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
If and when Donald Trump’s administration executes on his deportation strategy, immigration advocates are starting to formulate a plan.
When agents arrive at the door, undocumented immigrants can call for help and one or more US citizens will quickly arrive to stand in front of the door, watching, challenging and filming law enforcement with the goal of ensuring constitutional rights are respected and encouraging a media spotlight.
“We have kind of a canned spiel that one person just keeps repeating,” said Babs Miller, a minister at St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Austin: “‘I am a trained and certified immigration observer, notice has been given that there’s an incident to be observed, do you have a search warrant, may I see it please?’”
Miller is part of the Sanctuary in the Streets initiative, which aims to frustrate immigration raids – an enforcement strategy that was used to target Central American families by the Obama administration last year and is expected to be a feature of the next president’s term.
“We’re trying to respond now to the threat of the Trump administration and the possibility that it will get even more severe than it has been,” said Sofia Casini, immigration programmes coordinator for Grassroots Leadership, an anti-mass incarceration group that announced its upcoming plans at a press conference in Austin on Monday.
Trump has pledged to remove up to 3 million undocumented immigrants quickly. “I think that we should take him at face value; everything that he says we should believe,” Carmen Zuvieta, of the ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] Out of Austin group, said through a translator. A mother of three, her husband was deported to Mexico four years ago.
Unless they have a warrant signed by a judge, ICE employees are not allowed to enter homes without permission.
On average, according to Grassroots Leadership, 19 Austin-based immigrants are deported per week. With an estimated 1.5 million undocumented immigrants, Texas has the second-largest such population in the country, behind California, according to the Migration Policy Institute. Most have lived in the state for more than a decade.
Miller’s interest in the cause grew when her church gave sanctuary last February to two Guatemalans, Hilda Ramirez and her son, Ivan. They are still living there but gained relief from deportation in October, which allows them to leave the building without fear of being detained. A growing number of US churches are expected to open their doors to undocumented immigrants in the coming months in the knowledge that ICE policy discourages enforcement operations in “sensitive locations” such as places of worship.
Families in Austin are also being encouraged to prepare binders with personal information such as forms of identification, marriage certificates, power of attorney letters and character references. If someone is detained, family members can then quickly provide attorneys with details that could speed a release on bond and may help gain quicker access to financial assets if the main breadwinner is in custody.
And the new sheriff of Travis County (which includes Austin), Sally Hernandez, is a Democrat who ran on a platform of ending compliance with ICE requests to hold people who have been detained by local law enforcement for an extra 48 hours so they can be picked up by federal immigration authorities.
But politicians in Texas’s Republican-dominated legislature are set to debate a bill that would eliminate “sanctuary cities” that do not cooperate with federal immigration enforcement. The proposal has the support of the governor, Greg Abbott. Read more about How immigration activists prepare to fight deportations under Donald Trump
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.
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.”
The Sanctuary in the Streets effort is an extension of an existing sanctuary movement. Since 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.
“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
Activist groups and supporters crowded in the Grassroots Leadership headquarters in east Austin, vowing to protect undocumented immigrants amidst an incoming state legislative session and president-elect Monday morning.
“We’re here today because we know that the next president-elect [Donald] Trump has promised mass deportations and human rights violations,” Grassroots Leadership executive director Bob Libal said.
Grassroots Leadership, ICE Out of Austin and Austin Sanctuary Network members laid out plans and pledged to support undocumented immigrants in the community during a press conference.
The ICE Out of Austin campaign is overseen by civil and human rights organization Grassroots Leadership. The campaign aims to end local and state law enforcement’s practice of holding onto detained undocumented or suspected undocumented immigrants in local jails until Immigration and Customs Enforcement federal agents come to process arrests and deport them.
Sally Hernandez, Democrat and the new Travis County Sheriff who was sworn in Wednesday, has campaigned against holding onto undocumented immigrants until ICE agents arrive to arrest them. She replaced former Travis County Sheriff Greg Hamilton, who has cooperated with ICE, according to the Texas Tribune.
Libal said he and other activists are awaiting an announcement from Hernandez explicitly stating her policy to refuse Travis County jails from complying with ICE.
“She’s promised a really progressive immigration policy that we think will … reduce detainers or eliminate … detainers in the Travis County jail,” Libal said. “We’re very much looking forward to the announcement that could come at any time.”
Austin City Council has defied state government sentiment to crackdown on immigration through actions such as enacting emergency funding to cover immigration legal fees.
State lawmakers, however, are pushing for stricter immigration laws. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s filed Senate Bill 4 outlaws “sanctuary cities” in Texas that adopt policies protecting undocumented immigrants.
Cristina Parker, immigration programs director of Grassroots Leadership, said it is an uphill battle when it comes to challenging state and federal oversight.
