Grassroots Leadership In The News

Jun 27, 2018
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The Texas Observer

New 1,000-Bed ICE Lockup Set to Open on Site of Notorious ‘Tent City’ in South Texas

In March 2017, Willacy County dropped its lawsuit against MTC after the company agreed to both buy the correctional facility and pay off the county’s debt. MTC also agreed to pay the county $3 per inmate per day if the facility were ever to open again, according to the Valley Morning Star.

MTC’s purchase of the facility last year was part of a “private prison rush,” according to Bob Libal, director of Grassroots Leadership, an Austin nonprofit that fights private prisons. “[Companies] bought empty or under-capacity facilities in an effort to cash in on the Trump gold rush,” Libal said. “Now, we’re starting to see that horrible reality play out.” Read more about New 1,000-Bed ICE Lockup Set to Open on Site of Notorious ‘Tent City’ in South Texas

Jun 26, 2018
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Round Rock Patch

Williamson County Ends Contract With Immigration Detention Site

Williamson County commissioners voted on Tuesday to terminate their lucrative contract with the T. Don Hutto detention center in the nearby town of Taylor — a site that houses immigrant women —by next year.

"This is an important step forward in the fight for justice at Hutto and a victory for all who have raised their voices," Bethany Carson, immigration organizer and researcher at Austin-based Grassroots Leadership, said. The nonprofit has long led the charge in urging commissioners to end their cooperation with the detention site. "We thank all the members of the Shut Down Hutto coalition for their work to make this happen," Carson added. "However, there is still much to do. We must first fight to ensure that every woman at Hutto, including all of the moms who have had their kids taken from them, are released from the facility immediately."

The move also comes a week after Grassroots Leadership, an immigrant rights advocacy group, reacted to news of Trump's reversal of his own family separation policy initiated as part of a "zero tolerance" immigration crackdown — a decision made via executive order after Trump declared he would be unable to reverse the policy through that method. Officials at the nonprofit were unsatisfied with the reversal, suggesting it merely transforms a mass family separation crisis into a mass family incarceration one.

"Together in a cage is not better than separate cages," Claudia Muñoz, immigration programs director at Grassroots Leadership, said at the time. "This order is going to lead to more and potentially longer family detention. Locking families in detention camps with a proven history of abuse to be traumatized together instead of traumatized apart is a sick way to supposedly 'keep families together.'"

"The decision does not immediately close the facility, but rather gives Immigration and Customs Enforcement until January to renegotiate a possible agreement," Grassroots Leadership officials said in a press advisory. "At least 35 mothers who have had their kids taken from them at the border are being held the facility, and some are at imminent risk of deportation." Read more about Williamson County Ends Contract With Immigration Detention Site

Jun 26, 2018
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FOX 7 Austin

WilCo Commissioners Court vote to terminate detention center agreement

A large group gathered outside of the Williamson County courthouse Tuesday morning before the commissioners court meeting.

It was more of a pre-celebration rally than a protest; anticipation of a vote regarding the T. Don Hutto Immigration Detention Center. Activists like Claudia Munoz have spent years trying to shut it down.

“We know that about 40 women who were separated from their children at the border recently are now being held at Hutto, and I think as we learn more and more about everything that happens at Hutto, from sexual abuse to mothers been separated, community members don’t want to see this prison existing in Taylor anymore,” said Munoz who is with a group called Grassroots Leadership. Read more about WilCo Commissioners Court vote to terminate detention center agreement

Jun 26, 2018
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Austin American-Statesman

Williamson commissioners to end contract with detention center

The Williamson County commissioners have voted to terminate the county’s contracts with ICE and CoreCivic at the T. Don Hutto detention center in Taylor on Jan. 31, 2019.

“Thank you for voting; you did the right thing legally, you did the right thing morally,” said Sofia Casini, the coordinator of the visitation program that the nonprofit Grassroots Advocacy group has been running to visit women at the detention center. Casinia said the detention center needed to be shut down.

The move by the commissioners comes a week after President Donald Trump ordered a halt to the recent practice of separating families entering the United States illegally. The Austin-based civil and human rights nonprofit group Grassroots Leadership said the women detained at the T. Don Hutto Residential Center have not been told about when or if they will be reunited with their children.

