Grassroots Leadership In The News

Mar 18, 2016
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The Guardian

Controversial Texas family detention center to change back to all-male facility

A controversial family detention center in Texas will be converted back to an adult male facility, the head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced on Thursday in the latest signal that the Obama administration will reduce the detention of women and children before the president’s time in office ends.

During a House appropriations committee hearing Representative Lucille Roybal-Allard asked the ICE director, Sarah Saldaña: “is it possible that ICE will stop using Karnes and Dilley [another facility] for families in [fiscal year 2017]?”

“Well, we’re pretty much there on the decision on Karnes,” Saldaña responded. “We are probably going to convert that into – our plans are to convert that into – an adult male, perhaps with children, facility. Not a family facility as it is now, with largely women.”

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Saldaña’s announcement comes as Obama’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2017 cut his request for funding for family detention to 960 beds, about half the 1,800 requested the year before.

The reduction is a positive step, but it’s not enough, said Bob Libal, executive director of Grassroots Leadership, which opposes private prisons.

“The question for the administration is will it go far enough for family detention not to be one of their legacy issues?” Libal asked. “Or will Obama go down as creating the largest trend in detaining families since Japanese internment?” Read more about Controversial Texas family detention center to change back to all-male facility

Mar 18, 2016
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Texas Observer

An End to Family Detention? Immigration Groups are Wary

A top immigration official told D.C. lawmakers Thursday that the Karnes Family Residential Center — one of two immigrant detention centers in Texas that houses immigrant women and their children — will be converted to an all-male facility, possibly with kids.

In response to a question from U.S. Representative Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-California, about whether Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) would stop locking up migrant families fleeing persecution in their home countries, the Guardian reported that ICE Director Sarah Saldaña said:

“Well, we’re pretty much there on the decision on Karnes,” Saldaña said. “We are probably going to convert that into — our plans are to convert that into — an adult male, perhaps with children, facility. Not a family facility as it is now, with largely women.”

Texas immigrant rights advocates, though, aren’t celebrating just yet. Saldaña’s statement isn’t definitive, they said, and came with very little other information, such as the process and timeline of the conversion.

“We’re just trying to figure out, what does this mean, right?” Cristina Parker, immigration programs director with the nonprofit Grassroots Leadership, told the Observer Friday morning. “It seems strange to me that they would convert it to an all-male facility. And I don’t know what ‘perhaps with children’ means,” she said. Read more about An End to Family Detention? Immigration Groups are Wary

Mar 16, 2016
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The Austin Chronicle

Child Care Center or Baby Jail?

For more than a year now, immigration rights and child welfare advocates, human rights activists, and attorneys have called on the government to end the practice of holding immigrant women and their children in family detention centers, charging that they're "baby jails" that need to be closed.

However, the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) sees things differently. DFPS, which is part of the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, last month approved licensing family detention centers as child-care facilities.

"Child-care facilities exist to take care of children," wrote Virginia Raymond, an Austin-based immigration attorney who vocally opposes the move. The state of Texas, which requires most child-care centers to be licensed, also mandates through DFPS the specific minimal standards those centers must meet. Because family detention centers cannot meet those standards, these critical requirements are waived for the sole purpose of licensing these centers, so they can legally remain open. Read more about Child Care Center or Baby Jail?

Mar 16, 2016
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The San Antonio Express News

Shortened detention stays put immigration officials in bind

As officials shorten the amount of time that families are held at South Texas’ immigration detention centers, methods of providing access to legal representation and education at the facilities are becoming outdated.

Top-ranking immigration officials heard from activists, experts and practitioners about how to improve conditions in the detention facilities during a San Antonio meeting of the Advisory Committee on Family Residential Centers on Wednesday. The committee spent Tuesday touring the local detention facilities.

As of Tuesday, there were 449 immigrants held at the family detention center in Karnes County and 468 at the sprawling center in Dilley.

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A series of nonprofit workers, immigration attorneys and Catholic nuns told committee members that the facilities in Karnes County and Dilley are tantamount to jails and that improvements won’t fix the problems of holding women and children fleeing violence.

“The only solution for this is to close these places down,” said Alejandro Caceres, a 28-year-old lawful permanent resident from Honduras and an immigration organizer with the group Grassroots Leadership. Read more about Shortened detention stays put immigration officials in bind

Mar 14, 2016
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Texas Observer

New Technologies Connect Prisoners to the Outside World

Grassroots Leadership, an Austin nonprofit that works to end for-profit prisons, has been fighting this policy at Austin’s Del Valle Jail.

