaigned on, was akin to kicking a fire ant mound. Republican Governor Greg Abbott's response was swift. He spoke to FOX News.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GREG ABBOTT: She would give sanctuary to people who are in the United States illegally, who've been convicted of crimes in the past, of heinous crimes like armed robbery. They could have been operating in conjunction with drug cartels, and she would not cooperate with ICE whatsoever.

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Bob Libal is director of an immigrant human rights group in Austin called Grassroots Leadership. He points to studies that show noncitizens commit crimes and go to jail at about the same or lesser rate as citizens do. He sees the president's and the governor's offensive against sanctuary cities as scapegoating immigrants.

BOB LIBAL: It's simply playing on a cheap kind of anti-immigrant bigotry.

... Read more about Austin Sheriff Says She'll Limit Cooperation With Federal Immigration Authorities

Jan 27, 2017
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Public News Service

Battle Over Sanctuary Cities Heats Up in Texas

The fight over sanctuary cities in Texas has become a high-profile political battle between a county sheriff in Austin and Gov. Greg Abbott.

The governor has vowed to withhold millions in state funds under a proposed "Sanctuary Cities" bill if Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez keeps her election promise to not enforce most federal immigration policies. Add to that President Trump's executive order this week to withhold federal funds from sanctuary cities, and Cristina Parker, immigration programs director for the immigrant-rights group Grassroots Leadership, called the threats "political grandstanding."

"The governor has issued two main threats," she said. "One is to withhold state funds from Travis County - these are things that fund stuff like homeless programs, public-safety programs, needed money - to the tune of about $1.8 million."

Abbott's other threat is to remove Hernandez from office for not enforcing immigration policies. Parker said no law allows the governor to do that. Senate Bill 4, with a legislative hearing next week, would define sanctuary cities as those that do not cooperate with federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE. 

Parker said state officials - and now the president - are trying to make an example of cities such as Austin, Dallas, Houston and others, for opposing ICE requests for immigration holds.

"I've heard many other people describe it as the feeling that the governor is bullying our community and our local officials, who are putting in place policies that we demanded of them," she said. "Sort of an overreach, a little overstepping of bounds, to try to come and tell us what we should do in our community."

She said Hernandez mainly wants ICE to follow the same rules as any other law-enforcement agency.

"She will work with ICE if they come with a warrant. They come with a warrant for someone, she'll honor that," Parker said. "And every other law enforcement agency, they come with a warrant. And so really, Sally's just saying she wants ICE to have to follow that kind of due process."

The Immigrant Legal Resource Center lists 15 cities and counties in Texas among the 400 across the country it has identified as sanctuary cities.

The sheriff's statement is online at tcsheriff.org. SB 4, the Sanctuary Cities bill, is at capitol.state.tx.us. Read more about Battle Over Sanctuary Cities Heats Up in Texas

Jan 27, 2017
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The Nation

How to Fight Trump's Racist Immigration Policies

 After bracing for the worst, it’s finally here. Every day since he was inaugurated, Donald Trump has taken steps to implement more of his hate-filled, fear-mongering agenda. Just this week, he began moving forward with a ban on refugees, a wall along the Mexico-US border, a suspension of visas for anyone from particular Middle Eastern and African countries, and cuts to federal funding for sanctuary cities.

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 With so much happening, how can we continue to support immigrants, Muslims, and refugees? Here are five steps you can take to support communities targeted by the Trump administration:

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 4. ACT LOCAL: JOIN GRASSROOTS EFFORTS AND INITIATIVES
Many of the efforts protecting immigrants will be on the local level, so find the groups in your community doing the work. As with most small nonprofits, donations are always welcome, but if that’s not within reach, take time to learn about the organization, its active campaigns, and volunteer your time. Below are a few examples to get you started.
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 Grassroots leadership: Located in Austin, Texas, Grassroots Leadership believes “no one should profit from the imprisonment of human beings” and they “work for a more just society where prison profiteering, mass incarceration, deportation, and criminalization are things of the past.” They are currently organizing Sanctuary in the Streets Training to build sanctuary networks through direct action and organizing throughout Texas.

Read more about How to Fight Trump's Racist Immigration Policies
Jan 27, 2017
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KCENTV

Battle gets heated in Austin against Sheriff and Governor over new Immigration executive orders

As border control becomes more of a priority with the new White House administration, the fight over sanctuary cities is heating up close to home.