Representatives from GrassRoots Leadership and other community members asked the county commissioners this spring to address issues at the detention center. The group also asked Sheriff Robert Chody to investigate sexual assault allegations at the facility. Chody has said he referred the issue to the FBI. Read more about Williamson commissioners to end contract with detention center

Jun 26, 2018
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My Champlain Valley

Texas suburb ends contract with immigrant detention center

A conservative Texas suburb voted Tuesday to sever ties with a 500-bed immigration detention center that activists say is currently housing some mothers who don't know the whereabouts of their children.

Sofia Casini, a campaign organizer with the group Grassroots Leadership that has worked with mothers in the facility, said they had been pressing commissioners for months but said the current crisis "really touched a different kind of community nerve."

"We told them there are mothers inside Hutto," she said. Read more about Texas suburb ends contract with immigrant detention center

Jun 26, 2018
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Brit + Co

Decoding the Homeland Security Plan for Reuniting Migrant Families

Sofia Casini was just leaving the T. Don Hutto detention facility in central Texas — where she had posted bond for a detained migrant mom — when she spoke to us about the government’s promise to reunite migrant families.

“Based on what I’ve heard from mothers, the government had no intention to reunite families in the first place,” Sofia Casini tells us.

Casini is a campaign organizer for Grassroots Leadership, a non-profit that fights against for-profit prisons and detention centers. She tells Brit + Co that there is “desperation” among mothers at Hutto who have been separated from their children.

Casini says that it’s true some families have been reunited, but that it’s important to understand the circumstances.

She explains, for example, that the mom she posted bond for on Tuesday morning will be reunited with her children, who are already with her husband. The mother and her family have lawyers and advocates working on their behalf, which is necessary given how complicated and unclear processes are at this time. But not all families will have the exact right circumstances or resources to be reunited the way things are currently operating. Read more about Decoding the Homeland Security Plan for Reuniting Migrant Families

Jun 26, 2018
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Austin-American Statesman

Williamson County votes to end involvement with detention center

The Williamson County Commissioners Court voted Tuesday to terminate the county’s involvement with the T. Don Hutto Residential Center in Taylor effective Jan. 31, 2019.

“Thank you for voting. You did the right thing legally; you did the right thing morally,” Sofia Casini, a coordinator for the nonprofit Grassroots Leadership group, told commissioners after the vote.

Casini said the detention center needs to be shut down. Grassroots Leadership has been supporting women at the detention center, including Salvadoran asylum-seeker Laura Monterrosa, who was released in March after she said she had been sexually assaulted by a female guard at the center.

At least 35 mothers who have had their children taken from them at the border are being held at T. Don Hutto, and some are at imminent risk of deportation, according to Grassroots Leadership. Read more about Williamson County votes to end involvement with detention center

Jun 26, 2018
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Rewire.News

Texas County Terminates Immigrant Detention Center Contract With ICE, For-Profit Prison

In a crowded county courthouse filled with immigrant rights advocates, Williamson County commissioners on Tuesday voted to end the county’s contracts with the federal government and a for-profit prison company operating a notorious immigration detention facility.  

Sofia Casini, immigration programs coordinator for Grassroots Leadership, told Rewire.News that she was concerned by the commissioners’ decision to not immediately terminate the contract. “The fact of the matter is, they made a choice to keep it open until January 31,” Casini said. “They have a 90 day notice, and they could end the contract any time. That’s an extra three months of keeping it open at their discretion. That’s suspect.” Read more about Texas County Terminates Immigrant Detention Center Contract With ICE, For-Profit Prison

Jun 26, 2018
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News 4 San Antonio

WilCo terminates contract with ICE detention center in Taylor

The Williamson County Commissioners Court has voted 4-1 to terminate their agreement with ICE and CoreCivic at the T. Don Hutto Detention Center in Taylor.

"I think it's a testament that people will vote will vote with their conscience, that people locally have power to do what's right," said Claudia Munoz, immigration director for Grassroots Leadership. "We knew this was going to be a long fight. This was a first step for us, and it's a very important first step." Read more about WilCo terminates contract with ICE detention center in Taylor

Jun 26, 2018
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KXAN

Williamson County terminates contract with ICE, T. Don Hutto facility

Williamson County commissioners decided to end their Intergovernmental Services Agreement (IGSA) with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and its operations at the T. Don Hutto Residential Center. 

The federal detention center in Taylor, which opened in 2006, only houses women detained by ICE. Activists from Grassroots Leadership said the facility has about 500 women being held there right now, and approximately 40 of the detainees are mothers recently separated from their children. 

Claudia Munoz, who works as the immigration programs director for Grassroots Leadership, said the commissioners' decision came as a pleasant surprise, but she said there is much more work to do.

