Grassroots Welcomes Elizabeth Welliver

Grassroots Leadership is glad to welcome Elizabeth Welliver to its Austin staff. Elizabeth joins Grassroots as the fifth Young Adult Volunteer (YAV) to serve with the immigration team since 2012. The Young Adult Volunteer program with the Presbyterian Church (USA) offers the opportunity for young adults to serve for one year alongside local partners while practicing simple living, vocational discernment, intentional Christian community, cross-cultural mission, and leadership development. [node:read-more:link]

Mar 27, 2017
The Daily Beast

Sanctuary City Starts GoFundMe After Gov Cuts Grants

In Austin, some courts might have to be crowdfunded.

That’s because the city is what President Donald Trump calls a “sanctuary city”—and it’s facing extraordinary pressure, both political and financial, to join the Trump administration’s mass deportation efforts.

Austin is in Travis County, where its so-called sanctuary policy has already cost it $1.5 million in state funding that would have paid for drug courts, veterans’ courts, and aid to domestic violence victims.

Trump, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and other advocates of tougher immigration enforcement urge local police and sheriffs to help ICE in its deportation efforts. But many local law enforcement officials—including including Travis County’s new sheriff, Sally Hernandez—are hesitant, fearing that undocumented immigrants will be less likely to help police track down dangerous criminals if those police are in cahoots with ICE.

When Hernandez announced the county wouldn’t always cooperate with Trump, Texas Governor Greg Abbott cut state funding to the county.

So the sheriff’s supporters are now crowdfunding to make up for the lost cash—cash that pays for special courts designed to help War on Terror veterans with PTSD and parents with drug addictions. And it’s unlikely to be an anomaly, as Austin has become a national focal point in Trump’s efforts to crack down on undocumented immigrants.


That’s a lot of pressure by itself—lost funding, and even the threat of prison. But some say it’s not all. Bob Libal, who heads the anti-deportation group Grassroots Leadership, told The Daily Beast in February that he thought ICE deportation raids taking in place in Austin were retaliation for Hernandez’s policy. Since then, a federal magistrate judge said she shared that view.

Libal said he thinks ICE crackdowns will continue.

“We fully anticipate that we will continue to be a target,” he said. [node:read-more:link]

Mar 21, 2017
Downtown Austin patch

Federal Judge Confirms Heightened Austin ICE Action Is Payback For Softened Immigration Policy

The recent sweeps for undocumented immigrants in Austin by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents were done in retaliation for the new sheriff's policy ending a close partnership with the federal agency over a preference in focusing on high-level felons for deportation, according to a published report.

As first reported by the Austin American-Statesman Monday, federal agents privately alerted two magistrate judges in late January they would target Austin with heightened a heightened immigration crackdown.

The reason: A more nuanced policy by Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez that doesn't cooperate with ICE in honoring so-called "detainers," 48-hour holds placed on any arrested person suspected of being undocumented to allow an agent plenty of time to arrive (usually from San Antonio) to fetch the detained person and follow up on deportation.


“We had a briefing … that we could expect a big operation, agents coming in from out of town, that it was going to be a specific operation, and at least it was related to us in that meeting that it was the result of the sheriff’s new policy that this was going to happen,” Austin said, as quoted by the Statesman.


What followed less than three months later was unprecedented in Austin, with people being pulled over on roadways or visited at homes and workplaces as ICE agents descended on Austin to root out undocumented immigrants beginning in early February. ICE agents' efforts undoubtedly were fueled by Hernandez's more softened approach but buoyed by Donald Trump and Greg Abbott, both eager proponents of wholesale deportations from their presidential and governor's perches, respectively. 

Immediately, suspicions emerged that the crackdown never before seen (the undocumented before detected largely during times of arrest, not personal visits by ICE agents) was sort of payback against Hernandez. The revelation made in court on Monday seems to support those suspicions.


Bob Libal, executive director of Grassroots Leadership in Austin, reacted angrily to the revelations, calling out past missives by ICE positing enforcement action as routine to have been outright lies.

“This revelation in open court proves what immigrants and advocates have known for years — that ICE regularly lies to immigrants, local officials, and the media,” Libal said. “Now more than ever, officials at every level of government should rethink their relationship with this agency, and cut ties with an entity that used its power to terrorize our community and then lies to elected officials about the reason for its operation.” [node:read-more:link]

Mar 23, 2017
The Daily Texan

Federal judge says Austin ICE raids in response to sanctuary policy

A federal judge revealed Monday that federal agents told him last month’s immigration enforcement raids in Austin were in response to a policy protecting undocumented immigrants.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Andrew Austin said Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents notified him and another judge about a specific operation during a meeting in late January. The mid-Feburary raids occurred after the Travis County Sheriff’s Office stopped allowing ICE agents to detain inmates without warrants space on Feb. 1.

“We had a briefing … that we could expect a big operation, and at least it was related to us in that meeting that it was the result of the sheriff’s new policy, that this was going to happen,” Austin said in open court.


