Grassroots Leadership In The News

Jan 9, 2017
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Texas Observor

Activists Announce 'Sanctuary in the Streets' Ahead of Trump Inauguration

Immigrant advocates gathered Monday morning in Austin to announce what they’re calling “Sanctuary in the Streets” — a city-wide, direct-action network that plans to defend undocumented immigrants from deportation raids under the incoming Trump administration.

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Alejandro Caceres of Grassroots Leadership added that the group is training people to be “the physical barrier between ICE and the person they want to raid.” Caceres said the network, which is divided into 10 districts, will maintain a hotline, (512) 270-1515, where people can report a raid in progress. Trained volunteers in the area will then be summoned to stand between ICE agents and the immigrant or immigrants targeted by deportation.

Caceres told the Observer they don’t know yet how fast response times will be, but they will be holding a practice run soon. Caceres explained that ICE has no authority to arrest American citizens, so ICE officials would have to depend on local law enforcement officials to arrest the network’s volunteers, making operations more costly and difficult.

“If immigration [agents] want to be seen with police officers arresting a bunch of nice, older church folks, that’s fine,” added Caceres. “But the public is going to see it, and more and more people will get involved.”

The city of Austin and Travis County have also pledged to defend immigrants. In December, in anticipation of the Trump administration, the Austin City Council voted to “find emergency funds” to expand the capacity of legal organizations to serve an additional 100 immigrants per month, according to KXAN.

In November, Travis County voters also elected Sally Hernandez as sheriff. Hernandez has promised to end collaboration between ICE and the Travis County jail. Like many jails, Travis County currently honors ICE detainers — meaning it extends detention of undocumented immigrants at ICE’s request so the agency may potentially deport them.

“At the local level, we can fight proactively for policies we believe in,” said Cristina Parker of Grassroots Leadership. “But at the state level, it’s about fighting against policies that would discriminate against and harm the immigrant community.”

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The Sanctuary in the Streets effort is an extension of an existing sanctuary movementSince the 1980s, progressive churches have shielded immigrants and refugees from deportation by allowing them to live on their premises, taking advantage of a long-standing ICE policy of avoiding “sensitive locations.” The movement has experienced a resurgence since 2014.

The Austin Sanctuary Network has won relief from deportation for Sulma Francoand Hilda Ramirez — both Guatemalan women.

“We’re adding onto the existing model,” Caceres told the Observer. “We are expecting sweeps and raids under Trump, so we need to get out there and put our physical bodies on the line to stop people from getting picked up in the first place.” Read more about Activists Announce 'Sanctuary in the Streets' Ahead of Trump Inauguration

Jan 7, 2017
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The Huntsville Item

Rules helping ex-cons find work are now targeted

The state's capital last spring became the first city in the South to stop private employers from looking into an applicant's criminal past before a job offer is on the table.

The rule followed a similar measure for government workers and won support from advocates who called it a step toward restoring citizenship, and lowering unemployment, among ex-convicts.

But the rule and similar "ban the box" laws, which seek to erase criminal history questions from job applications, are taking criticism. A Republican lawmaker wants to stop Texas cities from enacting them, wiping Austin’s off the books.

Rep. Paul Workman, of Travis County, author of House Bill 577, cited several reasons to stop the rules, including the binds they slap on business people screening would-be employees.

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But critics of Workman's bill note that 1 in 3 adults in Texas has a criminal history — a factor that screens out many applicants automatically and disproportionately affects people of color.

Unemployment among parolees has been measured at more than 51 percent, according to the William Wayne Justice Center for Public Interest Law.

A 2011 survey of parolees and former inmates in Austin and Travis County found that more than three-quarters said their convictions were the biggest barrier to reentering society.

“Even with a ban-the-box ordinance, the employer is under no obligation to hire the person. What they’re trying to do is provide a fair shot," said Ed Sills, communications director of the Texas AFL-CIO.

Jorge Renaud knows what it’s like to look for a job with a record. Now an organizer for Grassroots Leadership, an Austin-based civil rights group, Renaud served 25 years for robbery. He later earned a graduate degree in social work.

“I got out and had difficulty finding employment and housing,” said Renaud, 60. “People would throw my application off the top of the pile. I appreciated people who would sit down and say, ‘Tell me what happened.’"

