Grassroots Leadership: Grassroots Leadership works to close private prisons, including immigrant detention centers. You can learn more and make a donation to this organization here. Read more about 10 Charities to Donate to Instead of Going HAM on Prime Day
Grassroots Leadership In The News
As part of the Trump administration's broader crackdown on immigration, Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently tightened the restrictions on the types of cases that can qualify someone for asylum, making it harder for Central Americans who say they're fleeing the threat of gangs, drug smugglers or domestic violence to pass even the first hurdle for securing U.S. protection.
"This is a direct, manipulated attack on the asylum process," said Sofia Casini of the Austin non-profit Grassroots Leadership, which has been working with immigrant women held at the nearby T. Don Hutto detention center who were separated from their kids under a widely condemned policy that President Donald Trump ended on June 20.
Casini said that of the roughly 35 separated mothers her group worked with, more than a third failed their credible fear interviews, which she said is about twice the failure rate of before the new restrictions took effect. Nationally, more than 2,000 immigrant children and parents have yet to be reunited, including Aragon and her daughter, who is being held at a New York children's shelter and whose future is as unclear as her mother's. Read more about 'Credible Fear' for US Asylum Harder to Prove Under Trump
In June, once school let out in rural Dutchess County, New York, I packed up my 7-year-old son and drove 2,054 miles to the Texas-Mexico border. I needed to see with my own eyes what is happening to migrant children separated from their parents as a result of the Trump administration’s escalated “zero tolerance” immigration policy.
Last Saturday, we met a mother, Lesvia, who came to the U.S. from Guatemala with her son, Yudem, almost two months ago. She was taken into custody 56 days ago and finally released from the T. Don Hutto immigration detention center in Taylor, Texas, on Thursday. She was driven to Brownsville by representatives of the Austin-based organization Grassroots Leadership, who had advocated for her release, to have a one-hour visit with 10-year-old Yudem, who is being held at Casa El Presidente. She hadn’t seen or spoken to him in over a month. She sobbed as she was led away from our tent while CNN’s news cameras surrounded her. Read more about I’m Camping Out In Front Of A ‘Tender Age’ Shelter With My Son. Here’s What I’ve Seen.
From the inside of T. Don Hutto detention facility in Taylor, nearly two dozen women are pleading to be reunited with their children in letters that describe the pain, helplessness, and trauma they and their children are feeling. The facility northeast of Austin houses at least 35 asylum-seeking women who were subjected to the family separation policy. In letters compiled by advocacy group Grassroots Leadershipand translated from Spanish, several women say officials lied to them about when they would see their children again, a maneuver to usher them to detention centers. Several women describe poor conditions at various facilities in Texas as they were being shuffled around: One says a guard threatened her with an "electric shock" and another, who is HIV-positive, says the facility withheld medicine from her.
At Hutto, eight of the 35 asylum-seeking women have been released on bond, but only one has been reunited with her children, as of press time. "Other women are still very upset. I think seeing a few women released is giving a little bit of hope, but it's mostly a feeling of desperation," says Cristina Parker of Grassroots Leadership. Read more about Moms Describe Anguish in Letters From Inside the Hutto Detention Facility
Mario knows where his daughter is—they’re both in El Paso, Texas—but he’s not allowed to see her. Before they have the opportunity to permanently come back together as a family once again, the U.S. government’s got a ton of hoops that they want Mario to jump through. The common thread: he needs to prove that he’s his daughter’s father. Last month, Mario and his legal representative were working to get his passport back from the FBI, as it had been taken from him when he was taken into custody at the border. This week, he’s waiting to be fingerprinted. That each step of the process to get his daughter back is being handled by a different government organization only serves to slow things down. Similar stories are playing out with other families as well. Claudia Muñoz, is the immigration programs director for Grassroots Leadership, an Austin-based group that opposes for-profit immigrant detention centers. From what she told the Texas Tribune’s Julián Aguilar, the level of red tape that detainees are having to cut through in order to get back their kids is at a level where one has to start to wonder whether the government actually wants families to be reunited. Hmmmm… Read more about A stunning amount of red tape is keeping detainee families from reuniting
Trump’s desire to jail thousands of immigrant families for months at a time has rekindled an economic romance between a tiny South Texas county and a British security megafirm.
But family detention itself has long been the focus of controversy. Immigrants have described horrific conditions at for-profit lockups, and human rights organizations have condemned family detention as traumatizing, especially to children — hardly a humanitarian alternative to separations.