A federal judge revealed Monday that federal agents told him last month’s immigration enforcement raids in Austin were in response to a policy protecting undocumented immigrants.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Andrew Austin said Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents notified him and another judge about a specific operation during a meeting in late January. The mid-Feburary raids occurred after the Travis County Sheriff’s Office stopped allowing ICE agents to detain inmates without warrants space on Feb. 1.

“We had a briefing … that we could expect a big operation, and at least it was related to us in that meeting that it was the result of the sheriff’s new policy, that this was going to happen,” Austin said in open court.


Sarah Eckhardt, Travis County District Attorney, met with ICE regional field office director Dan Bible in February, who told her ICE was not targeting Austin, according to the Statesman.


Bob Libal, director of immigrants rights advocacy group Grassroots Leadership, said ICE cannot be trusted given Monday’s announcement.

“It’s completely outrageous and appalling that ICE is choosing to terrorize the immigrant community in retaliation for a perfectly legal policy,” Libal said. “They are lying to local officials and to the press about what their activities are.” [node:read-more:link]

Mar 19, 2017
The Bryan-College Station Eagle

Bryan-College Station spiritual leaders back immigrants

Muslim, Christian and Jewish spiritual leaders from across Bryan-College Station are putting aside doctrinal differences and focusing on scriptural similarities to determine how they can best join forces to support immigrant and refugee communities during a period of anxiety and uncertainty.


Since taking office, President Donald Trump has issued orders instructing the Department of Homeland Security to hire 15,000 Immigrations and Customs Enforcement and Border Patrol agents and broadening the parameters of prioritization of forced removal to include more immigrants. Trump's policies have left many immigrants across the country -- including some in Bryan-College Station -- afraid to leave their homes.

Spiritual leaders throughout Bryan-College Station have stepped in to assuage some of their concerns; De Leon estimated that between 15-20 clergy members have been meeting with the Brazos Interfaith Immigration Network, or BIIN, for the past several months to determine how to work together to advocate for immigrant and refugee communities. 


De Leon laid out a number of explicit actions he said his church could do to support immigrant and refugee communities across Bryan-College Station.

"When we think of being a sanctuary church, our minds go to an open-door church where immigrants are housed," said De Leon. But being supportive of the sanctuary movement, he added, could involve "meeting people where they are versus harboring undocumented immigrants."

Among the options are visiting immigrants being held in detention centers, helping to find legal counsel for the detained, holding fundraisers to pay lawyers to help those about to be deported in getting their affairs in order and getting trained to participate in Sanctuary in the Streets, a four-hour class taught by the Austin-based Grassroots Leadership. Sanctuary in the Streets teaches supporters to be witnesses to ICE raids by live-streaming arrests using cell phones and engaging in direct-action protests in response to immigration raids.

Alejandro Caceres, a representative from Grassroots Leadership, said that 250 people had been certified through the training in the Austin/Central Texas area. About six are certified in B-CS.


None of the houses of worship in this article have formally become part of the sanctuary movement, though Friends Congregational Church will have a congregational discussion and vote today on whether and how to pledge support to the sanctuary movement. [node:read-more:link]

Mar 10, 2017
Austin Chronicle

Undocumented, Unafraid

On Feb. 10, her community experienced the first tangible signs of that danger. As part of a sweep through 12 states, ICE detained dozens in the Austin region and more than 680 immigrants nationwide. While "Operation Cross Check" ostensibly targeted "public safety threats," reports later showed that most of those arrested locally did not have criminal records, sparking questions of political retaliation. The immigrant community, an already vulnerable population, has since been forced to reckon with deep anxiety, fear, and feelings of destabilization. Like many undocumented Austinites today, Alvarado's parents are "laying low," she said, forgoing the 40-minute drive to visit their daughter in San Marcos, and updating her on nearly every trip out of the house they make.


But while some immigrants back into the shadows for self-preservation, others have felt empowered to take to the streets and speak up. The raids ignited daily protests at the intersection of Rund­berg and North Lam­ar, and several rallies and demonstrations in the ensuing weeks. Over the past month, and now into an uncertain future, the community navigates a delicate balance between protecting themselves and their families while letting the public know they deserve to call Austin home.

"Trump, escucha! Estamos en la lucha!" ("Trump, listen! We are in the fight!") chanted roughly 200 immigrants and allies over the sounds of Tejano accordion music and drumbeats outside the J.J. Pickle Federal Building on a clear day in mid-February. Toting handmade signs and the Mexico and U.S. flags, activists – surrounded by Austin Police and Department of Homeland Secur­ity officials – joined the nationwide Day Without Immigrants strike in peaceful protest to assert their self-worth, remind the city of their many contributions, and condemn the recent raids.