"If you get to know me," he said, "you’ll see that I’m a reasonable guy.” Read more about Rules helping ex-cons find work are now targeted

Jan 5, 2017
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The Texas Observer

America Beyond Detention

The United States portrays itself as a beacon of freedom and liberty, yet it operates the world’s largest immigrant detention system, a burgeoning network that locks up refugees, asylum-seekers and other migrants who seek protection or a new life on our shores. In 2015 alone, more than 367,000 men, women and children were imprisoned in a system of 637 public and for-profit private prisons. The Trump administration has promised a crackdown on undocumented immigrants that could set off more growth in the detention sector.

On any given day, as many as 42,000 people wait in detention as their cases slowly move through overburdened immigration courts. Some will languish for years, costing U.S. taxpayers $126 per inmate per day. Far more significant is the human cost. Incarceration often leads to illness, depression or even suicide. In little more than a decade, at least 166 immigrants have died while in detention.

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Critics of detention argue that a 2009 congressional mandate requiring that ICE maintain 34,000 daily detention beds forces the agency to choose detention over alternatives. The quota has helped boost the stock of for-profit prison companies, which have looked to non-criminal immigrants as a source of growth. Immigrants nowrepresent the fastest-growing sector of the prison population.

The system is also financially burdensome. “We spend $2 billion a year just on detaining immigrants,” says Bob Libal, director of Grassroots Leadership, a nonprofit immigrant advocacy group. “And this is only part of a much larger detention and deportation apparatus that costs us billions, but it’s also costly in human lives.” Alternatives to detention such as residential shelters are a less expensive, more humane way to comply with U.S. laws, he says. “Detention should never be the first priority.” Read more about America Beyond Detention

Jan 5, 2017
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The Street

Trump's Election Frees Prison Stock

Private prison stocks have soared in light of recent American political developments, and they may be poised to climb even higher.

Donald Trump's election and his subsequent announcement of plans to nominate Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions as Attorney General have sent investors rushing to private prison stocks in recent months. Since Election Day, shares of The GEO Group (GEO) have climbed more than 50%, and shares of CoreCivic (CXW) have surged over 70%. 

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About two-thirds of immigrant detainees are kept in private facilities (as opposed to about 15% of federal inmates). According to data from the Austin, Texas-based organization Grassroots Leadership, the private prison industry is expected to acquire 80% of any future immigrant detention beds. Read more about Trump's Election Frees Prison Stock

Dec 20, 2016
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AlterNet

Mothers Incarcerated With Their Children in Obama's Disgraceful Family Prisons Want Freedom for the Holidays

“We are desperate because this will be the second Christmas that our children have to spend here,” 17 mothers incarcerated at the Berks County Family Detention Center wrote in a recent joint letter to state authorities,publicized by the advocacy organization Grassroots Leadership. “This is in addition to all the other special dates—such as the birthdays of our children and our own, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, etc.—that we have had to spend in this jail… We ask you, 17 desperate mothers, to give the biggest gift to our children of being able to spend Christmas among family.”

Nearly 500 mothers and children are locked up in Berks, one of three remaining “family detention centers” in the United States. In 2014, the Obama administration responded to the crisis of violent displacement from Central American countries by incarcerating mothers with their children in facilities that human rights observers say amount to prisons.

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With Donald Trump slated to take the White House in a month, advocates say now is a vital time for the Obama administration to shut down the facilities and disavow their legacy. While it is difficult to predict what policies the incoming administration will unleash, the president-elect has threatened mass deportations targeting 11 million undocumented people in the United States, including up to three million forced evictions in the first 100 days.

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“Instead of handing the keys to these prisons to Donald Trump, Obama can instead end this now," said Cristina Parker, immigration programs director at Grassroots Leadership. “Family detention is a national disgrace, and a blemish on Obama’s already-terrible record on deportations." Read more about Mothers Incarcerated With Their Children in Obama's Disgraceful Family Prisons Want Freedom for the Holidays

Dec 15, 2016
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San Antonio Express

Texas senators to Bureau of Prisons: Delay contract with private operators

A group of lawmakers, including Texas’ senators, have asked the Bureau of Prisons to put the brakes on a contract for 3,600 beds in private detention facilities that could result in closures of prisons in Texas.