"We know that this doesn't mean [the women] get released right away, so we will have to fight for that," Munoz said. "We have six months to make sure that these women are not just transferred to another detention center." 

Munoz and her group organized a rally and march Tuesday morning ahead of the county's vote, where dozens of people held signs calling for the closure of the facility. Read more about Williamson County terminates contract with ICE, T. Don Hutto facility

Jun 26, 2018
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The Austin Chronicle

Williamson County Commissioners Court Ends Hutto Contract

Williamson County Commissioners voted 4-1 today to end its contract with ICE through CoreCivic to run the T. Don Hutto detention center in Taylor. Under the approved terms, the contract, established in 2010, will now expire by Jan. 31, 2019.

Prior to the vote, Grassroots Leadership – at the forefront of efforts to encourage the court to end the contract – led a “Jericho” protest and march, borrowing Biblical inspiration to “tear down the walls” of the detention center. The nonprofit’s Sofia Casini reminded commissioners that they could end the contract even sooner, within 90 days as opposed to the six months they approved, and that doing so would shift “moral and legal liability” from the court. The extra time also gives the feds a wide cushion to find another government funding avenue.

“This detention center is not needed in any form. It does not need to exist,” said Casini. “They have friends and family that want them and can take them in. … Please shut it down.” Read more about Williamson County Commissioners Court Ends Hutto Contract

Jun 26, 2018
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Vox

The Trump administration says it has reunited more than 500 families. One legal group in Texas has confirmed 4 cases.

Advocates for the immigrants say a huge barrier to reunification is the fact that parents and children are being detained by two completely different government agencies: Parents are held by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (or ICE, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security or DHS), and children, by the Office of Refuge Resettlement (ORR, part of the Health and Human Services infrastructure known as HHS).

“These two different agencies have the pieces of families and no communications lines established at all,” said Bethany Carson, an immigration researcher and organizer for Grassroots Leadership who works with detained mothers in Texas. “There’s no process that’s being followed for reunifying these women with their kids.” Read more about The Trump administration says it has reunited more than 500 families. One legal group in Texas has confirmed 4 cases.

Jun 26, 2018
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The Texas Observer

Williamson County Votes to End Contract with Detention Facility Holding Separated Mothers

Commissioners voted 4-1 to terminate the county’s contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and CoreCivic Inc., a for-profit company that operates the 512-bed T. Don Hutto Residential Center in Taylor. Since at least 2010, the county was party to a contractual arrangement that brought it roughly $100,000 a year.

The vote doesn’t necessarily mean the end of the Hutto facility, which opened in 2006 as the first for-profit family detention center in the country. ICE operates many detention facilities around the country without a county acting as middleman, and it could now do the same with Hutto. The agency must go through a lengthy rebidding process in order to do so, said Bethany Carson, immigration policy researcher and organizer at Grassroots Leadership, an Austin nonprofit that fights private prisons and has led the campaign to close the facility.

About 35 asylum-seeking mothers who were separated from their children at the border because of the Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy are detained at the facility, according to Grassroots Leadership. The group has pressured county officials to investigate sexual assault allegations made by detainees. Read more about Williamson County Votes to End Contract with Detention Facility Holding Separated Mothers

Jun 25, 2018
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KVUE

Williamson County ends relationship with Taylor detention center

The relationship between Williamson County and a detention center has ended.

The Williamson County Commissioners Court voted Tuesday to terminate the county's contracts with ICE and CoreCivic, the company that operates the T. Don Hutto Residential Center in Taylor. The commissioner's court voted 4-1 in the termination of contracts.

Immigration advocates from groups like Grassroots Leadership have been calling for the center's closure. Read more about Williamson County ends relationship with Taylor detention center

Jun 24, 2018
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FOX 7 Austin

Wilco Commissioners to discuss terminating contract with ICE Hutto T. Don Detention facility

Local activists are asking Williamson County commissioners to end their contract with the T. Don Hutto Residential Center operated by ICE.

Inside the T. Don Hutto Residential center are hundreds of women detainees awaiting the outcome of their immigration status. Local non-profit, Grass Roots Leadership is currently working with 35 mothers who have been separated from their children under the Trump administration's short-lived ‘zero tolerance’ policy.

Liliana Lozada-Beverido was one of many volunteers who came to Grassroots Leadership orientation Saturday to become a mentor for detainees.