Bob Libal, the group’s executive director, told the Observer that many video visitation contracts “were written in a way that was detrimental to loved ones being able to stay in communication with their incarcerated family members, particularly when it eliminated or incentivized people visiting from afar in order to make profit.”

After the nonprofit packed county budget hearings with concerned family members, the Travis County Sheriff’s Office agreed to reinstate physical in-person visitation by April.

For Libal, this highlights the double-edged sword of new prison technologies: they can benefit prisoners, but often benefit a corporation’s bottom line far more. “I don’t know that it is good or bad as a whole,” he said, “but I think we should be critical of the application of these technologies and ensure that they are used appropriately and not used to extract more money from already vulnerable people.” Read more about New Technologies Connect Prisoners to the Outside World

Mar 10, 2016
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ThinkProgress

A Shocking Glimpse Inside America’s Privatized Detention Facilities For Immigrants

It’s not easy to find out what happens inside the walls of ICE’s numerous detention centers. Critics complain of a persistent culture of secrecy within the agency, and details about the circumstances of hunger strikes can be sparse even on the occasion that ICE will acknowledge one. Rarely will the agency grant more than a yes or no confirmation.

But through a FOIA request to ICE, ThinkProgress obtained a document that provides some clarity: CCA’s emergency food strike plan. The disciplinary nature of the company’s policy (embedded below) stood out to Carl Takei, a staff attorney at the ACLU’s National Prison Project who specializes in immigration detention.

“The thrust of the policy is to squelch the protest rather to address any medical or health concerns,” Takei told ThinkProgress after reviewing its content. “It’s very different from ICE’s hunger strike policy, because ICE’s hunger strike policy is primarily about medical procedures and medical concerns. This policy is about security and control.“

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The policy also carved out punishments for food strikers, noting that participants would have their all of their commissary purchasing privileges suspended, and could have radio, visitation, and phone privileges removed if the center’s commander chose.

“I think it’s telling that it describes a food strike as a passive-aggressive form of protest,” Takei said. “I haven’t seen a detailed policy like this that lays out both the punitive attitude and the punitive procedures. Usually this is something that is done much more informally.”

But punishment for the October incident allegedly went beyond what was written into CCA’s policy. Grassroots Leadership claims ICE and/or CCA retaliated against strikers by placing them in solitary confinement and then sending them to other detention centers. In response to a FOIA request, ICE told ThinkProgress that Hutto does not use solitary confinement.

But Zelaya claims she was placed in isolation at the detention center and sent to a frigid room by herself. “When I participated in the hunger strike for my life and health I did it because I didn’t feel that they took good care of me… and for participating they punished me,” she said in a statement provided to ThinkProgress. “I was put in a room alone with so much cold, cold. I cried because my bones hurt from so much cold.”

Days later, she was transferred to a different facility, in Laredo, Texas. Read more about A Shocking Glimpse Inside America’s Privatized Detention Facilities For Immigrants

Mar 10, 2016
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Texas Observer

Child Careless

Licensing detention centers as child care facilities in order to circumvent rules banning the government from locking up kids and babies in cells.

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It’s an idea so dystopian you’d have a hard time stomaching it in a science fiction novel, so naturally Texas is doing it. Governor Greg Abbott has even said that licensing these places as child care centers will protect “the health and safety” of the kids.

If that sounds like a hilariously bad justification built on flimsy reasoning and subterfuge, it’s because… it is. What licensing prisons as child care centers does, in reality, is give the federal government’s immigration apparatus the legal permission it needs to keep children detained.

Why else would state officials try to quietly create special prison child care licenses by sidestepping the normal administrative process, without holding any public hearings, as they did in 2015?

Thanks to the efforts of Grassroots Leadership, an Austin nonprofit working to end immigrant detention, a judge blocked the state’s underhanded attempt at incarcerating kids. When the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services was forced to put its decision up for public scrutiny, Abbott was just about the only guy who thought it sounded like a swell idea.

Dozens of legal experts, advocates and immigrants voiced their opposition to these child care licenses at meeting after meeting. And all for nothing, it seems.

If Texas doesn’t license these detention centers as child care facilities, it could be forced to shut them down entirely, something immigration advocates have long been calling on the Obama administration to do.

The alternative is, I guess, unfathomable to people who see scared kids — not coincidentally, kids of color — as threats to civil society. Who knows what these children might do if they’re allowed to wait out the asylum process in broad daylight. Play on a swing set? Build a sand castle? Set up — the horror — a lemonade stand?