They’re asking the Obama administration to hold off on granting the contract, which at one time was slated for more than 10,000 beds in seven states, including Texas. That number was reduced drastically this year after the Justice Department announced it would begin phasing out its use of private prison operators.

The contract, which could be shared by several companies, would have been a renewal of existing agreements to operate prisons for the bureau. The reduced contract could result in the closure of some facilities.

The letter was hailed by private prison company GEO Group, which employs about 1,500 people in Texas through BOP contracts, but was criticized by an Austin-based advocacy group as the latest effort to delay the contract until President-elect Donald Trump takes office.

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Bob Libal, the executive director of the Austin-based advocacy group Grassroots Leadership, which has opposed private prisons, said the company is likely to lose its challenge. He wondered if the letter and the protest by GEO are part of a “stalling technique” in hopes that a Trump administration will award larger contracts. The Justice Department’s decision to phase out private prisons was based not just on the problems identified but a declining inmate population, Libal said.

“They’re trying to thwart the common-sense move that, if you don’t need prison beds, you don’t sign contracts with substandard prisons to continue to operate them,” he said. Read more about Texas senators to Bureau of Prisons: Delay contract with private operators

Dec 13, 2016
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KXAN

Proposed bill would ban Texas cities from ‘fair chance’ hiring ordinances

Texas lawmaker Rep. Paul Workman introduced bill HB 577 that wants to ban local governments, like the city of Austin, from forcing private employers in “Ban the Box” and “Fair Chance” hiring ordinances.

Back in March, the city council voted to delay background checks until a potential employee was given a hire-offer. The goal was to allow people with criminal history abetter chance at finding jobs.

Jorge Renaud, the Organizer for Texas advocates for justice, says the new proposed bill would hurt people like him who needed to get back into the workforce.

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Some, however, think ordinances like Austin’s create an undue burden on local businesses. The Texas Association of Business’ Vice-President of Governmental affairs, Cathy Dewitt says, employers aren’t getting the full picture of who they’re talking to when ordinances like the fair-chance one are put in place.

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She argues that if local governments want to use hiring practices like “Ban the Box” or “Fair-Chance” they can, but it infringes too much on private businesses. “The city of Austin is the only one that has extended it to the private employers, and how they’ve done so, almost creates a protected class for criminals, while we do want to help them, in creating a protective class, can be considered unfair.”

Renaud says, “All those individuals, you’re going to deny them the opportunity, the real opportunity to sit down and have a conversation with a potential employer, we’re going to say no because of that history" Read more about Proposed bill would ban Texas cities from ‘fair chance’ hiring ordinances

Dec 8, 2016
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Fort Worth Weekly

No Family Left Behind

Family detention facilities are not childcare centers. That was the decision handed down on Friday by State District Judge Karin Crump in a case brought by an anti-private prison group against the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, as well as two private prison giants: GEO Group and CoreCivic (formerly, the Corrections Corporation of America).

The lawsuit by Grassroots Leadership sought to deny childcare licenses to GEO’s Karnes Family Residential Center and CoreCivic’s South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley. Both Karnes and Dilley had sought the licenses after a ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Dolly Gee in July, 2015, that holding asylum-seeking women and their children in detention centers violated a 1997 ruling that required federal authorities to detain children in the least restrictive settings possible.

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The Dilley facility had never been granted a license; a third family detention center in Pennsylvania was granted a childcare license that has since been revoked. The Crump ruling invalidates the Karnes license.

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Immediately following the ruling, 460 women and children from Karnes and Dilley were released and sent by bus to the RAICES center in San Antonio. A press release from ICE, part of the Department of Homeland Security which contracts out the family detention centers, said that the release was a normal part of operations and not done as a result of Crump’s ruling.

“They can say what they want, but nobody knew about the release ahead of time,” said Dr. Luis Zayas, dean of the School of Social Work at the University of Texas at Austin and one of the people who testified in the case for Grassroots Leadership. “They just put these people on busses and sent them out to RAICES with no real warning.”

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Unfortunately, despite the release of that many asylum seekers over the weekend, the Dilley facility is still holding 1,787 women and children, Karnes is still holding 606, and the Berks facility in Pennsylvania, a very small facility that holds a maximum of 100, is still holding 86, according to ICE spokesman Carl Rosnok.