The county sheriff of Austin and Gov. Greg Abbott are facing off in a high-profile political battle as two different party mindsets clash in the Texas state capitol.

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“The governor has issues two main threats,” she said. “one is to withhold funds from Travis County- these are things that fund stuff like homeless programs, public-safety programs, needed money-to the tune of about $1.8 million,” Cristina parker, Immigration Programs Director for the Immigrant-Rights group Grassroots Leadership said.

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Senate Bill 4, which will be reviewed next week by legislation committees, defines sanctuary cities as those that do not cooperate with federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE.  

Hernandez has said that she will be willing to work with ICE if they give the proper due process of the law.

“She will work with ICE if they come with a warrant. They come with a warrant for some, she’ll honor that,” Parker said, “And every other law enforcement agency, they come with a warrant. And so really, “Sally’s just saying she wants ICE to have to follow that kind of due process.” Read more about Battle gets heated in Austin against Sheriff and Governor over new Immigration executive orders

Jan 27, 2017
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Brenham Banner-Press

Battle heating up over 'sanctuary cities'

The fight over sanctuary cities in Texas has become a high-profile political battle between a county sheriff in Austin and Gov. Greg Abbott.

The governor has vowed to withhold millions in state funds under a proposed “Sanctuary Cities” bill if Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez keeps her election promise to not enforce most federal immigration policies. Add to that President Trump’s executive order this week to withhold federal funds from sanctuary cities, and Cristina Parker, immigration programs director for the immigrant-rights group Grassroots Leadership, called the threats “political grandstanding.” Read more about Battle heating up over 'sanctuary cities'

Jan 26, 2017
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Vice News

Cell High: Trump's immigration orders will make private prisons filthy rich

Private prison companies just hit the jackpot.

While attention was focused Wednesday on President Donald Trump’s orders to start building the border wall and cut federal funding to sanctuary cities, another aspect of his decree went mostly overlooked: Trump effectively gave the Department of Homeland Security carte blanche to expand immigrant detention.

His executive order authorizes the department to “allocate all legally available resources” to “establish contracts to construct, operate, or control facilities to detain aliens at or near the land border with Mexico.” That means paying private prison companies like CoreCivic and the GEO Group to open new facilities to keep up with the Trump administration’s draconian “enforcement priorities” on immigration.

“It’s worse than we even imagined,” said Bob Libal, executive director of Grassroots Leadership, a nonprofit that opposes private prisons. “It’s the policy manifestation of all the ugly bigotry that Trump spewed on the campaign trail.”

The Trump administration’s enforcement priorities, also outlined in Wednesday’s executive order, will likely ensnare hundreds of thousands of people, including asylum seekers who present themselves at the border, undocumented immigrants who have merely been accused of crimes but not found guilty, and others convicted of petty offenses like driving without a license. All of those people could end up being locked up indefinitely — and the current detention facilities are already at capacity.

... Read more about Cell High: Trump's immigration orders will make private prisons filthy rich

Jan 25, 2017
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The San Antonio Current

Trump's Order Means Border Wall, More Immigrant Detention In Texas

Five days after his swearing in as president, Donald Trump signed executive orders on immigration that seem to follow through with some of his bleakest campaign promises — from strong-arming Mexico into paying for a border wall to banning Muslim immigrants from entering the country (including refugees of Syria's brutal civil war) and building up a deportation force to remove some of the country's estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants.

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Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Trump's Order Means Border Wall, More Immigrant Detention In Texas

Posted By  on Wed, Jan 25, 2017 at 5:40 pm

CBP

  • CBP

Five days after his swearing in as president, Donald Trump signed executive orders on immigration that seem to follow through with some of his bleakest campaign promises — from strong-arming Mexico into paying for a border wall to banning Muslim immigrants from entering the country (including refugees of Syria's brutal civil war) and building up a deportation force to remove some of the country's estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants. 

What the Trump White House announced on Wednesday is expected to have an enormous impact on Texas, which over the past decade has already seen a buildup of federal agents, state police, fencing and walls and other barriers along its 1,250 mile border with Mexico. In addition to expediting the buildup of a border wall (which Texas members of Congress don't even really want), the Trump administration hinted at how it might try to force Mexico to chip in on its construction; one executive order Trump signed Wednesday directs agency heads to "identify and quantify" the amount of foreign aid Mexico has received over the past five years, which the Trump administration could threaten to withhold if Mexico won't play ball. 

