Travis County, Texas, has one of the highest deportation rates in the U.S. thanks to the local sheriff’s voluntary cooperation with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. An average of 19 immigrants a week are deported here. Stopping the deportation dragnet in Travis County would mean stopping the potential detention and deportation of thousands of Austin-area residents. Grassroots Leadership, in coalition with other groups in the Austin-area, is making that happen by engaging in direct action, community education, and dialogue with local elected officials.
The #19TooMany Campaign
A Priority Enforcement Program, aka PEP, replaces the controversial Secure Communities program—which encouraged local law enforcement agencies to enforce immigration law. It looks like under PEP, ICE detainers will be replaced by a notfication system among other things.
Cristina Parker, spokesperson for the nonprofit Grassroots Leadership, which helped lead the charge in Texas against the unpopular Secure Communities program, says that her organization and others who have fought against the program for years are celebrating its demise. S-COMM was the reason that many immigrants were deported for minor misdemeanors or traffic infractions.
Parker says they are pessimistic, however, about the new program and eagerly awaiting more details on how it will be implemented. “ICE doesn’t inspire confidence in how it follows directives. It’s a rogue agency. And this really sounds very similar to the first day of S-COMM,” she says. “That’s kind of where we’re at now but we’re trying to be cautiously optimistic.” Read more about Obama’s Immigration Reform: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
We have a big challenge at Grassroots Leadership. There is a lot of work to be done, and fighting a billion dollar for-profit prison industry is not easy work. But there is also much to be thankful for. The hard work of Grassroots Leadership staff, volunteers, and allies is really helping change the world to make it more just. Here are a few of the things that we at Grassroots Leadership are thankful for this year.
1. Organizing Wins #ImmigrationAction, & Those Who Continue to Push for #Not1More Deportation! Read more about 9 Reasons Grassroots Leadership is Thankful Today!
"Local immigrant advocates applauded last week's executive order by President Barack Obama shielding millions from immediate deportation – particularly given the action's potential to dismantle the Secure Communities program that's already banished thousands of people from Travis County.
Cristina Parker, immigration projects coordinator forGrassroots Leadership, shared in the elation. She joined a group of some 30 demonstrators in front of the Capitol the day after the announcement in calling for even broader protections. 'S-Comm creates community distrust,' she said, quoting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson. 'That's what we've been saying all along! We feel vindicated.'" Read more about The End of S-Comm? Presidential order protects millions, Limits ICE detainers
Leaders in Travis County, especially Sheriff Greg Hamilton, have the chance to lead the way for Texas and renounce S-Comm as a harmful practice. But they haven’t — yet. We have the numbers to know that S-Comm is wasteful. We also know that it rips families apart unnecessarily. And yet we continue to comply...even in this progressive county. We should be able to take back our community from a terrible federal program that doesn’t meet our standards, as many others have already.
Traditionally liberal states like Illinois, New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Delaware and California are leading the way in the rejection of S-Comm. But so too are counties in places like like Doña Ana County in New Mexico and the parish of New Orleans—who changed their policies after they were sued for detaining someone without cause. Even Butler County, Kansas and Hall County, Nebraska—both in staunchly conservative states—and are taking initiative by deciding not to comply locally. Almost all of the counties in Colorado have decided not to comply with S-Comm.
While the Austin City Council is taking steps towards pushing the program out of our city, the County's policy remains on the wrong side of history. Just last night, Austin City Council proposed ammendments to an interlocal agreement about booking people at the local jail—but it remains up to the County to sign it.Read more about Progressive Austin is falling behind on S-Comm
In a dialogue on October 15th with Grassroots Leadership Executive Director Bob Libal, Austin Immigrant Rights Coalition Executive Director Alejandro Caceres, and Texas Civil Rights Project Staff Attorney Amelia Fischer, Travis County Sheriff Greg Hamilton again defended his office’s participation in a federal program that helps deport immigrants arrested in Travis County. Read more about Despite criticism, Travis County sheriff stands by deportation program
On Thursday, June 26, Austin city council members unanimously passed a resolution to oppose Travis County's participation in Secure Communities. Secure Communities, or S-Comm, is a federal program through which immigrants can be detained in local jails like the Travis County Jail until Immigration and Customs Encorcement (ICE) can take them into custody. The resolution is sponsored by council members Laura Morrison, Mike Martinez and mayor pro-tem Sheryl Cole. No one offered opposing remarks on this resolution.
A disappointing decision by the Obama administration was announced Friday morning in response to a recent influx of Central American migrants crossing through the Southwest border, many of them children. According to officials, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will seek to detain more of these individuals and accelerate their cases in immigration courts to speed up their deportations. Read more about Obama administration offers poor response to a humanitarian crisis
Immigrant advocates rejoiced last week as a wave of counties said they would no longer comply with ICE holds (also called detainers) issued under the "Secure Communities" (S-Comm) program. Sheriffs in 31 counties in Oregon, 10 in Colorado and at least 4 in Washington announced the policy shift, citing concerns that ICE holds violate Constitutional rights and expose local governments to legal liability.
The Washington Post reported on April 29 that this development comes after recent court decisions in Oregon and Pennsylvania that found ICE holds are requests, not commands, and that local law enforcement is not required to honor them. Consequently, sheriffs and counties could be liable for any constitutional violations resulting from local law enforcement holding a person for ICE.
Immigrant advocates have long argued that detainers issued under the S-Comm program from ICE are merely requests, and that honoring ICE detainers are violations of due process.
Grassroots Leadership has been part of an on-going campaign to stop compliance with S-Comm and ICE holds in Travis County, Texas. The question on the minds of immigrants and advocates in Texas is: When will local governments in the Lone Star State join this quickly growing list?
Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt. --Exodus 22:21
On Monday, April 7, I was privileged to testify in front of the Texas state Senate Homeland Security Subcommittee regarding border security, sanctuary cities and other immigration issues. Cristina Parker and Eleana Diaz, both of Grassroots Leadership, and Alejandro Caceres of the Austin Immigrant Rights Coalition also offered testimony. Eleana speaks candidly about her family's experience here.
I spoke to the committee as a Presbyterian missionary serving in the Young Adult Volunteer (YAV) program. From my work, I've learned that the immigration system in our nation, as well as the for-profit prison industry, is programmed to prey on people who have done nothing but cross a line. Crossing that line is not a crime, but is a civil matter. Immigrants are not guaranteed legal counsel, and if "apprehended," can languish for months and years in immigration detenton centers owned by the Corrections Corporation of America, the GEO Group, Community Education Centers (CEC), and other for-profit prison corporations. That doesn't sound like sanctuary to me!Read more about Testify: the Texas Homeland Security Subcommittee and God's Call for Us