Bob Libal, executive director of Grassroots Leadership, acknowledged that while the Crump ruling makes it clear that the family detention centers are operating illegally, “this will not close down these facilities immediately, but it is a victory for all of us who have been saying that adult prisons are not childcare facilities. And the ruling reiterates that these places are not only immoral, but they’re illegal as well.”

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Libal believes that “when you meet these folks, you instantly realize these are not national security threats. These are moms and kids fleeing horrible violence, and we throw them into detention, sometimes for months, and then still try to deport them. Back to what? More horrible violence? If anything, this decision should be an indication that President Obama should end these family detention centers once and for all.” Read more about No Family Left Behind

Dec 6, 2016
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Fox News Latino

460 undocumented immigrants released from Texas family detention centers

More than 400 women and children were released from two Texas immigration detention centers over the weekend, after they were found to be holding families in violation of Texas law.

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They came from the only two detention centers in the state – the Karnes County Residential Center in Karnes City and the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley – that have been licensed to hold children, but a state District Court judge, Karin Crump, on Friday invalidated those licenses.

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Attorney General Ken Paxton's office filed an appeal in an effort to make stand the Department of Family and Protective Services license of the facilities as residential child-care centers. The licenses are needed because a federal judge ruled last year the centers would have to eventually release the immigrant children if they didn't get them.

Judge Crump ruled the department cannot issue the licenses without offering an explanation for her decision, saying only that “runs counter to the general objectives of the Texas Human Resources Code and is, therefore, invalid.”

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The company that operates the Karnes City center, GEO Group, said in a statement to the San Antonio Express-News that the lawsuit brought by Grassroots Leadership is without merit. Read more about 460 undocumented immigrants released from Texas family detention centers

Dec 6, 2016
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Texas Observor

More Than 500 Central American Families Freed from Detention after Court Ruling

An immigrant shelter and a Mennonite church in San Antonio are hosting hundreds of Central American women and children released unexpectedly over the weekend from two detention centers in South Texas.

Volunteers are scrambling to house all the families, who now need to secure bus and airplane tickets so they can reunite with relatives in the United States. Some advocates suspect the mass release of immigrants is due to a court ruling last Friday that prohibits Texas from licensing immigration jails as child care facilities.

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Despite comments from RAICES saying the releases over the weekend are unprecedented, ICE said in a prepared statement that it was “scheduled as part of normal operations and not in response to the court ruling.”

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“For whatever reason, the releases are a good thing,” said Bob Libal, director of Grassroots Leadership, a nonprofit immigrant advocacy group that was a plaintiff in the lawsuit settled last Friday. Grassroots Leadership, along with detained Central American women and children, sued the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) after it granted a child care license to private prison corporation Geo Group to fill the detention center in Karnes with women and children from Central America who were seeking asylum.

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Libal said the state of Texas rubber-stamped the immigrant jails to placate the federal government, allowing for substandard child care regulations such as housing eight unrelated people in the same room.

But after last Friday’s court ruling, the state can no longer provide the certification, which means the two family immigrant detention facilities are out of compliance with federal law. Libal said he and many others would like to see the child detention facilities close for good. But it’s still unclear whether there’s any penalty for being out of compliance, or whether ICE will stop detaining children anytime soon.

The state is already appealing Friday’s ruling, Libal said. “The Obama administration shouldn’t be turning over detention camps to Donald Trump,” he said. Read more about More Than 500 Central American Families Freed from Detention after Court Ruling

Dec 6, 2016
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Texas Tribune

Immigration detention centers will continue operating despite judge's ruling

Two privately run immigration detention centers in Texas will continue their normal operations despite a Travis County judge’s ruling last week that prevents the state from licensing the facilities as child care centers.

Late Friday, state District Judge Karin Crump ruled that the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services could not issue the licenses, which are needed to comply with a federal judge’s order issued last year. The centers are in Dilley and Karnes City and are operated by Corrections Corporation of America and Geo Group, respectively.

The companies are under contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement to run the centers holding some of the tens of thousands of Central American women and children that have illegally crossed into Texas since 2014. The centers have been criticized by rights groups for allegedly operating more like prisons. 

The Texas DFPS granted the GEO Group a license for its facility earlier this year. In a statement, a spokesperson said the company always adheres to current standards. 