“We call on all state representatives and state senators to represent Travis County and the Austin area to stand with us,” Parker said. “Ultimately, this is really about us versus Trump. He has promised a campaign of terror against the immigrant community and we believe that the only way to fight back is locally.” Read more about Immigration rights groups organize day before state legislature convenes
Local groups announced plans for "deportation defense" and "sanctuary in the streets" as well as local and state policies at a press conference Monday morning.
At the press conference, ICE Out of Austin, Austin Sanctuary Network, Grassroots Leadership and the American Civil Liberties Union spoke about plans to "resist Trump-era immigration policies." Read more about Local groups announce plans to 'resist Trump-era immigration policies'
AUSTIN (KXAN) — Several Texas groups say they plan to resist Donald Trump’s immigration policies here locally.
The American Civil Liberties Union, Grassroots Leadership, the Austin Sanctuary Network and the group ICE Out of Austin held a news conference on Monday morning. They talked about plans to defend people against deportation and how local and state policies can help their cause.
The immigration allies say the new Trump administration is fueled by hate and is quick to attack inherent human rights. Together they plan to build a foundation of resistance to impact policies and change. The conference announced their plans for Deportation Defense and Sanctuary in the Streets. Read more about Austin groups defending locals against Trump’s immigration policies
Last week’s “60 Minute” interview with president elect Donald Trump prompted headlines suggesting that he might be “softening” his immigration stance, compared to his extreme campaign proposal to deport 11 million undocumented immigrants. The media have it wrong.
Those of us who have worked to promote sensible and humane policies for decades are bracing for what may very well be an all-out war on immigrants of unprecedented scope and intensity.
Some news reports have offered an unjustifiably charitable interpretation of Mr. Trump’s recent statement to suggest that he is becoming more “targeted.” This view was based on a few short statements where he described vague plans to immediately deport or incarcerate those with “criminal records ― gang members, drug dealers, probably 2 million, it could even be 3 million” that are “here illegally.” Mr. Trump’s numbers are wrong, and his vision is anything but “soft.” In fact, it is terrifying.
To realize these numbers during a four-year term, to say nothing of a shorter “immediate” timeframe, would require deportation rates never before experienced in this country. This, despite the fact that migration levels to the United States are relatively low and that the current administration already broke the record for removal of immigrants, earning President Obama the title of “deporter in chief” in some circles. It took the Obama administration eight years to deport 2.5 million immigrants, while Mr. Trump apparently aims to hit those numbers in four years or less. Unlike Presidents Bush and Obama, both of whom used deportations as a political pawn in failed efforts to secure immigration reforms, the President Elect has never envisioned a path to citizenship for our nation’s immigrants.
The population as described by Mr. Trump simply does not exist. Trump’s depiction of 2-3 million immigrants as “illegal,” criminal and dangerous is a myth, rooted in poor math and biased fear-mongering. The Migration Policy Institute (MPI) has pointed out that the likely source for the numbers is a 2012 Department of Homeland Security (DHS) estimate of 1.9 million “removable criminal aliens.” But more than half of this group are legally living and working in the United States. In typical Trumpian exaggeration, the President-Elect seems to have ignored that fact, and then tacked on an additional million to the DHS estimate to arrive at the fabricated 3 million.
Though Mr. Trump invokes stereotypes and fears of “dangerous illegal immigrants,” all those who’ve had a run in with the law are threatened, even those who are living and working with proper documentation, with families and no memories of a different home.
Kris Kobach, Kansas secretary of state and leading architect of Draconian anti-immigrant laws such as Arizona’s notorious “papers please” SB1070 law used to profile and harass suspected immigrants, is Donald Trump’s chief immigration enforcement guru. Instead of deporting only those convicted, Kobach proposes too instead scrap due process protections and deport immigrants who are arrested on suspicion of crimes or gang affiliation. In this model, local law enforcement becomes prosecutor, judge, and immigration officer.
Kobach also advocates using local police officers and jailers as the “eyes and ears of the federal government,” turning arrestees directly over to ICE for deportation. This will likely entail a rapid expansion of “287g,” a federal provision that “cross-designates” local law enforcement to serve as immigration enforcement agents, commissioning them to identify, process, and detain people suspected of being undocumented.
But a majority in our nation opposes Mr. Trump’s extreme and hateful vision for immigrants. Surveys of Trump supporters, including exit polls, show that the majority support pathways to citizenship, which are not in Mr. Trump’s plans. Universities and colleges are declaring themselves sanctuary campuses. Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck will not use local police to check papers or turn low-level offenders over to federal agents. Cities like New York, Chicago, Denver, Philadelphia, Nashville, and others plan to fight Trump’s immigration agenda, with Mayor de Blasio vowing to destroy municipal identification records for immigrants rather than hand them over to immigration enforcement authorities. Churches across the country are declaring themselves sanctuaries to defend against pending deportations.
