The year in review: 15 highlights of 2015 at Grassroots Leadership!

Massive march in Dilley, Texas to #EndFamillyDetention!

As we finish up 2015, we thought we’d reflect on the year at Grassroots Leadership.  We’ve had a terrific year of work and it couldn’t have been possible without the hard work and support of our staff, board, volunteers, allies, and donors.  Please consider making a donation to help our work continue in 2016.  Thank you, we couldn’t do it without you!

1. We moved into our new space in east Austin!
We kicked off 2015 by moving our national headquarters back to East Austin to accommodate our growing staff. We celebrated our beautiful new home at 2301 East Cesar Chavez with friends, family, and supporters from over the years. We hosted an evening of live music and dancing provided by Son Armado and DJ Chorizo Funk, delicious homemade tamales from Conjunto Contigo, and a pinata and bounce castle from our neighbors at Jumpolin! Our spacious home comes equipped with a training room, perfect for small community meetings and trainings, and we are excited to call this space home through at least the end of 2017!

2. Grassroots Leadership’s Bob Libal testifies at US Civil Rights Commission!
In January, we tuned in to watch Grassroots Leadership's own Bob Libal testify before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights about the monstrous U.S. immigrant detention system. He told the Commission that the system was too dependent on for-profit private prisons and that all types of human rights abuses fester in this massive system. Watch Bob’s testimony and read our written remarks here.

3. We helped stop a private prison corporation from taking over the Terrell State Hospital in Texas!
In April, after a 9-month battle, Grassroots Leadership and a coalition of mental health, labor, and civil rights groups, declared victory over private prison company, GEO Care’s, efforts to take over Terrell State Hospital. The victory occurred in the wake of a large contracting scandal involving top leadership at the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, a damning state audit, and some terrific investigative reporting by Austin American Statesman, which revealed an uncomfortably close relationship between HHSC Executive Commissioner, Kyle Janek, and a GEO lobbyist. Not only was GEO’s take-over of Terrell State Hospital halted, but legislation is now in place that will ensure no state hospitals are privatized in the future without approval from the Legislative Budget Board. And when we thought it couldn’t get any better, former Commissioner Kyle Janek was asked to resign in June!

4. Texas becomes first state to mandate in-person visitation in (most) county jails!
This year, we won a major fight to pass a law to help families stay connected by ensuring in-person visitation in Texas county jails. HB 549 was the first statute of its kind in the nation.The bill went into law September 1, 2015 and requires each county to provide two in person visitation periods per week, halting a growing trend to move to for-profit video-only visitation. Thirty counties were exempted from the law due to incurring significant expenses prior to the law being passed, but families of incarcerated people in 234 counties will be able to rest easy knowing that shoddy, expensive video won't be replacing visitation with their loved ones. Read more here!

5. Payoff report release helps drive national narrative on detention bed quota and private prisons!
In April, we released our report, Payoff: How Congress Ensures Private Prison Profit with an Immigrant Detention Quota, which documents connections between the rise of for-profit detention of immigrants and increased lobbying by private prison corporations to the DHS Appropriations Subcommittee in Congress, which is responsible for the “bed quota” or mandated minimum number of immigrants to be detained at any given time. This detention quota has resulted in record profits for private prison corporations since 2009. The report was quoted in dozens of media outlets from the Huffington Post to Fox News Latino. Hillary Clinton even cited Payoff multiple times while making comments on the role of private prisons in our immigration detention system.

6. Massive march in Dilley, Texas to #EndFamillyDetention!
​We brought nearly 600 to Dilley, Texas the morning of May 2nd to protest family detention. People from California, New York, New Jersey, Iowa, and all over Texas met in the tiny town’s central park and marched about two miles to the Dilley Family Detention Camp, effectively shutting down Texas Highway 85 for an hour. When we arrived at the gates of the camp, speakers demanded an end to family detention. Among them were Dr. Satsuki Ina — a child psychologist and survivor of Japanese internment, and Melany — a four year old who had been released from family detention with her mother several days prior.  Melany showed the crowd her ICE identification card and expressed her wish that “todos, todos, todos” (“everyone, everyone, everyone”) be released. In the lead-up to the march, our documentary, No Sanctuary: Big Business and Family Detention, directed by Matthew Gossage, was screened more than 500 times across the country. The march and rally in Dilley was the largest pro-immigrant demonstration in the state this year.

7. Travis County, Texas video visitation victory!
​For more than two years, we’ve advocated for a restoration of in-person visits and a discontinuation of video-only visitation policies at the Travis County jail.  Although a new state law adopted this year prohibited county jails from video-only visitation, Travis County was initially on the shortlist of exempted counties.  However, after we brought scrutiny to the county’s exemption, Travis County Commissioners, in coordination with the Sheriff’s office and local advocates, returned to the drawing board to pass a budget that would provide the necessary staffing and restructuring for in-person, face-to-face visits to return to the Travis County Jail in early 2016!  Coverage of the entire campaign is here.

8. Grassroots Leadership’s work gets noticed!  
​Grassroots Leadership’s work was covered at least 140 times in 2015 by local, state, and national media this year. Some highlights this year included coverage of Payoff , the immigrant detention quota and private prison lobbying, our efforts to #EndFamilyDetention, an in-depth look at the impact of visitation at the Hutto detention center, winning in-person visitation back at the Travis County Jail, the hunger strike at the Hutto detention center (where we coordinate volunteer visitors), our successful lawsuit and on-going advocacy to stop Texas from licensing family detention centers as “childcare,” and more. We appeared this year in some major publications, including, NPR, The Guardian, Al Jazeera America, Colorlines, and DemocracyNOW!, dozens of times in local and state media.