What's also notable, but not surprising, about Trump's executive action on immigration is that it expands the massive detention complex that has thrived in South Texas — and enriched private prison corporations that secured lucrative federal contracts to jail everyone from immigrants convicted of crimes to asylum-seeking women and children. Here's what White House press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters on Wednesday, according to the Texas Tribune: "We’re going to create more detention space for illegal immigrants along the southern border to make it easier and cheaper to detain them and return them to their country of origin. We’re going to end the last administration’s dangerous catch-and-release policy, which has led to the deaths of many Americans.”

Cristina Parker with Grassroots Leadership, a Texas-based nonprofit that's pushed against the buildup of private-prison run immigrant detention centers in Texas (and even went to court when state health officials tried to give one such facility a child care license last year), said this of Wednesday's executive action: "This will almost certainly mean more immigrant detention in Texas, and if the past is any indicator, we'll be putting even more people in the hands of for-profit prison companies." 

... Read more about Trump's Order Means Border Wall, More Immigrant Detention In Texas

Jan 24, 2017
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The Austin American Statesman

Like in Travis County, Dallas County sheriff incurred Abbott’s wrath

Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez knows what it’s like to get a letter from the governor.

In 2015, Valdez announced that her office would no longer provide blanket compliance with federal immigration officials seeking to intercept unauthorized immigrants at local jails for possible deportation.

Her new policy raised ire from numerous fronts in a deeply red Texas. And, like recently sworn-in Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez, Valdez quickly became the recipient of a letter from Gov. Greg Abbott with harsh criticism.

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Abbott threatened Monday to cut off state criminal justice grant funding to Travis County unless Hernandez rescinds a policy that would limit detention requests from Immigration and Customs Enforcement and would end ICE agents’ unfettered access to the Travis County Jail. Travis County received $1.8 million in criminal justice grant funding from the state last year.

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Hernandez’s policy is more specific. According to Hernandez, the Travis County Jail will only honor ICE detention requests, or “detainers,” on people charged or convicted of capital murder, murder, aggravated sexual assault and human trafficking. All other detainer requests would require a court order or warrant.

Bob Libal, executive director of Grassroots Leadership, called Hernandez’s policy the most progressive in the state. It comes closer to similar policies adopted in Colorado and Oregon.

Hernandez had long promised to end Travis County’s cooperation with ICE. She announced her policy Friday as celebrations and protests of President Donald Trump’s inauguration were underway. In recent years, ICE has relaxed its policy on detaining undocumented immigrants at jails, but that could be changed with the stroke of a pen from Trump. Read more about Like in Travis County, Dallas County sheriff incurred Abbott’s wrath

Jan 23, 2017
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The Daily Texan

Travis County Sheriff announces policy to not comply with federal immigration law enforcement

On Monday, Gov. Greg Abbott denounced Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez’s promise to not detain undocumented immigrants for deportations by federal agents without warrants, according to the Austin American-Statesman.

Abbott’s letter was in response to a video that was released last Friday in which Hernandez said she will not comply with Immigration Customs and Enforcement agents without warrants seeking to deport undocumented immigrants booked in local jails come Feb. 1.

“It is my policy to focus on local, public priorities and to leave it to federal immigration officials to focus on federal immigration enforcement,”
Hernandez said.

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Executive director Bob Libal of Grassroots Leadership, an advocacy organization championing immigration rights, said he has been waiting for such an official announcement for a policy by Hernandez.

“This is a tremendous victory for immigrant community members who have been pushing for years to put an end to the county’s voluntary compliance with immigration detainers of the jail,” Libal said. Read more about Travis County Sheriff announces policy to not comply with federal immigration law enforcement

Jan 20, 2017
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The Huffington Post

Austin Area Becomes Immigrant ‘Sanctuary’ As Trump Inaugurated

 The Travis County Sheriff’s Office announced a new policy Friday of limiting cooperation with detainers issued by Immigration and Customs Enforcement to hold undocumented immigrants.  

The changes, which make Austin a so-called sanctuary jurisdiction for deportable migrants, puts incoming Sheriff Sally Hernandez at odds with both President Donald Trump and Republicans in the Texas Legislature who are pushing bills to crack down on undocumented immigrants. And just hours after Hernandez’s announcement, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott threatened to cut state funding to Travis County.