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But the ruling would invalidate the company's license, said Bob Libal, executive director of Grassroots Leadership, an immigrants rights group that filed the lawsuit.

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The licensing has been a critical step since July 2015 when U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee ordered that immigrants held in Texas and elsewhere should be released because their detention violates the provisions of a 1997 legal settlement — the Flores v. Meese agreement — that requires undocumented juveniles be held in centers that protect their overall health and safety. The licenses would provide for more oversight of the facilities, state officials said last year when they began the process.

Libal said he didn’t expect the facilities to clear out immediately after the ruling and expected an appeal. But he said the ruling will affect how the government and the companies move forward.

“The Flores settlement says that unlicensed and secure detention centers cannot detain children. I think that these facilities would be operating outside of that,” he said. “I know that’s a question for federal courts, but I’m happy that the court has reiterated what we’ve been saying and what’s basically common sense — that a prison is not a child care facility.” Read more about Immigration detention centers will continue operating despite judge's ruling

Dec 6, 2016
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Hoy Dallas

Piden apoyo para albergar a mujeres y niños que ICE dejó libre en el sur de Texas

DALLAS -- Más de 450 mujeres y niños centroamericanos recluidos en dos centros de detención del sur de Texas fueron liberados por ICE durante el fin de semana, informó el grupo RAICES.

El Centro para la Educación y los Servicios Legales del Inmigrante y Refugiado (RAICES, por sus siglas en ingles) dijo que las mujeres y los niños dejados en libertad formaban parte de quienes se encuentran recluidos en los centro de detención en Karnes City y Dilley, cerca de San Antonio.

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Karin Crump, juez de la Corte del Distrito 250, invalidó la regulación del estado de Texas, que había permitido dicha licencia a los Centros de Detención de Karnes y Dilley.

La decisión de la juez se produjo tras una demanda que presentó la organización “Grassroots Leadership” que se opone a que las familias migrantes sean encarceladas. 

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Las mujeres salieron con un documento que les permite permanecer en Estados Unidos en lo que reciben cita con un juez de inmigración. Una gran cantidad de los liberados tienen familias en diferentes estados del país y podrán acercarse a ellos, dijo Fisher.

La Oficina de Inmigración y Aduanas (ICE) no informó de la liberación llevada a cabo en los dos centros de detención que son operados por la compañía "Corrections Corp. Of America" (CCA), la administradora de penitenciarias más grande del país.

ICE originalmente solicitó que se otorgaran licencias de guardería a ambos centros de detención después de que un juez en California dictaminó que los centros Karnes y Dilley estaban violando un acuerdo judicial que rige el tratamiento de los niños migrantes. Read more about Piden apoyo para albergar a mujeres y niños que ICE dejó libre en el sur de Texas

Dec 5, 2016
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The San Antonio Current

Texas Blocked From Licensing Immigration Lockups as Child Care Centers

Texas can't lower its standards in order to license a couple of South Texas immigration lockups run by private prison corporations. 

That's the result of a final judgement issued by a Travis County judge late Friday in a lawsuit triggered by the state's unusual decision to license immigrant detention centers as child care facilities. In her final ruling, Judge Karin Crump said that allowing the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services to give family detention centers the state stamp of approval "runs counter to the general objectives of the Texas Human Resources Code." 

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Grassroots Leadership, a nonprofit that opposes private prisons, filed a lawsuit earlier this year to block state licensing of the centers. Jerry Wesevich, an attorney with Texas RioGrande Legal Aid who represented Grassroots, said that state licensing of detention centers was never about ensuring the welfare of children. “The state’s executives admitted in documents and testimony that DFPS wanted to license these facilities to help the federal government, and not the children," Wesevich, said. "Motive matters and we believe it was the key to the case." 

“The conditions at Karnes and Dilley are equivalent to prisons, not childcare facilities,” said Grassroots director Bob Libal. “We are glad the court heard our concerns about the damage that family detention does to mothers and their children and how lowering standards to issue licenses to these facilities only exacerbates that harm."