Early rumblings of ICE raids in the first days of February sent local nonprofit and legal groups into an organizing frenzy ("ICE Raid in Austin?" Feb. 2). And the strategizing paid off: Groups, including the Texas Here to Stay coalition, were able to respond to the enforcement action. A rapid text alert system for attorneys led to a pop-up legal clinic at the Grassroots Leadership offices on Cesar Chavez. Around 80 people showed up, including 10 family members directly affected by the arrests. "I think we were the first city in Texas to have something set up that had a rapid response and alert system," said Faye Kolly, a local immigration attorney and member of the American Immi­gra­tion Lawyers Association. "As a city, we have a lot to be proud of."

Kolly described the mood in the makeshift legal clinic as one of mass confusion and panic. "Many were visibly frightened and shaken, there was a lot of uncertainty and fear," she said. While conducting consultations, Kolly and other attorneys began to notice that while ICE claimed they were only going after those with serious and dangerous criminal records, some of the cases clearly didn't match the call. "ICE was waiting for people to leave their homes in the morning so they could pick them up from work," said Kolly. "We saw a lot of people being swept up who were not supposed to be targeted. Of course, what we know now is that everyone is a target."


Alejandro Caceres, immigration organizer with Grassroots Leadership, which leads the ICE out of Austin movement, said the next step is finding safe haven for those facing the threat of deportation; in effect creating an underground network of businesses, clinics, restaurants, churches, and other places that can harbor immigrants in the event of upcoming massive raids – or at least banish ICE from their private property.

"It doesn't seem like the local government can protect us from the federal administration, so we've got to find a way to protect ourselves," he said. "We want people to be actively on the lookout and make sure ICE doesn't feel comfortable in parking lots and businesses. If ICE is going to do a stakeout on private property, we want it to be as inconvenient as possible." Count St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church (part of the interfaith Austin Sanctuary Network) and Black Star Co-op as havens. AISD also recently passed a resolution reaffirming that the district is a safe space for all students, regardless of immigration status.

Of course, under the Texas Legislature's plan to pass a so-called "sanctuary cities" bill this session, safe shelter is equally under threat ("Matters More Than the Law," Feb. 10). Senate Bill 4, by Sen. Charles Per­ry, R-Lubbock, would punish local governments and universities that don't comply with ICE detainer requests to hand over immigrants. Violating the potential law could mean a loss of state grant funds. Labeled as one of Gov. Greg Abbott's "emergency" priorities, SB 4 sped through the full Senate and now heads to the House, despite resounding testimony in opposition.

Sen. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, and 10 co-authors, including Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Aus­tin, have proposed a counter bill (SB 997) that would establish "safe zones" for immigrants at hospitals, public schools, courthouses, and places of worship, where local and state police would be prohibited from enforcing federal immigration laws. "These have always been in our society: institutions where it should be safe and one can trust that institution," Garcia said at a Feb­ruary legislative press conference. "If we break that, it breaks our democracy." [node:read-more:link]

Jan 24, 2017
The Austin American Statesman

Like in Travis County, Dallas County sheriff incurred Abbott’s wrath

Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez knows what it’s like to get a letter from the governor.

In 2015, Valdez announced that her office would no longer provide blanket compliance with federal immigration officials seeking to intercept unauthorized immigrants at local jails for possible deportation.

Her new policy raised ire from numerous fronts in a deeply red Texas. And, like recently sworn-in Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez, Valdez quickly became the recipient of a letter from Gov. Greg Abbott with harsh criticism.


Abbott threatened Monday to cut off state criminal justice grant funding to Travis County unless Hernandez rescinds a policy that would limit detention requests from Immigration and Customs Enforcement and would end ICE agents’ unfettered access to the Travis County Jail. Travis County received $1.8 million in criminal justice grant funding from the state last year.


Hernandez’s policy is more specific. According to Hernandez, the Travis County Jail will only honor ICE detention requests, or “detainers,” on people charged or convicted of capital murder, murder, aggravated sexual assault and human trafficking. All other detainer requests would require a court order or warrant.

Bob Libal, executive director of Grassroots Leadership, called Hernandez’s policy the most progressive in the state. It comes closer to similar policies adopted in Colorado and Oregon.

Hernandez had long promised to end Travis County’s cooperation with ICE. She announced her policy Friday as celebrations and protests of President Donald Trump’s inauguration were underway. In recent years, ICE has relaxed its policy on detaining undocumented immigrants at jails, but that could be changed with the stroke of a pen from Trump. [node:read-more:link]

Jan 20, 2017
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.


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. [node:read-more:link]

Rally planned to stop deportation of LGBTQ activist

WHAT: Rally to #LetSulmaStay
WHO: Sulma Franco and supporters from the faith communities in Austin and San Antonio
WHEN:  Tuesday, August 18 at 12:15 p.m.
WHERE: Immigration and Customs Enforcement Office, 8940 Fourwinds Dr, Windcrest, TX (San Antonio)

(SAN ANTONIO, Texas) — On Tuesday, Sulma Franco, who has been taking sanctuary from deportation in the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Austin since June 11, will travel to San Antonio to submit her application for a stay of deportation in person. [node:read-more:link]


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