Grassroots Leadership In The News

Apr 15, 2015
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Huffington Post

Bed Quota Fuels 'Inhumane' And 'Unnecessary' Immigrant Detention: Report

The private prison industry’s growing role in immigrant detention is due in part to Congress' requiring the federal government to maintain some 34,000 detention beds, according to a report released Wednesday.

The report, drafted by Grassroots Leadership, a nonprofit based in Austin, Texas, calls on Congress to eliminate the immigrant detention quota from its 2016 appropriations request.

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Bethany Carson, a co-author of the study who spoke on the call, said the detention bed quota is “inhumane” and “unnecessary.” The Grassroots report urges policymakers to reduce the number of required detention beds through “community-based” alternatives to detention. The report does not describe those alternatives in detail, but Grassroots has in the past endorsed programs in which immigration authorities partner with non-governmental organizations to ensure that released migrants comply with court proceedings and find access to community services.

“The only beneficiaries from the detention quota are for-profit corporations that benefit from human pain,” Carson told reporters Read more about Bed Quota Fuels 'Inhumane' And 'Unnecessary' Immigrant Detention: Report

Apr 15, 2015
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The American Bazaar

‘Bed quota’ in private prisons has led to greater immigration detentions: Grassroots Leadership

"Grassroots Leadership released a report on Wednesday that detailed lobbying on immigration issues by private prison corporations alongside a rise in for-profit detention since the creation of a controversial 'bed quota' in 2009.

During the press call, report co-author Bethany Carson said private prison corporations have seized a greater share of the immigration detention system since the onset of the immigrant detention quota." Read more about ‘Bed quota’ in private prisons has led to greater immigration detentions: Grassroots Leadership

Apr 14, 2015
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DemocracyNow!

Immigrant Mothers in Detention Launch Second Hunger Strike Despite Retaliation

"...Our report noted nearby Crystal City, Texas, was home to a federal internment camp for Japanese and German men, as well as their wives and children, and a local newspaper has referred to the South Texas Family Residential Center as an internment camp despite objections by Corrections Corporation of America, the private prison company that operates it.

Advocates say the comparison of that facility to present day family detention centers in Texas could haunt President Obama.

'He could go down in history not just as the deporter in chief," said Cristina Parker, with the group Grassroots Leadership, "but as the president who presided over the return of modern day internment camps on U.S. soil.'" Read more about Immigrant Mothers in Detention Launch Second Hunger Strike Despite Retaliation

Apr 14, 2015
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Houston Chronicle

Hunger strike by undocumented women at Texas detention facility

"...According to Abdollahi and Cristina Parker, a coordinator with Austin-based Grassroots Leadership, this is the second hunger strike at the Karnes facility because a group of almost 80 women started one in the week that started on Monday March 30th that lasted almost one week.

However, ICE denied in a statement there was a hunger strike at the detention center and said that allegation is 'false.'" Read more about Hunger strike by undocumented women at Texas detention facility

Apr 14, 2015
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Huffington Post

Mothers Launch A Second Hunger Strike At Karnes City Family Detention Center

"...Some activists view the private prison industry as partly responsible for the growth of family immigrant detention. The country’s largest private prison company, the Corrections Corporation of America, operates the newly constructed, 2,400-bed family detention center in Dilley, Texas. The second-largest private prison company, GEO Group, runs the 500-bed facility at Karnes City.

Christina Parker [sic], the immigrant programs director at the Austin, Texas-based nonprofit Grassroots Leadership, said Tuesday that letting private companies run detention centers only creates an incentive to lock up more migrants.

'Every bed and every crib represents more profits for them,' Parker said." Read more about Mothers Launch A Second Hunger Strike At Karnes City Family Detention Center

Apr 10, 2015
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Southern Studies

Immigrant mothers held in private detention facility in Texas threaten to renew hunger strike

"Individual women have shared their experiences at Karnes in letters posted to the website of the End Family Detention advocacy network. One woman who has been held there since the facility was converted into a family detention center last August wrote that her daughter wasn't eating and was losing weight. She was also worried about unsuitable drinking water at the center, which is located in an area where thousands of oil and gas wells have been drilled, but didn't have enough money to buy water from the store. Colorlines reported that the women are paid $3 a day to work at the facility -- the price of a single bottle of water.

Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) spokespeople have denied being aware of a hunger strike at the center. However, advocates in contact with the detainees reported that the women experienced retaliation from guards and ICE officials in response to the protest. Three women and their children were even locked in an unlit room in the medical infirmary on the first day of the strike. Mothers were also threatened with separation from their children and with deportations. Such threats are routinely made in the facility in response to issues like children's misbehavior but increased during the strike, according to Cristina Parker withGrassroots Leadership, a nonprofit that advocates for the abolition of private prisons." Read more about Immigrant mothers held in private detention facility in Texas threaten to renew hunger strike

Apr 8, 2015
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International Business Times

Video Chats Are Replacing In-Person Jail Visits, While One Tech Company Profits

In 2013, the Federal Communications Commission finally capped prison phone rates, which were notoriously expensive. Securus was one of the many companies that provided this service. However, one area the FCC did not regulate was video visits. Kymberlie Quong Charles, an activist in Texas, says the push toward video visitations is "a way of ensuring profits" that were lost by the 2013 FCC ruling.  Read more about Video Chats Are Replacing In-Person Jail Visits, While One Tech Company Profits

Apr 2, 2015
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The Guardian

Mothers held at Texas detention centre go on hunger strike to demand release

Dozens of mothers seeking asylum who are being held at the Karnes family detention centre in southern Texas have reportedly begun a hunger strike, with 78 women being held signing a letter demanding their release from the centre and announcing a refusal to use any services within the facility.

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Cristina Parker, immigration projects coordinator at advocacy group Grassroots Leadership in Austin, Texas, dismissed any claims the women had been encouraged to strike by legal representatives.

Parker visited the centre in September 2014 and said a number of women she interviewed expressed dissatisfaction with the quality of care provided to them and their children and had already been discussing the prospect of a hunger strike.

“This is something that has been rippling through the centre almost since it opened,” Parker told the Guardian. “I don’t believe at all that they were coached into doing this.”

Parker added that contacts with knowledge of events had told her that detention centre managers had begun withdrawing access to facilities, including internet and telephone calls for all those detained at Karnes, regardless of their participation in the reported hunger strike. The centre has a 532-bed capacity.

Parker stated that two women identified as leaders of the group of women had been moved to isolated rooms in the centre. Read more about Mothers held at Texas detention centre go on hunger strike to demand release

Apr 2, 2015
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Common Dreams

Dozens of Mothers Stage Hunger Strike at Immigrant Detention Center in Texas

"ICE also claimed it was unaware of any residents actually participating in the strike, saying in a statement on Wednesday that the agency "fully respects the rights of all people to voice their opinion without interference, and all detainees, including those in family residential facilities such as Karnes, are permitted to do so."

It also said it was investigating claims that members of a nonprofit advocacy group encouraged the women to take part in the hunger strike—a charge which activists deny.

Cristina Parker, immigration programs director at the Texas-based immigrant rights group Grassroots Leadership, told the Guardian on Tuesday, 'This is something that has been rippling through the centre almost since it opened. I don’t believe at all that they were coached into doing this.'

According to Parker, the center is now blocking access to internet and telephone facilities for all of its detainees, regardless of whether they are participating in the hunger strike." Read more about Dozens of Mothers Stage Hunger Strike at Immigrant Detention Center in Texas

Apr 1, 2015
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International Business Times

Immigration Reform 2015: Women Reportedly On Hunger Strike In Texas Immigration Detention Center

A letter released by the women on Tuesday outlined the motivation of the group and the reasoning behind the hunger strike. “You should know that this is only the beginning and we will not stop until we achieve our objectives.  This strike will continue until every one of us is freed,” the letter read, according to a copy released by grassrootsleadership.org. “We deserve to be treated with some dignity and that our rights, to the immigration process, be respected.” Read more about Immigration Reform 2015: Women Reportedly On Hunger Strike In Texas Immigration Detention Center

Mar 26, 2015
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NPR

Closure Of Private Prison Forces Texas County To Plug Financial Gap

When the U.S. Bureau of Prisons canceled its contract with Willacy County last week, it explained that the federal inmate population was down, and it didn't need additional beds.

Criminal justice trends ebb and flow. Bob Libal tracks the corrections industry for the Austin activist group Grassroots Leadership. He says where once it was easy to find inmates for a private prison, Willacy County will likely learn now it's tougher to fill prison beds.