Libal also asked that the Obama Administration "end the practice of detaining immigrant families once and for all." Read more about Texas Blocked From Licensing Immigration Lockups as Child Care Centers

Dec 5, 2016
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The Huffington Post

Hundreds Of Immigrant Moms And Kids Freed From Detention After Texas Court Ruling

Hundreds of women and children were released from two family detention centers over the weekend, after a Texas state judge sided with critics who say the facilities more closely resemble jails than child care centers.

The mass releases were a victory for immigrant rights advocates, who argue that it’s unnecessary and inhumane to lock up undocumented mothers and kids seeking asylum in the U.S.

The state lawsuit focused narrowly on emergency rules designed to allow the detention facilities to meet Texas’ child care licensing standards. But the state case arises out of ongoing federal litigation, which has put Immigration and Customs Enforcement on notice that these facilities are not acceptable places to house kids.

“This may not be the end of our legal battles,” said Bob Libal, executive director of Grassroots Leadership, which brought the state lawsuit. “But for now, if these facilities want to apply to operate as child care facilities, they have to do it like any other child care facility ― rather than the state designing a rule that fits prisons.”

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The Karnes and Dilley detention centers would need to make significant changes to qualify as child care facilities under previously established Texas law. One problem is that the centers hold multiple families together in a single unit, meaning children have been housed with unrelated adults ― a generally prohibited practice for child care facilities because of the risk of abuse.

Another key issue is that children’s presence at licensed child care facilities is essentially optional and they can leave. By contrast, kids can’t leave the detention centers at Karnes or Dilley unless ICE or an immigration judge releases them.

Despite the ongoing litigation, ICE extended CoreCivic’s contract to run the Dilley detention center in October.

 
Read more about Hundreds Of Immigrant Moms And Kids Freed From Detention After Texas Court Ruling
Dec 5, 2016
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ABC News

Texas Appeals Ruling That Bans License for Detention Centers

The Texas attorney general on Monday appealed a judge's ruling that prevents state officials from issuing child care licenses to two federal detention centers in South Texas holding families that have illegally entered the U.S.

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State District Judge Karin Crump on Friday ruled the department cannot issue the licenses. Crump's ruling did not offer an explanation for her decision, but she had previously issued an injunction against the licenses from being issued, determining at one point that the state agency had improperly fast-tracked changes to create a path for the facilities to get licensed.

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The lawsuit that brought Crump's ruling was filed by Austin-based activist group Grassroots Leadership, which contends the facilities are prisons that are inappropriate for family detention and that minimum standards have been lowered to license them. The group's director, Bob Libal, said Monday that it's part of broader legal efforts to have federal officials adhere to a longtime agreement that called for children and their families to be held only for a short time before being released to family, friends or others while their cases are decided.

"Evidence is continuing to mount that not only is the detention immoral but it's also illegal," Libal said. Read more about Texas Appeals Ruling That Bans License for Detention Centers

Dec 5, 2016
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The Monitor

Family detention centers blocked

An Austin judge blocked the licensing of two family immigrant detention centers in Texas on Friday following a recommendation from a Department of Homeland Security committee to stop detaining families.

Judge Karin Crump of the 250th state District Court invalidated the Texas regulation that allowed for the licensure of the nation’s two largest family detention centers located in Karnes and Dilley.

Jerry Wesevich, an attorney with Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid representing the plaintiffs in the case, argued that the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services is only granted authority to regulate child care facilities and that family jails are not childcare facilities.

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The plaintiffs also said that family detention is harmful to children and that licensing the facilities under lowered standards would only increase the harm suffered by children.

A similar argument was made recently by the DHS Advisory Committee on Family Residential Centers. In an October report released a few weeks ago, the committee recommended DHS, “simply avoid detaining families.”

“DHS’s immigration enforcement practices should operationalize the presumption that detention is generally neither appropriate nor necessary for families,” the report states, “And that detention or the separation of families for purposes of immigration enforcement or management, are never in the best interest of children.”

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One plaintiff testified that her daughter had been spoken to and touched inappropriately by another unrelated detainee sharing their room at the Karnes center, according to a news release from Grassroots Leadership, a Texas-based national organization fighting to end private prisons.

Immigration Attorney Jodi Goodwin testified in court that in addition to the damage to detained children’s physical and mental health, attorney Goodwin also testified that detention itself hindered a family’s ability to successfully present their asylum case in court.