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Bob Libal, the director of the immigrant rights group Grassroots Leadership, cheered the Travis County policy, describing it as the culmination of years of pressure from activists.  

“This sends a really loud and clear message that Travis County is against the mass deportation of our community members,” Libal told The Huffington Post. “And that is an incredibly important message to send today as Donald Trump is inaugurated, promising mass deportations and human rights violations in the immigrant community.”

The group is still pressing for further limitations to ICE holds and to restrict local police from asking about immigration status, however.

Supporters of limiting ICE holds contend that using local law enforcement agencies to help with federal immigration undermines trust in immigrant communities, drains local resources and unfairly ensnares victims of crime into the deportation process. In cases of domestic abuse, for example, police sometimes arrest both parties after an altercation. Read more about Austin Area Becomes Immigrant ‘Sanctuary’ As Trump Inaugurated

Jan 19, 2017
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The Guardian

Activism in the age of Trump: meet the leaders of the grassroots resistance

Women, immigrants and minorities were all targeted by Donald Trumpduring his presidential campaign.

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Here are some of the people and groups who are already leading the progressive fights on these and other issues, and how they’ll lead the resistance against a President Trump.

Bob Libal – immigration

Executive director, Grassroots Leadership

Based in Austin, Grassroots Leadership works to stop prison profiteering, mass incarceration and deportation. The organization successfully campaigned to stop immigrant families being detained at the T Don Hutton Detention Center in Texas in 2009.

Since Trump’s election, the group has been providing “sanctuary in the streets” training to residents. The plan is to build a network of activists – Grassroots Leadership aims to have 500 people signed up in the next two months – who will “literally put their bodies on the line” to prevent immigrants from being arrested or deported.

“We’re training people in every part of the city to be responsive should there be a raid, so people can get a call and actually turn out,” Libal said. Activists will then engage in “non-violent disobedience”, such as sitting between law enforcement officers and their suspected targets.

“Regardless of where you are, there is probably an immigration rights organization,” Libal said. “Find that organization and get involved. Because even in a time when federally things look pretty bleak, we have infinitely more power locally, and we need to turn our energies into ensuring people in our immediate communities are safe.” Read more about Activism in the age of Trump: meet the leaders of the grassroots resistance

Jan 17, 2017
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VICE

How Medical Copays Haunt Prisoners and Their Loved Ones

In the Texas prison system, illness is just another way for the state to profit on the back of inmates.

It's early on a weekday morning and Kyle Walker is thinking about what she has to do to keep her incarcerated boyfriend alive. At over six feet tall, the energetic 41-year-old stands out from the relatively somber rush hour crowd making their way to the office buildings of downtown Austin, Texas. She's on her way to work as a legal assistant, the job that supports her two kids and her boyfriend, who despite being in the custody of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice still needs a constant stream of help just to have the most basic necessities behind bars. 

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Walker's boyfriend* has been labeled as a sex offender since he was 17, after he slept with his then-girlfriend, who was 13 at the time. Upon finishing a seven-year term in the Barry B. Telford Unit, a prison in New Boston, Texas, he struggled to find a home because of his sex offender status. When police came by her home acting on a tip that there were drugs on location in early 2015, Walker says, they arrested and charged her boyfriend with failing to register his residence, a violation of probation. Now he's back at the Telford Unit, the same prison in which he spent much of his youth. Despite making parole last summer, he's been unable to find a legal place to live, a condition of his release. And until Walker and her boyfriend sort that out, he needs to cope with the Texas prison system, where inmates supplement their meager provisions with food and supplies bought by their families on the outside. 

More than anything else, though, it's health care that comes at a steep price.

After a 2011 Texas law raised the copay for medical care from $3 for each visit to a $100 annual flat fee, families of the incarcerated have scrambled to find a way to pay the difference. If a prisoner is considered indigent, meaning they don't have any money in their "trust fund"—the account that's used to pay for items like food and toilet paper—then they don't have to pay the $100 to receive health care. But once any money is deposited into the trust fund, half of it is docked to go towards the outstanding copay until the full amount is paid off. For Walker, that means any money she places into her boyfriend's account would go to pay off his debt for the health care he's already received, which includes care for managing his schizophrenia, desperately needed dental work, and further treatment for mental health issues. 