"Around the state we have seen several communities that have had their private prisons fail and they're left holding the bag when it comes to the debt that they floated," he says. Read more about Closure Of Private Prison Forces Texas County To Plug Financial Gap

Mar 23, 2015
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attn:

Texas Private Prison Closed After Rioting Over Poor Conditions

Last week, the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) announced that it would terminate its contract with the privately run Texas prison where inmates rioted last month––setting part of the facility on fire––over substandard healthcare, among other abhorrent conditions there. 

But observers warn that while there has been an encouraging drop in the number of drug-related incarcerations, the specter of immigration incarceration remains a national priority.

"It's certainly true that there's been a drop in the number of people detained that areincarcerated for drug offenses because of some of the reforms that have been implemented by the Department of Justice," Bob Libal, executive director of the nonprofit Grassroots Leadership, told ATTN:. "But what hasn't changed dramatically is a change in the incarceration of immigrants for migration crimes...particularly reentering the country after being deported, which is the second most prosecuted crime in the entire federal system."

"For us, the closure of Willacy is a good thing––the very first step in what we hope are reforms of the prison system that include shuttering all of these CAR contract facilities...continuing drug reforms, but also reforms to the prioritization of immigration prosecution," Libal said. Read more about Texas Private Prison Closed After Rioting Over Poor Conditions

Mar 9, 2015
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The Daily Texan

Immigrant women likely to encounter violence after crossing the border, panelists say

"The LBJ School of Public Affairs held a conference Friday to discuss violence immigrant women face along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Austin-area immigrants and people in careers affiliated with immigration addressed issues such as rape, domestic violence and other forms of violence experienced by women coming to United States from Central and South America. Speakers also addressed issues concerning women in U.S. immigrant detention centers.

Many women emigrating from their home countries have been victims of violence, and that victimization often continues after they arrive in the U.S., according to Laurie Cook Heffron, researcher program coordinator at UT’s Institute on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault." Read more about Immigrant women likely to encounter violence after crossing the border, panelists say

Mar 9, 2015
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Al Jazeera America

Video visitation threatens to put more distance between inmates and family

Lauren Johnson spent a month as an inmate at the Travis County Correctional Complex, near Austin, back before in-person visitation was eliminated entirely in 2013. Johnson, now an advocate for prison reform, said her husband made sure to schedule in-person visits and avoid the video terminals so that their three children could see her in the flesh. “It’s not something you can quantify,” she said. “Eye contact is a huge deal. It’s blowing them kisses and putting your hand to the glass. The kids get lost with the video terminals. It’s just not the same experience. It’s a disconnected feeling.” Read more about Video visitation threatens to put more distance between inmates and family

Mar 6, 2015
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Quartz

Prison reform is making life inside prison worse, not better

Our friend Jorge Antonio Renaud, from the Center for Community Change, reflects on prison reform.

"The Willacy CCC protest was actually the third major revolt reported at a Criminal Alien Requirement (CAR) facility since 2008, points out Bob Libal, executive director of Grassroots Leadership, an organization that advocates against for-profit incarceration. Grassroots Leadership has long chronicled the all-too-often violent history of privately-run prisons, but few in the public or government actually listen to the organizations that scramble to monitor and report on overall prison conditions. Living environments protested by Willacy prisoners—like cramped living quarters, sewage-contaminated showers and drinking water, vermin- and bug-infested food, and solitary confinement misused as punishment merely for speaking out—had already been described as problems in privately-run immigrant prisons by a 2014 ACLU report, to little effect." Read more about Prison reform is making life inside prison worse, not better

Feb 28, 2015
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truthout

Private Prison Companies Foresee Increased Profits as Ruling Limits Immigrant Detentions

"'The ACLU ruling is a terrific first step, but it doesn't necessarily mean that the government can't detain families for other reasons. They just can't use [deterrence] justifications,' said Bob Libal, executive director of the Austin-based Grassroots Leadership, which works to end for-profit incarceration.

Representatives from Grassroots Leadership pointed out that the Obama administration can continue to incarcerate asylum-seeking families from Central American countries by suggesting the families are a threat to national security.

'What we've said is that what the [Obama] administration should do is immediately cancel the expansion plans of the Karnes facility and the Dilley facility ... in the wake of this ruling,' Libal said. 'It makes no sense, when the court has undermined the basic tenets of the mass family detention policy, for the administration to be continuing to funnel money into the expansion plans for these two facilities.'