One day, I hope we’ll look back at the way we treated these vulnerable families and be ashamed. We’ll be unable to fathom a society that put the concepts of “child care” and “detention centers” in the same sentence. That day can’t come soon enough. Read more about Child Careless

Mar 9, 2016
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Politico

Stop the treatment industrial complex

As more individuals are being treated and rehabilitated both inside and outside prison walls, for-profit companies are stepping in and profiting. Community corrections is particularly expansive, and includes an array of out-of-jail programs like probation and parole services, halfway houses, day reporting centers, drug and alcohol treatment programs, home confinement, electronic monitoring, and various supportive services such as educational classes and job training. Although many of these services are provided by public-sector and nonprofit entities, the expansive reach of treatment and rehabilitation is increasingly attracting for-profit companies. Their success depends not on being effective, but in keeping as many people as possible under supervision for as long as possible. The lengthier, deeper and more expansive the treatment, the greater the profit.

Read more: http://www.politico.com/agenda/story/2016/03/stop-the-treatment-industrial-complex-000061#ixzz42Wn30Ncs 
Follow us: @politico on Twitter | Politico on Facebook Read more about Stop the treatment industrial complex

Mar 9, 2016
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Palm Beach Post

Here’s how business makes money off the state’s mentally ill and sex offenders

As the public rethinks harsh mandatory sentences swelling prison populations, a GEO Group offshoot and other private prison firms are focusing on another cash-for-inmates opportunity: privatization of state mental health hospitals and civil commitment centers, particularly in Florida and Texas.

Grassroots Leadership, a Texas-based criminal justice advocacy group, is taking aim at this “net-widening,”especially in Florida and Texas,  with a report released Wednesday.

It’s a perfect profit center, the report’s authors said, because unlike traditional prisoners, terms of confinement can leave people there indefinitely.

Some aren’t going to make it out alive, such as the mental patient who died in a scalding bathtub in South Florida State Hospital, the tissue on his face “sloughing” off, as The Post reported in 2013.

As problems have surfaced at GEO-run facilities, protests have grown.

Last month, another man died in  the state’s privately run 198-bed Treasure Coast Forensic Treatment Center. He had reportedly been punched by another inmate.

If Grassroots’ criticism of mental health and civil commitment centers seem familiar, so does the company involved. Boca Raton-based GEO Group spun off its medical unit a few years back; the spinoff became part of Correct Care Solutions LLC. A former GEO executive became  president and CEO of Correct Care. Read more about Here’s how business makes money off the state’s mentally ill and sex offenders

Mar 8, 2016
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Texas Observer

Raid Aid

Drawing about 40 people on a Saturday, the “Know Your Rights” meeting featured attorneys, who provided an overview of the federal immigration raids, and advocates, who shared instructions on what to do should a law enforcement officer show up unannounced. There’s no requirement to respond or let officials inside without a signed warrant, they said.

“Your name and your birthday — that’s all the information you have to give,” Alejandro Caceres, an immigration rights advocate with the Austin nonprofit Grassroots Leadership, told the audience. Caceres, who donned an ICE T-shirt and paper badge to play an officer in an educational skit, assured meeting attendees that if they are inside their homes, they do not have to answer specific questions about immigration status. “You have the right not to say anything. You have the right to an attorney.” Read more about Raid Aid

Mar 3, 2016
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Fusion

Here’s the infographic that persuaded Bernie Sanders to speak out against private prisons

Private prison corporations, however, have increased their share of the immigrant detention industry. Nine of the ten largest detention centers—which detain immigrants who have entered the country without authorization—are run by private prisons. Immigrants who are caught illegally crossing in to the U.S. more than once are almost always held in private prisons facilities.

An estimated 62% of all immigration detention beds managed by ICE are operated by for-profit prison corporations, up from 49% in 2009, according to federal documents analyzed by Grassroots Leadership, a group whose mission it is end for-profit incarceration. Read more about Here’s the infographic that persuaded Bernie Sanders to speak out against private prisons

Feb 29, 2016
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Reading Eagle

Texas immigration facilities also seeking licenses to house children

The Berks County Residential Center is not the only family detention center looking for licensing.

The country's only other family detention facilities, which are in Texas, are also working to get certification to hold children.

The Texas Health and Human Services Commission recently announced that it will open a licensing pathway for the South Texas Family Residential Center and the Karnes County Residential Center to obtain licenses that allow them to hold families beginning Tuesday.