Most recently grassroots leadership fought for women who say they've been sexually abused in the facility. Read more about Wilco Commissioners to discuss terminating contract with ICE Hutto T. Don Detention facility

Jun 23, 2018
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KVUE

Austin organization training volunteers to be advocates for detained asylum-seeking women

Leaders of an Austin organization want women who are detained at the T. Don Hutto Residential Center to know they're not alone. 

Grassroots Leadership -- a non-profit organization that works to end mass incarceration, among other issues -- held a meeting Saturday afternoon at their headquarters in East Austin in a room full of eager community members who want to help these women.

Nearly three dozen people from the Austin area, mostly women, attended the session to find out how they can help.

According to the non-profit, there are more than 30 asylum-seeking women who've been separated from their children at the Hutto detention center. Read more about Austin organization training volunteers to be advocates for detained asylum-seeking women

Jun 22, 2018
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Facing South

VOICES OF RESISTANCE: Seizing this moment to demand immigration justice

The U.S. is experiencing an immigration crisis fueled by the criminalization of poor people of color. With the understanding that much of what we are witnessing today has roots in the failed war on drugs, Bob Libal, executive director of Austin, Texas-based Grassroots Leadership, works to combat unjust immigration policies and the inhumane system of mass incarceration.

We recently spoke with Libal about his work on the front lines for an ongoing "Voices of Resistance" series, which aims to draw insight and inspiration from the South's deep history of struggle for social change and to learn from a new generation of Southern leaders working in today's volatile political climate.

What have you seen working on the ground with Grassroots Leadership?

I remember going out to the Hutto Detention Center in 2007 and visiting a man and his family who were detained there. It was a family detention center at the time, and I heard stories about how absolutely awful it was. I think those kind of things have certainly motivated me for the last decade.

How have you seen communities rally in recent weeks?

It has been really heartening to see people, for the last two years really, stand up and fight back. We've seen an outpouring of support of people who are saying, "We will give our time, we will give our money, we will put our bodies on the front lines." We trained hundreds of people to do civil disobedience in Austin in the last couple of years. I think there's a real sense of urgency and moral crisis, and it's not hard to get people to stand up and fight back. Read more about VOICES OF RESISTANCE: Seizing this moment to demand immigration justice

Jun 22, 2018
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NMPolitics.net

Trump wants to prosecute all illegal border crossings without splitting up families. That will be a challenge.

The two family detention centers in Texas are operated under intergovernmental service agreements that allow for ICE to work with local jurisdictions, which hand operations over to private prison companies, CoreCivic and the GEO Group.

Bob Libal, executive director of Grassroots Leadership, an immigrants rights group, said the government goes through these agreements because they’re faster than a direct contract with the operating companies. With the new federal policy and increased detention of families, he expects to see solicitations for new family centers. Read more about Trump wants to prosecute all illegal border crossings without splitting up families. That will be a challenge.

Jun 21, 2018
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San Antonio Current

'Vigil for Humanity' Opposing Family Separations to Be Held Outside of San Fernando Cathedral

On Sunday, June 24, there will be a “Vigil for Humanity” in front of San Fernando Cathedral at 6 p.m. to express opposition toward the U.S. government’s systematic mistreatment of asylum seekers. The event, originally intended to protest the mass separation of immigrant families (a part of the ‘zero tolerance policy’), has not shifted focus in light of Trump’s Wednesday signing of an executive order which substitutes this practice of separation with communal family detention.  

In a press release posted Wednesday, Grassroots Leadership, a national civil and human rights organization based in Austin, stated “the president’s order merely transforms a mass family separation crisis to a mass family incarceration crisis.” Read more about 'Vigil for Humanity' Opposing Family Separations to Be Held Outside of San Fernando Cathedral

Jun 21, 2018
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Episcopal News Service

Prayer service set at Texas detention center during General Convention

Responding to calls from Episcopalians across the church to act on behalf of families seeking asylum at the southern U. S. border, a team of concerned leaders heading to General Convention has planned a prayer service outside the T. Don Hutto Residential Detention Center in Taylor, Texas, at about noon on Sunday, July 8.

The planning team, led by alternate Deputy Megan Castellan, rector of St. John’s Church in Ithaca, New York, is working with Grassroots Leadership — a local community organizing group in Texas that has held numerous gatherings at the Hutto Residential Center. Deputy Winnie Varghese, director of justice and reconciliation at Trinity Church Wall Street, is helping to arrange buses to the event. Read more about Prayer service set at Texas detention center during General Convention

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