bob libal

Jan 20, 2017
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The Huffington Post

Austin Area Becomes Immigrant ‘Sanctuary’ As Trump Inaugurated

 The Travis County Sheriff’s Office announced a new policy Friday of limiting cooperation with detainers issued by Immigration and Customs Enforcement to hold undocumented immigrants.  

The changes, which make Austin a so-called sanctuary jurisdiction for deportable migrants, puts incoming Sheriff Sally Hernandez at odds with both President Donald Trump and Republicans in the Texas Legislature who are pushing bills to crack down on undocumented immigrants. And just hours after Hernandez’s announcement, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott threatened to cut state funding to Travis County.

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Bob Libal, the director of the immigrant rights group Grassroots Leadership, cheered the Travis County policy, describing it as the culmination of years of pressure from activists.  

“This sends a really loud and clear message that Travis County is against the mass deportation of our community members,” Libal told The Huffington Post. “And that is an incredibly important message to send today as Donald Trump is inaugurated, promising mass deportations and human rights violations in the immigrant community.”

The group is still pressing for further limitations to ICE holds and to restrict local police from asking about immigration status, however.

Supporters of limiting ICE holds contend that using local law enforcement agencies to help with federal immigration undermines trust in immigrant communities, drains local resources and unfairly ensnares victims of crime into the deportation process. In cases of domestic abuse, for example, police sometimes arrest both parties after an altercation. Read more about Austin Area Becomes Immigrant ‘Sanctuary’ As Trump Inaugurated

Jan 23, 2017
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The Daily Texan

Travis County Sheriff announces policy to not comply with federal immigration law enforcement

On Monday, Gov. Greg Abbott denounced Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez’s promise to not detain undocumented immigrants for deportations by federal agents without warrants, according to the Austin American-Statesman.

Abbott’s letter was in response to a video that was released last Friday in which Hernandez said she will not comply with Immigration Customs and Enforcement agents without warrants seeking to deport undocumented immigrants booked in local jails come Feb. 1.

“It is my policy to focus on local, public priorities and to leave it to federal immigration officials to focus on federal immigration enforcement,”
Hernandez said.

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Executive director Bob Libal of Grassroots Leadership, an advocacy organization championing immigration rights, said he has been waiting for such an official announcement for a policy by Hernandez.

“This is a tremendous victory for immigrant community members who have been pushing for years to put an end to the county’s voluntary compliance with immigration detainers of the jail,” Libal said. Read more about Travis County Sheriff announces policy to not comply with federal immigration law enforcement

Jan 19, 2017
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The Guardian

Activism in the age of Trump: meet the leaders of the grassroots resistance

Women, immigrants and minorities were all targeted by Donald Trumpduring his presidential campaign.

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Here are some of the people and groups who are already leading the progressive fights on these and other issues, and how they’ll lead the resistance against a President Trump.

Bob Libal – immigration

Executive director, Grassroots Leadership

Based in Austin, Grassroots Leadership works to stop prison profiteering, mass incarceration and deportation. The organization successfully campaigned to stop immigrant families being detained at the T Don Hutton Detention Center in Texas in 2009.

Since Trump’s election, the group has been providing “sanctuary in the streets” training to residents. The plan is to build a network of activists – Grassroots Leadership aims to have 500 people signed up in the next two months – who will “literally put their bodies on the line” to prevent immigrants from being arrested or deported.

“We’re training people in every part of the city to be responsive should there be a raid, so people can get a call and actually turn out,” Libal said. Activists will then engage in “non-violent disobedience”, such as sitting between law enforcement officers and their suspected targets.

“Regardless of where you are, there is probably an immigration rights organization,” Libal said. “Find that organization and get involved. Because even in a time when federally things look pretty bleak, we have infinitely more power locally, and we need to turn our energies into ensuring people in our immediate communities are safe.” Read more about Activism in the age of Trump: meet the leaders of the grassroots resistance

Jan 9, 2017
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The Daily Texan

Immigration rights groups organize day before state legislature convenes

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.

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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

Jan 5, 2017
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The Texas Observer

America Beyond Detention

The United States portrays itself as a beacon of freedom and liberty, yet it operates the world’s largest immigrant detention system, a burgeoning network that locks up refugees, asylum-seekers and other migrants who seek protection or a new life on our shores. In 2015 alone, more than 367,000 men, women and children were imprisoned in a system of 637 public and for-profit private prisons. The Trump administration has promised a crackdown on undocumented immigrants that could set off more growth in the detention sector.

On any given day, as many as 42,000 people wait in detention as their cases slowly move through overburdened immigration courts. Some will languish for years, costing U.S. taxpayers $126 per inmate per day. Far more significant is the human cost. Incarceration often leads to illness, depression or even suicide. In little more than a decade, at least 166 immigrants have died while in detention.