The plaintiffs also argued that licensing the detention centers would result in lengthier stays of these families. Read more about Family detention centers blocked

Dec 4, 2016
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Victoria Advocate

Should undocumented immigrants receive harsher sentences?

Immigration and border security issues will be among the topics during the 2017 session of the Texas Legislature.

Among the proposed legislation addressing immigration and border security issues in Texas is Senate Bill 108. The bill, filed by State Sen. Bob Hall, R-Edgewood, would increase mandatory minimum sentences for undocumented immigrants convicted of a first-degree felony.

The law would mean a convicted undocumented immigrant would face life in prison without parole.

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Con: Proposal adds to trend of 'scapegoating immigrants'

Opponents say a proposed Texas law that would send felony convicted undocumented immigrants to prison without parole is an irrational policy that is too costly for the state.

"It's concerning," said Bob Libal, executive director of Austin-based Grassroots Leadership, a nonprofit that works on prison reform. "There's this troubling trend of scapegoating immigrants just as some conservatives in Texas are rethinking the state's position as the largest jailer in the world."

Libal said he was interested in seeing the pending fiscal note associated with SB108, which will estimate the cost of imposing the legislation.

"If this passes, the impact is that we'll overcrowd our jails even more," he said. "It'll double our costs and our prison population because of our high conviction rates."

In Texas, almost all cases involving convicted undocumented felons result in deportation, Libal said.

In 2016, Immigration and Customs Enforcement reported deporting 235,413 undocumented immigrants from the United States, of whom 59 percent or about 139,000 were convicted criminals.

Libal said deportation wasn't Grassroots Leadership's preferred option, but it was better than what SB108 was offering because he expects the bill will take funds away from education, health and other social welfare needs for Texans in 2017. Read more about Should undocumented immigrants receive harsher sentences?

Dec 4, 2016
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My San Antonio

State cannot issue child care licenses for family detention centers, judgment finds

A judge issued a final judgment Friday to prevent the state from issuing a child care license for family detention centers, such as the 2,400-bed immigration detention center in Dilley or a 1,000-bed center in Karnes County, according to the Austin-based advocacy group Grassroots Leadership.

The group sued the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services along with the Corrections Corporation of America and the GEO Group earlier this year after DFPS issued a child care license for the Karnes County Residential Center. In June, State District Judge Karin Crump issued a temporary injunction against the department.

“During hearings in May and June, Judge Crump heard testimony from mothers detained at the facilities who testified to the prison-like conditions at the facility, and child welfare and faith leaders who argued that children locked up with their mothers in immigrant family detention camps are not safe, physically or mentally,” a press release from Grassroots Leadership read.

... Read more about State cannot issue child care licenses for family detention centers, judgment finds

Dec 2, 2016
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Rewire

Department of Homeland Security Will Continue Contracting With Private Prison Companies

A Department of Homeland Security (DHS) subcommittee has decided that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) should continue contracting with private prison companies, which have come under fire for their incidents of preventable deaths and allegations that detainees are abused and mistreated.

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 DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson tasked the Homeland Security Advisory Council (HSAC) with creating a subcommittee to review ICE’s use of private prison companies like the GEO Group and Corrections Corporation of America, whichrecently rebranded as CoreCivic. Opponents of private prison companies have pointed to allegations of human rights abuses, including incidents of sexual abuse, as a primary reason for the closure of facilities operated by the GEO Group and CoreCivic.

HSAC released the report on December 1 after conducting interviews with detention experts, executives from the major private detention companies, and representatives from national and local immigration advocacy groups, according to the report. Members of the subcommittee also visited two ICE detention facilities, one owned and operated by ICE and the other owned and operated by a private for-profit prison company.

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A fear among advocates—including Bob Libal, executive director of the Austin, Texas-based immigrant rights’ organization Grassroots Leadership—is that ICE will not be held accountable for the growing number of deaths at for-profit prisons. In Raquel Calderon de Hildago’s case, she was being held at CoreCivic-run Eloy Detention Center, which is considered by migrants as one of the worst places to be detained, when she had a series of seizures. She was transferred by paramedics to a nearby hospital, where she died on November 27 at the age of 36. As the Arizona Republic reported, “At the time of her death, she was awaiting deportation to Guatemala, ICE officials said. ICE said database checks indicate she had no criminal history in the U.S.”