"I can only afford to spend $30 to $40 every couple of weeks to support him, and even to just put the money in his trust fund, there's a fee for that transaction," Walker explains. "So for them to deduct half of the money for services he's already received—it defeats the purpose of me even sending him money."

Families and significant others like Walker have found themselves shouldering a growing financial burden as prison systems across America look to raise revenue by charging inmates for necessities like clothing, food, toilet paper, and even the prison cell they're being kept in. Right now, at least 35 states charge their prisoners for health care in some way or other, with some county jails going so far as to pursue civil actions against prisoners after they're released in hopes of recouping health care costs. But Texas has the highest state prison population in the country, with an average of over 150,000 people sitting in its cells at any one time. And like many things in Texas, the state's prison medical copay is easily the largest in America

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But the fact is that in Texas prisons, commissary—and the funds sent by families to ensure access to it—plays a key role in ensuring the safety and health of prisoners. Jennifer Erschabek has spent years advocating on behalf of the families of inmates as executive director of the Texas Inmate Families Association after her own son was incarcerated. Her son developed serious rashes on his hands and arms after working in a metal shop in incredibly hot conditions. Erschabek was able to buy for her son the anti-fungal medication to keep him from developing a serious medical problem, but others aren't so lucky as to have someone on the outside looking out for them. Scabies, skin infections, chicken pox, norovirus and other easily treated conditions confront prisoners, who face a constant struggle to maintain their health. 

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And even when prisoners see a doctor, either by claiming indigence or paying the copay, there's still a serious gap between what prisoners receive and the healthcare people get in the outside world. Jorge Renaud spent 27 years in the Texas prison system and is now an organizer at Grassroots Leadership, a national organization that aims to take profit out of the prison industry. For the amount of agricultural and physical labor that prisoners have to do, Renaud says, he witnessed indifference on the part of some authorities to physical pain. 

"I didn't have a really good medical check up the entire time I was there," Renaud tells me. "The medical care is atrocious, and every individual who has been incarcerated could give you a story about it."

For the past several years, the state has slashed millions from the budget for medical care, provided for most prisons by the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB), which runs a prison hospital in Galveston. As the age of prisoners continues to rise, along with the cost of care, UTMB has relied on telemedicine to make up the difference, where doctors can videoconference with prisoners instead of being on site. Dr. Owen Murray, the vice president of correctional managed care at UTMB, has watched as the population in the prison shifted considerably—there are now 27,000 inmates over the age of 50. With costs running so high, and the governor looking to cut the overall prison budget by as much as $250 million, Murray doesn't see the money generated by the copay as making much of a difference in the larger picture. People aren't paying, but the state continues to need to provide tremendous amounts of money for care.  Read more about How Medical Copays Haunt Prisoners and Their Loved Ones

Jan 15, 2017
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The Guardian

How immigration activists prepare to fight deportations under Donald Trump

If and when Donald Trump’s administration executes on his deportation strategy, immigration advocates are starting to formulate a plan.

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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.

“We have kind of a canned spiel that one person just keeps repeating,” said Babs Miller, a minister at St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Austin: “‘I am a trained and certified immigration observer, notice has been given that there’s an incident to be observed, do you have a search warrant, may I see it please?’”

Miller is part of the Sanctuary in the Streets initiative, which aims to frustrate immigration raids – an enforcement strategy that was used to target Central American families by the Obama administration last year and is expected to be a feature of the next president’s term.

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“We’re trying to respond now to the threat of the Trump administration and the possibility that it will get even more severe than it has been,” said Sofia Casini, immigration programmes coordinator for Grassroots Leadership, an anti-mass incarceration group that announced its upcoming plans at a press conference in Austin on Monday.

Trump has pledged to remove up to 3 million undocumented immigrants quickly. “I think that we should take him at face value; everything that he says we should believe,” Carmen Zuvieta, of the ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] Out of Austin group, said through a translator. A mother of three, her husband was deported to Mexico four years ago.

Unless they have a warrant signed by a judge, ICE employees are not allowed to enter homes without permission.

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On average, according to Grassroots Leadership, 19 Austin-based immigrants are deported per week. With an estimated 1.5 million undocumented immigrants, Texas has the second-largest such population in the country, behind California, according to the Migration Policy Institute. Most have lived in the state for more than a decade.