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Critics of detention argue that a 2009 congressional mandate requiring that ICE maintain 34,000 daily detention beds forces the agency to choose detention over alternatives. The quota has helped boost the stock of for-profit prison companies, which have looked to non-criminal immigrants as a source of growth. Immigrants nowrepresent the fastest-growing sector of the prison population.

The system is also financially burdensome. “We spend $2 billion a year just on detaining immigrants,” says Bob Libal, director of Grassroots Leadership, a nonprofit immigrant advocacy group. “And this is only part of a much larger detention and deportation apparatus that costs us billions, but it’s also costly in human lives.” Alternatives to detention such as residential shelters are a less expensive, more humane way to comply with U.S. laws, he says. “Detention should never be the first priority.” Read more about America Beyond Detention

Dec 15, 2016
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San Antonio Express

Texas senators to Bureau of Prisons: Delay contract with private operators

A group of lawmakers, including Texas’ senators, have asked the Bureau of Prisons to put the brakes on a contract for 3,600 beds in private detention facilities that could result in closures of prisons in Texas.

They’re asking the Obama administration to hold off on granting the contract, which at one time was slated for more than 10,000 beds in seven states, including Texas. That number was reduced drastically this year after the Justice Department announced it would begin phasing out its use of private prison operators.

The contract, which could be shared by several companies, would have been a renewal of existing agreements to operate prisons for the bureau. The reduced contract could result in the closure of some facilities.

The letter was hailed by private prison company GEO Group, which employs about 1,500 people in Texas through BOP contracts, but was criticized by an Austin-based advocacy group as the latest effort to delay the contract until President-elect Donald Trump takes office.

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Bob Libal, the executive director of the Austin-based advocacy group Grassroots Leadership, which has opposed private prisons, said the company is likely to lose its challenge. He wondered if the letter and the protest by GEO are part of a “stalling technique” in hopes that a Trump administration will award larger contracts. The Justice Department’s decision to phase out private prisons was based not just on the problems identified but a declining inmate population, Libal said.

“They’re trying to thwart the common-sense move that, if you don’t need prison beds, you don’t sign contracts with substandard prisons to continue to operate them,” he said. Read more about Texas senators to Bureau of Prisons: Delay contract with private operators

Dec 8, 2016
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Fort Worth Weekly

No Family Left Behind

Family detention facilities are not childcare centers. That was the decision handed down on Friday by State District Judge Karin Crump in a case brought by an anti-private prison group against the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, as well as two private prison giants: GEO Group and CoreCivic (formerly, the Corrections Corporation of America).

The lawsuit by Grassroots Leadership sought to deny childcare licenses to GEO’s Karnes Family Residential Center and CoreCivic’s South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley. Both Karnes and Dilley had sought the licenses after a ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Dolly Gee in July, 2015, that holding asylum-seeking women and their children in detention centers violated a 1997 ruling that required federal authorities to detain children in the least restrictive settings possible.

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The Dilley facility had never been granted a license; a third family detention center in Pennsylvania was granted a childcare license that has since been revoked. The Crump ruling invalidates the Karnes license.

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Immediately following the ruling, 460 women and children from Karnes and Dilley were released and sent by bus to the RAICES center in San Antonio. A press release from ICE, part of the Department of Homeland Security which contracts out the family detention centers, said that the release was a normal part of operations and not done as a result of Crump’s ruling.

“They can say what they want, but nobody knew about the release ahead of time,” said Dr. Luis Zayas, dean of the School of Social Work at the University of Texas at Austin and one of the people who testified in the case for Grassroots Leadership. “They just put these people on busses and sent them out to RAICES with no real warning.”

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Unfortunately, despite the release of that many asylum seekers over the weekend, the Dilley facility is still holding 1,787 women and children, Karnes is still holding 606, and the Berks facility in Pennsylvania, a very small facility that holds a maximum of 100, is still holding 86, according to ICE spokesman Carl Rosnok.

Bob Libal, executive director of Grassroots Leadership, acknowledged that while the Crump ruling makes it clear that the family detention centers are operating illegally, “this will not close down these facilities immediately, but it is a victory for all of us who have been saying that adult prisons are not childcare facilities. And the ruling reiterates that these places are not only immoral, but they’re illegal as well.”