The move to license the facilities began in September when the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services submitted a proposed emergency rule to the commission to create a new child care licensing category for family detention centers.

That proposal was soon met with an outcry from Grassroots Leadership, a group leading the charge against the centers in Texas.

"We won a temporary injunction because the court recognized there was no emergency other than (U.S. District Judge Dolly M.) Gee's order," said Cristina Parker, Grassroots Leadership's immigration programs director. Read more about Texas immigration facilities also seeking licenses to house children

Feb 22, 2016
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Austin American-Statesman

Advocates organize “child care pop-up” to protest family detention

Outside Governor Greg Abbott’s office on Monday, immigrant and child advocates spread out blankets, coloring books and snacks, declaring the public space a “pop-up child-care facility.”

Organizers said they planned to spend the day roaming the Capitol grounds and asking parents whether they would be willing to leave their children with the volunteers, less than half a dozen people with little to no child care experience. The event, hosted by the nonprofit Grassroots Leadership, was meant to underscore what advocates said is the absurdity of a new state rule that allows child-care licenses to be issued for immigrant family detention centers in South Texas.

“We all know (family detention) is a sham,” said Chuck Freeman, executive director of the Texas Unitarian Universalist Justice Ministry. “We all know it’s dishonest. We all know we wouldn’t want our children there.” Read more about Advocates organize “child care pop-up” to protest family detention

Feb 17, 2016
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Austin.com

Adler Lays Out Progressive Agenda For 2016 In His 'State Of The City' Address

In his 2016 “State of the City” address last night, Mayor Steve Adler promised that Austin, Texas will do “big things” in the year to come.

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However, the night was not without controversy. At one point near the end of his speech, protesters interrupted Adler with chants of, “Less talk, more action!” As they were escorted out, a member of the audience shouted back, “Less you, more us!”

A member of the group later told Austin.com that they were demonstrating to end deportations by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The city has explored launching an ID program solely for Austin residents regardless of their immigration status, but Adler has stopped short of the group’s demand for a resolution ordering local law enforcement not to work with immigration officials.

“I am a strong supporter of our local law enforcement prioritizing their time and spending their time on our local issues, on our local safety concerns, and not being put in the position where they are called on to enforce national immigration policies,” Adler said in a recent public meeting with local immigration activists, according to The Austin Monitor. Read more about Adler Lays Out Progressive Agenda For 2016 In His 'State Of The City' Address

Feb 16, 2016
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Houston Public Media

Texas Will Allow Immigrant Detention Centers Apply For A License To Remain Open

The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, DFPS, announced last Friday it will allow two facilities that house undocumented families, including minors, to obtain a license to remain open.

Most of the detainees at these facilities –located in Dilley and Karnes City, south of San Antonio—arrived in the United States during the surge of undocumented immigrants of 2014.

Last July, Federal Court Judge Dolly Gee ruled that Immigration and Customs Enforcement, ICE, was breaking the terms of a 1997 settlement.

The settlement requires undocumented minors to be removed from detention centers as quickly as possible.

If the federal government can’t do that, the children must be housed in facilities licensed by state agencies responsible for child welfare.

In Texas, that agency is the Department of Family and Protective Services, which, just last week, established a new category of facilities called family residential centers.

Dilley and Karnes City will be under that category and, therefore, allowed to apply for the pertinent license after March 1st, which is when the new category will go into effect.

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Bob Libal is the executive director of Austin-based Grassroots Leadership, which opposes keeping undocumented families in detention centers.

Libal argues the new category will help the federal government keep the facilities open.

“This was essentially an effort to help the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency and the private prison corporations keep these facilities open when we know these facilities are dangerous for children,” said Libal, referring to the decision by DFPS. Read more about Texas Will Allow Immigrant Detention Centers Apply For A License To Remain Open

Feb 16, 2016
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RH Reality Check

For-Profit Texas Prisons Could Reduce Standards for Holding Children

The Texas Health and Human Services Commission approved a proposed rule Friday to reduce child-care standards, permitting two for-profit detention centers detaining hundreds of children in the state to move forward with the licensing process.

Grassroots Leadership, the Texas-based organization that won a temporary injunction in November in its suit to stop the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) from licensing Karnes County Residential Center and Dilley’s South Texas Family Residential Center as child-care facilities under an emergency rule, said in a press release that Friday’s ruling could set a dangerous precedent.