Texans United for Families (TUFF) is also joining Grassroots Leadership in calling for the Obama administration to close the immigrant-family jails at Karnes and Dilley and to prioritize release of undocumented families by focusing on community-based alternatives to incarceration. 'The court spoke clearly last week,' said TUFF's Peggy Morton in a press release. 'There is only one right move left for the administration: To free the families.'" Read more about Private Prison Companies Foresee Increased Profits as Ruling Limits Immigrant Detentions

Feb 27, 2015
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Dallas Observer

South Texas Prison Riot Probably Happened Because Texas' Immigrant Prisons Are Awful

"Why did a few thousand immigrants imprisoned in South Texas riot last week against the nice private prison corporation that was housing them? Management and Training Corp.'s (MTC) version of events is that its inmates 'refused to participate in regular work duties or attend breakfast early Friday morning,' which certainly seems like an unreasonable thing for an inmate to do.

The inmates then somehow broke out of their housing units, forcing the company to bring in multiple government agencies to lock the place down and also forcing a partial lock-down of the local school district in Willacy County.

MTC had been running its prison under a contract with Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, housing illegal immigrants in pre-detention, but in 2011 things went haywire. In a PBS report, a former health worker at the prison testified to 'women harassed for sexual favors, guards taking detainees and beating them, running them down like they were animals,' among other abuses. That year, ICE canceled its contract with the corporation, leaving MTC's 3,174 beds severely underused.

That is, they were underused briefly. Not long after, MTC and Willacy County arranged a contract with the Bureau of Prisons for a facility that would be an upgrade, of sorts: it would become a Criminal Alien Requirement prison, or CAR prison, for immigrants caught crossing the border illegally or convicted of felonies. There are 13 such prisons in the United States, five in Texas. 'We know them to be the worst of the worst," says Cristina Parker, who covers immigration for the advocacy group Grassroots Leadership. "They don't meet the federal standards the way that even very bad federal prisons do.'" Read more about South Texas Prison Riot Probably Happened Because Texas' Immigrant Prisons Are Awful

Feb 24, 2015
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The Nation

A 2-Day Revolt at a Texas Private Prison Reveals Everything That’s Wrong with Criminalizing Immigration

"The latest uprising at the Willacy County Correctional Center began quietly on Friday morning, when prisoners refused to go to their work assignments or to breakfast. Then, inmates broke out of the massive Kevlar tents that serve as dorms. Willacy County Sheriff Larry Spence told reporters some had kitchen knives, sharpened mops and brooms. Prison officials sprayed tear gas; a SWAT team, the Texas Rangers, the FBI and the US Border Patrol all showed up. It took two days to quell the demonstration. Now administrators are beginning to transfer the 2,800 prisoners—undocumented immigrants, most serving time for low-level offenses—to other facilities, because the protest made the center 'uninhabitable.'

CAR prisons are distinct from the detention facilities maintained by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, but they aren’t run like most BOP facilities either. Most CAR prisoners don’t have access to attorneys, and because the BOP assumes they will be deported after serving their time, they are denied some services and considerations afforded to others in the corrections system, such as work training or drug treatment programs. Bob Libal, the executive director of a Texas prison reform group called Grassroots Leadership, explained the BOP’s reasoning: 'In a system with scarce resources, why should we be giving them to immigrants who are just going to get deported?'" Read more about A 2-Day Revolt at a Texas Private Prison Reveals Everything That’s Wrong with Criminalizing Immigration

Feb 23, 2015
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Vice

Texas Private Prison Left 'Uninhabitable' After Immigrant Detainees Riot Over Poor Conditions

"A riot that broke out last week left a private prison in Texas 'uninhabitable,' forcing the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) to begin relocating nearly 3,000 inmates held at the facility.

The rioting began during breakfast Friday morning at the Willacy County Correctional Center in Raymondville, about 40 miles from the Mexican border. The inmates — mostly immigrants held for non-violent offenses — broke out into the recreation yard and set fire to three Kevlar tents that each housed about 200 men.

'It should of no surprise to anyone that this happened at Willacy," Bob Libal, executive director of the nonprofit Grassroots Leadership, told VICE News. "This is a facility that for years has been plagued by physical and sexual abuse and neglect, and it's really a place where immigrants are incarcerated and warehoused by a private prison corporation that's making hundreds of millions of dollars off of their incarceration, and clearly investing very little of it for the people that are detained there.'" Read more about Texas Private Prison Left 'Uninhabitable' After Immigrant Detainees Riot Over Poor Conditions

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