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Libal believes that “when you meet these folks, you instantly realize these are not national security threats. These are moms and kids fleeing horrible violence, and we throw them into detention, sometimes for months, and then still try to deport them. Back to what? More horrible violence? If anything, this decision should be an indication that President Obama should end these family detention centers once and for all.” Read more about No Family Left Behind

Dec 6, 2016
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Texas Tribune

Immigration detention centers will continue operating despite judge's ruling

Two privately run immigration detention centers in Texas will continue their normal operations despite a Travis County judge’s ruling last week that prevents the state from licensing the facilities as child care centers.

Late Friday, state District Judge Karin Crump ruled that the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services could not issue the licenses, which are needed to comply with a federal judge’s order issued last year. The centers are in Dilley and Karnes City and are operated by Corrections Corporation of America and Geo Group, respectively.

The companies are under contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement to run the centers holding some of the tens of thousands of Central American women and children that have illegally crossed into Texas since 2014. The centers have been criticized by rights groups for allegedly operating more like prisons. 

The Texas DFPS granted the GEO Group a license for its facility earlier this year. In a statement, a spokesperson said the company always adheres to current standards. 

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But the ruling would invalidate the company's license, said Bob Libal, executive director of Grassroots Leadership, an immigrants rights group that filed the lawsuit.

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The licensing has been a critical step since July 2015 when U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee ordered that immigrants held in Texas and elsewhere should be released because their detention violates the provisions of a 1997 legal settlement — the Flores v. Meese agreement — that requires undocumented juveniles be held in centers that protect their overall health and safety. The licenses would provide for more oversight of the facilities, state officials said last year when they began the process.

Libal said he didn’t expect the facilities to clear out immediately after the ruling and expected an appeal. But he said the ruling will affect how the government and the companies move forward.

“The Flores settlement says that unlicensed and secure detention centers cannot detain children. I think that these facilities would be operating outside of that,” he said. “I know that’s a question for federal courts, but I’m happy that the court has reiterated what we’ve been saying and what’s basically common sense — that a prison is not a child care facility.” Read more about Immigration detention centers will continue operating despite judge's ruling

Dec 6, 2016
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Texas Observor

More Than 500 Central American Families Freed from Detention after Court Ruling

An immigrant shelter and a Mennonite church in San Antonio are hosting hundreds of Central American women and children released unexpectedly over the weekend from two detention centers in South Texas.

Volunteers are scrambling to house all the families, who now need to secure bus and airplane tickets so they can reunite with relatives in the United States. Some advocates suspect the mass release of immigrants is due to a court ruling last Friday that prohibits Texas from licensing immigration jails as child care facilities.

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Despite comments from RAICES saying the releases over the weekend are unprecedented, ICE said in a prepared statement that it was “scheduled as part of normal operations and not in response to the court ruling.”

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“For whatever reason, the releases are a good thing,” said Bob Libal, director of Grassroots Leadership, a nonprofit immigrant advocacy group that was a plaintiff in the lawsuit settled last Friday. Grassroots Leadership, along with detained Central American women and children, sued the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) after it granted a child care license to private prison corporation Geo Group to fill the detention center in Karnes with women and children from Central America who were seeking asylum.

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Libal said the state of Texas rubber-stamped the immigrant jails to placate the federal government, allowing for substandard child care regulations such as housing eight unrelated people in the same room.

But after last Friday’s court ruling, the state can no longer provide the certification, which means the two family immigrant detention facilities are out of compliance with federal law. Libal said he and many others would like to see the child detention facilities close for good. But it’s still unclear whether there’s any penalty for being out of compliance, or whether ICE will stop detaining children anytime soon.

The state is already appealing Friday’s ruling, Libal said. “The Obama administration shouldn’t be turning over detention camps to Donald Trump,” he said. Read more about More Than 500 Central American Families Freed from Detention after Court Ruling

Dec 5, 2016
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ABC News

Texas Appeals Ruling That Bans License for Detention Centers

The Texas attorney general on Monday appealed a judge's ruling that prevents state officials from issuing child care licenses to two federal detention centers in South Texas holding families that have illegally entered the U.S.

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State District Judge Karin Crump on Friday ruled the department cannot issue the licenses. Crump's ruling did not offer an explanation for her decision, but she had previously issued an injunction against the licenses from being issued, determining at one point that the state agency had improperly fast-tracked changes to create a path for the facilities to get licensed.

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The lawsuit that brought Crump's ruling was filed by Austin-based activist group Grassroots Leadership, which contends the facilities are prisons that are inappropriate for family detention and that minimum standards have been lowered to license them. The group's director, Bob Libal, said Monday that it's part of broader legal efforts to have federal officials adhere to a longtime agreement that called for children and their families to be held only for a short time before being released to family, friends or others while their cases are decided.

"Evidence is continuing to mount that not only is the detention immoral but it's also illegal," Libal said. Read more about Texas Appeals Ruling That Bans License for Detention Centers

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