The emergency rule would have eliminated minimum child safety standards applicable to all child-care facilities in Texas. Because Grassroots Leadership received the temporary injunction, Karnes and Dilley were forced to go through the traditional licensing procedure, which enabled immigrant rights organizers, child welfare advocates, academic researchers, and immigrant families released from detention centers to attend December’s public hearing at DFPS and comment on the proposal to license the family detention centers as child-care facilities.

An open records request obtained by Grassroots Leadership found that DFPS received more than 5,000 pages filled with comments, letters, emails, and testimony that were “overwhelmingly against” adopting the proposed rule. Read more about For-Profit Texas Prisons Could Reduce Standards for Holding Children

Feb 16, 2016
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KEYE TV

Mayor's 'State of the City' address targets affordability and mobility

Austin is the most economically segregated metropolitan area in the country and Tuesday night, Mayor Steve Adler made affordability a direct target.

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Close to the end of Mayor Adler's speech a group of protestors with the "Ice out of Austin" campaign, interrupted the address. After several minutes they were escorted out of the theater and Mayor Adler finished his speech. Read more about Mayor's 'State of the City' address targets affordability and mobility

Feb 16, 2016
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Austin American-Statesman

Mayor Adler calls for taking risks as Austin grapples with growth

Toward the end of Adler’s speech, a small group of protesters with ICE Out of Austin held up a sign that said “This great city deports” and began chanting “Less talk, more action.” They were escorted out of the room, with some in the audience yelling at them to shut up.

Alejandro Caceres, who was among the protesters, said they have tried to convince Adler to bring forward a resolution asking Austin police Chief Art Acevedo to cease communications with federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, but with no success. Caceres said it’s clear the issue is not a priority to the mayor.

Adler told reporters after his speech that he has made his position on immigration clear. Last year, for instance, Adler joined the nonprofit Workers Defense Project in publicly calling on Gov. Greg Abbott to drop a lawsuit against an executive order from President Barack Obama that sought to provide protection from deportation to millions of undocumented immigrants with children born in the U.S. Read more about Mayor Adler calls for taking risks as Austin grapples with growth

Feb 13, 2016
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Austin American-Statesman

Travis County sheriff’s candidates spar over stances on ICE detainers


Of the six candidates seeking to succeed Travis County Sheriff Greg Hamilton, only one said he wants to keep the sheriff’s most controversial policy.

Private investigator Joe Martinez, the lone Republican in the field, told a forum Saturday evening that he would continue Travis County’s participation in an Immigration and Customs Enforcement program that allows federal officials to monitor who is booked into the jail and detain inmates suspected of being unauthorized immigrants.

“We’re a country of laws, and wherever anybody comes from, they also live with law,” Martinez told the audience at the forum at the First Unitarian Universalist Church. “If we travel as a foreigner into another country, we have to obey and abide by their laws. As far as removing ICE, I would strongly recommend that we not remove ICE. I would strongly recommend that we maintain the current policy with the current Sheriff Hamilton — he’s done a great job.”

The policy has been criticized by groups such as Grassroots Leadership and the ICE Out of Austin Coalition, the hosts of Saturday’s forum, which contend the use of ICE detainers breaks up families and leads to deportation of people arrested for minor offenses. Read more about Travis County sheriff’s candidates spar over stances on ICE detainers

Feb 12, 2016
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Austin American-Statesman

Texas to license family immigrant detention centers

The state’s child protection agency will now license immigrant family detention centers, all but guaranteeing that the two Texas facilities housing thousands of mothers and children will remain open.

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The state’s child protection agency will now license immigrant family detention centers, all but guaranteeing that the two Texas facilities housing thousands of mothers and children will remain open.

The South Texas Family Residential Center and the Karnes County Residential Center — which can house up to 3,300 families awaiting immigration proceedings — had been in danger of closing because of a July federal court ruling that says children can only live in detention centers if they are licensed by state child welfare agencies. Texas’ facilities are not.

Until now, the state Department of Family and Protective Services had maintained that it didn’t have the legal authority to license, inspect and investigate the facilities. This week, the agency gave itself that power.

The two detention centers, both run by private prison companies, will have to apply for licenses, Family and Protective Services spokesman Patrick Crimmins said. But that licensure is almost assured. For months, the state has insisted that regulation would help protect the children who live there. More recently, officials have also said keeping the centers open helps with immigration control. Federal officials asked Texas to license the facilities, Crimmins told the Statesman last month.

Immigration rights advocates criticized the state’s decision, saying the move is solely motivated by politics.

“I think the agency should be ashamed,” said Bob Libal with Grassroots Leadership, a nonprofit that opposes private prison companies. Read more about Texas to license family immigrant detention centers

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