Libal told Rewire in a phone interview that he was “heartened” by HSAC rejecting the report’s core recommendation at the hearing this week.

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Libal said that while it’s “somewhat heartening” that the committee dissented, it’s important to get to the heart of the “real issue”: The reason ICE can’t extract itself from contracts with companies like CoreCivic and GEO is because there are too many people in detention—and more expected in the coming months. Any plans for mass deportation, as the president-elect has proposed, require an immediate increase in detention, as migrants awaiting their deportations are placed into detention centers for weeks and sometimes even years. This is an issue that rests squarely on the shoulders of both ICE and the Obama administration, Libal said.

“My hope, and I think a hope of a lot of advocates, was that the report would recommend that ICE reduce the number of people detained, but the report made no such recommendation,” the executive director said.

Moving forward, there are a lot of unknowns about the detention system and how it will continue to take shape. This week, the U.S. government argued at the U.S. Supreme Court that certain migrants in detention shouldn’t qualify for bond hearings after being detained for at least six months. The American Civil Liberties Union and other advocacy organizations are pushing back against these policies, arguing that all migrants in detention deserve legal protections and due process. Libal said it is this kind of pushback that will be needed more than ever as we enter a new administration intent on further criminalizing and targeting migrants for prolonged detention and deportation.

“We are preparing for what could be one of the darkest times in our nation’s history,” Libal said. “We are handing over the keys to a human rights violation machine to Donald Trump’s immigration force—and that is the fault of this administration. The level of detention dictated why [the subcommittee] felt so beholden to private prison interests. If we had a quarter of people in immigration detention that we do, this would be a much easier problem to solve. And the fact that ICE continues to promote reliance on detention over release from detention or community-supported alternatives is the other reason we have this huge problem.” Read more about Department of Homeland Security Will Continue Contracting With Private Prison Companies

Nov 29, 2016
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The Intercept

NEW SANCTUARY CITIES IN TEXAS VOW TO RESIST DONALD TRUMP’S DEPORTATIONS

A decidely despondent contingent of city and county elected officials gathered at city hall in Austin, Texas, on November 17 for a press conference designed to address residents’ “safety concerns” following the election of Donald Trump as the next president of the United States.

In particular, the officials — including the city’s mayor, several city council members, and the newly elected district attorney and sheriff — sought to quell the concerns of the city’s sizable immigrant population, given the nasty, xenophobic rhetoric espoused by Trump and his surrogates.

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Hernandez’s campaign promise put Austin on a trajectory to become the state’s first official so-called sanctuary city, a move praised by residents, activists, and city officials alike — that has also put the city, along withhundreds of other jurisdictions like it across the country, on a collision course with the Trump administration. Trump has vowed to undertake mass deportation of immigrants and to withhold millions in federal funds from jurisdictions that would try to stand in his way. “Cities that refuse to cooperate with federal authorities,” he said, “will not receive taxpayer dollars.”

Although there is no legal definition of what a sanctuary city is, the term is colloquially bestowed on cities or counties that have policies limiting or refusing local law enforcement cooperation with federal immigration enforcement authorities.

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Not only are the programs abusive, but in the case of S-Comm, unconstitutional — according to a string of recent court cases in which judges have found that the unlawful detention of a person absent probable cause is a violation of the Fourth Amendment.

That fact, in turn, may make it difficult for a Trump administration to attack so-called sanctuary cities by threatening to withhold federal funding. “You can’t coerce [someone] through federal funding to do something that is unconstitutional,” said Lena Graber, special projects attorney for the Immigrant Legal Resource Center.

That defect may also impact states that align themselves with Trump’s thinking and pass — or attempt to pass — laws that would punish cities or counties that uphold their community values by adopting sanctuary city policies. Texas lawmakers, for example, have tried multiple times to pass just such a law. This year, the governor and lieutenant governor have madeits passage a priority, and activists are gearing up for what they believe will be a tough legislative session. “I think we’re in for a real fight this year,” said Bob Libal, executive director of the activist group Grassroots Leadership. “If there’s anything this election shows us it’s that you can get elected by appealing to the worst in people when it comes to immigration — the worst.” Read more about NEW SANCTUARY CITIES IN TEXAS VOW TO RESIST DONALD TRUMP’S DEPORTATIONS

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