Miller’s interest in the cause grew when her church gave sanctuary last February to two Guatemalans, Hilda Ramirez and her son, Ivan. They are still living there but gained relief from deportation in October, which allows them to leave the building without fear of being detained. A growing number of US churches are expected to open their doors to undocumented immigrants in the coming months in the knowledge that ICE policy discourages enforcement operations in “sensitive locations” such as places of worship.

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Families in Austin are also being encouraged to prepare binders with personal information such as forms of identification, marriage certificates, power of attorney letters and character references. If someone is detained, family members can then quickly provide attorneys with details that could speed a release on bond and may help gain quicker access to financial assets if the main breadwinner is in custody.

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And the new sheriff of Travis County (which includes Austin), Sally Hernandez, is a Democrat who ran on a platform of ending compliance with ICE requests to hold people who have been detained by local law enforcement for an extra 48 hours so they can be picked up by federal immigration authorities.

But politicians in Texas’s Republican-dominated legislature are set to debate a bill that would eliminate “sanctuary cities” that do not cooperate with federal immigration enforcement. The proposal has the support of the governor, Greg Abbott. Read more about How immigration activists prepare to fight deportations under Donald Trump

Jan 9, 2017
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KXAN

Austin groups defending locals against Trump’s immigration policies

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Several Texas groups say they plan to resist Donald Trump’s immigration policies here locally.

The American Civil Liberties Union, Grassroots Leadership, the Austin Sanctuary Network and the group ICE Out of Austin held a news conference on Monday morning. They talked about plans to defend people against deportation and how local and state policies can help their cause.

The immigration allies say the new Trump administration is fueled by hate and is quick to attack inherent human rights. Together they plan to build a foundation of resistance to impact policies and change. The conference announced their plans for Deportation Defense and Sanctuary in the Streets. Read more about Austin groups defending locals against Trump’s immigration policies

Jan 9, 2017
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KVUE

Local groups announce plans to 'resist Trump-era immigration policies'

Local groups announced plans for "deportation defense" and "sanctuary in the streets" as well as local and state policies at a press conference Monday morning.

At the press conference, ICE Out of Austin, Austin Sanctuary Network, Grassroots Leadership and the American Civil Liberties Union spoke about plans to "resist Trump-era immigration policies." Read more about Local groups announce plans to 'resist Trump-era immigration policies'

Jan 9, 2017
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The Daily Texan

Immigration rights groups organize day before state legislature convenes

Activist groups and supporters crowded in the Grassroots Leadership headquarters in east Austin, vowing to protect undocumented immigrants amidst an incoming state legislative session and president-elect Monday morning.

“We’re here today because we know that the next president-elect [Donald] Trump has promised mass deportations and human rights violations,” Grassroots Leadership executive director Bob Libal said.

Grassroots Leadership, ICE Out of Austin and Austin Sanctuary Network members laid out plans and pledged to support undocumented immigrants in the community during a press conference.

The ICE Out of Austin campaign is overseen by civil and human rights organization Grassroots Leadership. The campaign aims to end local and state law enforcement’s practice of holding onto detained undocumented or suspected undocumented immigrants in local jails until Immigration and Customs Enforcement federal agents come to process arrests and deport them.

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Sally Hernandez, Democrat and the new Travis County Sheriff who was sworn in Wednesday, has campaigned against holding onto undocumented immigrants until ICE agents arrive to arrest them. She replaced former Travis County Sheriff Greg Hamilton, who has cooperated with ICE, according to the Texas Tribune.

Libal said he and other activists are awaiting an announcement from Hernandez explicitly stating her policy to refuse Travis County jails from complying with ICE.

“She’s promised a really progressive immigration policy that we think will … reduce detainers or eliminate … detainers in the Travis County jail,” Libal said. “We’re very much looking forward to the announcement that could come at any time.”

Austin City Council has defied state government sentiment to crackdown on immigration through actions such as enacting emergency funding to cover immigration legal fees.

State lawmakers, however, are pushing for stricter immigration laws. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s filed Senate Bill 4 outlaws “sanctuary cities” in Texas that adopt policies protecting undocumented immigrants.

Cristina Parker, immigration programs director of Grassroots Leadership, said it is an uphill battle when it comes to challenging state and federal oversight.

“We call on all state representatives and state senators to represent Travis County and the Austin area to stand with us,” Parker said. “Ultimately, this is really about us versus Trump. He has promised a campaign of terror against the immigrant community and we believe that the only way to fight back is locally.” Read more about Immigration rights groups organize day before state legislature convenes

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