We should take Trump at his word, and anticipate that his administration will unleash a deportation regime unprecedented in recent U.S. history. We also must resist that regime at many levels by uniting with our immigrant friends, neighbors, loved ones, coworkers, and classmates in the fight for policies and programs that keep families and communities in tact. Read more about Trump Has Not 'Softened' His War on Immigrants
A bill filed Tuesday would require Texas cities to enforce federal immigration laws or risk losing state money.
The legislation by state Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, seeks to short circuit “sanctuary city” policies that prohibit or discourage police, jail personnel, prosecutors and other officials from inquiring into the immigration status of anybody who has been arrested or detained.
“It’s bad policy and bad policing to mix immigration and local law enforcement,” said Bob Libal, executive director of Grassroots Leadership, a criminal justice and immigration reform advocacy group based in Austin. “People then conflate local police with immigration (agents) and are afraid to call the police.”
Several courts have found that requiring people to be held on suspicion that they are in the country illegally, without a warrant, violates the Constitution, Libal said.
“It’s mandating that communities violate the constitutional rights of their residents, and it’s setting communities up to be sued,” he said. Read more about ‘Sanctuary city’ bill filed as Senate priority
In the aftermath of local and federal elections Tuesday, area immigration advocates are expressing their concern about the future of the issue in Travis County.
“As the night went forward, we realized this sort of sickening feeling, of like, ‘Oh no, I think that Donald Trump is going to win this,’” explained Alejandro Caceres, an Immigration Organizer for Grassroots Leadership in Austin. “There’s a sudden fear of what happens to me tomorrow.”
Among his fears, Caceres says President-elect Donald Trump’s goals for his first day working in the Oval Office are concerning. According to NBC, Trump said he would:
- Cancel funding to “sanctuary cities”
- Remove illegal immigrants and cancel visas to countries that refuse to take them back, and
- Suspend immigration from “terror-prone” regions of the world.
“The president is coming after us,” said Caceres. “There’s people in the United States who actually feel targeted by the president of the United States… for either deportation, for stripping you of your rights, it is very terrifying.”
Caceres said members of immigrant community groups are fearful of a return to the past. “We’ve gained so many victories in the eight years that Obama has been here, and now we’re in threat of going back. Now we’re in threat of having a program like Secure Communities over again.”
Caceres said the relief he felt after learning Democrat Sally Hernandez had won the election for Travis County Sheriff was only short-lived, clouded by Trump’s success in the race for the White House.
“We do have a local victory and we can push for something that would be really, really great in the state of Texas and the city of Austin, but at the same time, now we have a president who is one hundred times worse than Greg Hamilton,” he said.
Regardless, Caceres said advocates must continue to fight for what they believe is justice. “We can mourn today, but tomorrow, we have to continue to organize because we don’t want to go back to where we were four, eight years ago.”Read more about Immigration advocates torn between Travis Co. sheriff, Trump wins
With Democratic Constable Sally Hernandez assured of victory in the race for Travis County sheriff Tuesday night, the liberal enclave in the center of Texas could be in the crosshairs of state lawmakers who want to ban so-called "sanctuary city" policies.
Alejandro Caceres, immigration organizer for Grassroots Leadership, a criminal justice reform group, said he welcomed working with a new sheriff. The current one, Democrat Greg Hamilton, riled activists and fellow elected officials with his unapologetic embrace of cooperation with federal immigration authorities.
“We know that now we have a sheriff that is wiling to negotiate with us, unlike Sheriff Hamilton who has been a massive defender of this policy,” Caceres said. "We are more than happy and willing to sit down and talk with her.” Read more about Travis County sheriff's race likely to bring immigration policy shift
Voters elected Sally Hernandez for Travis County Sheriff in a landslide victory to succeed the 12-year incumbent Greg Hamilton.
As sheriff, Hernandez said she plans to address the Priority Enforcement Program, a program implemented by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement to monitor Travis County jail inmates who may be in the U.S. illegally.
“As Sheriff, I will be committed to treating everyone equally and fairly,” Hernandez said in an email. “I think that today’s vote shows that this community wants an ICE policy that is progressive and keeps families together. It makes our community safer.”
Alejandro Caceres, Grassroots Leadership immigration organizer, said they will have a greater chance of reforming the immigration enforcement policies with Hernandez in office.
“For the first time in recent memory we believe that we can sit down and talk to our sheriff about a new policy for Travis County,” Caceres said in a press release. “We are not only celebrating Hamilton’s departure but also the departure of his policies that have torn the immigrant community apart for years.” Read more about Travis County elects Hernandez as new sheriff