9. Justice is not for Sale Act puts private prisons in legislative crosshairs!
In September, Grassroots Leadership applauded the introduction of the Justice is Not for Sale Act, introduced by Sen. Bernie Sanders and several Congress members.  The bill would bar the federal government and state and local jurisdictions from contracting with private prison corporations amongst other reforms.  We wrote about the seven important things that would happen if a bill to ban private prisons were successful.

10. Grassroots Leadership welcomes Texas Advocates for Justice, a new organizing project!
This year, we welcomed Texas Advocates for Justice, our newest organizing project, to our Texas team.  TAJ unites formerly incarcerated individuals, their families, people of all faiths, and allies to build safe and resilient communities through organizing, leadership training, and connections to community resources.  TAJ recently completed an intensive training in Houston and is readying for a similar eight week training in Austin this spring.

11. We celebrated our 35th anniversary with parties all over the country!
This fall Grassroots Leadership celebrated 35 years of putting people over profit with celebrations in Austin, Houston, Washington, D.C., and NYC! Our Austin celebration, attended by our board, staff, and Austin family, featured kind words of support from U.S. Congressman Lloyd Doggett and Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt. We honored amazing activists Sulma Franco and Lauren Johnson and our long-time board member Mitty Owens. We were wowed by powerful spoken word from Youth Rise Texas and Jorge Antonio Renaud and danced the night away with live performances from DJ Chorizo Funk and Austin-based hip hop crew Mindz of a Different Kind. We’re so thankful for all who have supported us in the fight to end our country's addiction to mass incarceration, detention, and deportation!

11. Immigration in the Travis County jail dominates local politics!
Monday, December 14th, was the deadline for candidates to register to run for office in Texas. Current Travis County Sheriff Greg Hamilton did not file for reelection meaning a new person will be in charge of the Travis County Jail in 2017.

Because of on-the-ground organizing done by the #19toomany campaign, the new sheriff will most likely end the collaboration between our local sheriff’s office and Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE), marking a major victory for immigrants and their allies who for the last two years have sent a clear message to those running for office Travis County: you can not be a viable candidate and be pro-deportation. With Hamilton not in the race we are left with four other major candidates are all voicing their opposition to a pro-deportation policy and voicing their support for the immigrant community. This was not the case four years ago and it took immigrant organizing to really change the entire landscape of local politics.

13. Fighting Operation Streamline at its 10th anniversary!
​December 16, 2015 marked the 10th anniversary of Operation Streamline and we organized a week of action to shine a light on this little-known program. For ten years, tens of thousands of migrants have been criminally prosecuted for entering and re-entering the U.S. under Streamline. It's common to see 50-80 migrants prosecuted in the same courtroom in proceedings that collapse the initial appearance, indictment, and conviction into one proceeding. In many cases, defendants often meet with attorneys in front of others in the courtroom, shortly before proceedings begin. This policy has continued for 10 years despite the fact that it violates international law, including U.S. obligations under Article 31(1) of the Refugee Convention, which prohibits referring asylum seekers for criminal prosecution. These prosecutions criminalize people who are coming to reunite with family, seek asylum, and economically sustain themselves and their families. The days of action included direct actions in Tucson, Arizona and Austin and the Rio Grande Valley, Texas.

14. Grassroots Leadership sponsors local film screenings!
​In August, Texans United For Families (TUFF) brought the community together for an outdoor film screening of La Bestia, a documentary that explores the dangers that refugees and migrant workers face as they make the journey across the U.S./Mexican border. The screening, which brought out about 70 people, is part of an ongoing TUFF initiative to raise awareness of issues that affect immigrants in our community and invites the greater Austin community to join us in working for an end to immigrant detention.

Also in August, and in cooperation with Austin/Travis County Reentry Roundtable and the Austin Film Society, we co-hosted a screening and panel discussion for the documentary “Evolution of a Criminal”.  Panelists included the filmmaker, Darius Monroe Clark, and local leaders in the juvenile and criminal justice systems . The screening drew a large crowd, filling the theater and the panel discussion elicited audience questions delving deep into systemic issues that drive mass incarceration.  Darius expressed kindness and gratitude to the event’s sponsors noting that it was his best screening and QA session since making the film.

15. Grassroots Leadership supports the launch of Youth Rise Texas!
This year, Grassroots Leadership supported the launch of Youth Rise Texas, providing the group with office space and meeting space, and collaborating on organizing campaigns like restoring in-person visitation at Travis County Jail, ICE out of Austin, and local Fair-Chance Hiring initiatives. Youth Rise Texas is the first youth organizing project of it's kind in the state, working with teens who have been impacted by parental incarceration and deportation.  The organization provides paid internships for impacted teens, and uses community organizing and activist theater as tools to challenge mass incarceration, detention, and deportation.  In just six months, Youth Rise has made some amazing gains for Texas teens and families - head over to their website to learn more, watch this video about their incredible list of 2015 achievements, and follow them on Facebook to keep up with their work!

Help our work continue in 2016!
With your help, we believe that 2016 will lead to an even more exciting list of victories and accomplishments!  Please consider making a donation to help our work continue.  Thank you for all of your support. Our work would not be possible without it.