“It’s trading one system of abuse of children for another,” said Bob Libal, director of Grassroots Leadership, an Austin group that fights private prisons. “And the Trump administration’s plan is indefinite detention, meaning parents and children could be detained for years.” Read more about ‘Recipe for Disaster’: New Family Detention Center Could Open in South Texas
BROWNSVILLE — Two months after immigration officials tore her away from her 10-year-old son, an emotional Guatemalan mother wouldn’t let go of the boy minutes after they were reunited outside a Brownsville, Tex., shelter for separated children.
Lesvia Vazquez, 39, wrapped her arms around Yudem and couldn’t stop kissing him on the cheeks after seeing him walk out of the Casa El Presidente shelter.
Vazquez was released from a detention center outside Austin Thursday after an organization named Grassroots Leadership paid her bond. She had been demanding the shelter free her son since Friday, she said.
“I came in only to visit him. They had told me that it would take a few more weeks before I could take him home. I couldn’t believe when they told me they were going to give him back to me,” she said. “I’ll never let him go now.” Read more about 'I'm the happiest woman in the world': Immigrant mom and son, 10, reunited after Trump policy tore them apart
BROWNSVILLE, Tex. — The mother in Room 211 was separated from her 17-year-old daughter by Border Patrol agents after they had crossed the Rio Grande on a tire. Since then, it had been 40 days. The same number as her age.
“It’s like each day is a year,” said the mother, who asked to be identified by her middle name, Isabella.
Isabella wore a new black tank top, black leggings and sneakers. She bought none of it herself. Last night’s fajita dinner, the motel room, her $1,500 bond to get released out of Hutto — all of it was supplied by Claudia Muñoz, an immigrant advocate who works for Grassroots Leadership, a nonprofit group in Austin that fights mass incarceration, detention and deportation.
“A godsend,” Isabella said.
Bethany Carson, who works with Ms. Muñoz at Grassroots Leadership, came by the room then with the good news: It was time to go to the shelter. They were ready. Isabella’s bed was made. Her boyfriend’s red duffel bag was packed. Read more about ‘It’s Like Each Day Is a Year’: A Migrant Mother’s Wait for a Reunion
Reina Isabella, who asked to be identified only by her first and middle name, had not seen her daughter Diana in 40 days.
When she was returned to the Border Patrol processing center, officials told her Diana had been taken away.
They wouldn’t say where, or let her phone her daughter, said Reina, who was moved to the T. Don Hutto detention center more than 300 miles north near Austin.
There she met staff from Austin-based nonprofit Grassroots Leadership, which helped her as she applied for asylum based on her fear of returning to El Salvador. Read more about What it took to reunite one immigrant family separated under U.S. 'zero tolerance' policy
BROWNSVILLE, Texas - After 40 days apart, a mother and her child are finally reunited in Brownsville.
Grassroots Leadership, an organization that advocates for undocumented immigrants, recorded the moment when the mother and child embraced in a vehicle outside a Southwest Key facility. We're told the mother came to Brownsville this morning after being released from the Hutto Detention Center in Taylor, Texas and was waiting for six hours to be reunited with her child. Read more about Mother And Child Finally Reunited In Brownsville
EL PASO — More than a month after he was separated from his 10-year-old child, an undocumented Honduran who is seeking asylum in the United States was finally able to see his daughter Tuesday.
But an hour later, Mario said, they were separated again.
The same situation is playing out in the Rio Grande Valley, according to Grassroots Leadership, an Austin-based immigrant rights center that opposes for-profit detention centers.
Claudia Muñoz, Grassroots Leadership’s immigration programs director, said she’s accompanied three Central American mothers to the region where they’ve been told their children are being held. But each one has had to deal with different challenges in order to be reunited with their children for longer than the daily hour-long visits they are allowed.
“They had asked [one] mother for a proof of address for the past 30 days, like a utility bill or something, but she was just released from detention, so she didn’t have that,” Muñoz said. Read more about From El Paso to Brownsville, the path to reunification isn't easy for immigrant parents
Janet, 46, and her 15-year-old daughter Jenny were detained crossing the Rio Grande on a smuggler’s raft in late May and separated from each other. Janet was released Monday with a notice to appear in court but has been unable to be with her daughter, who remains at a shelter in San Benito, Texas.
“So much time has passed. I want to take her with me. We’ll see if they give me the chance,” she said. Officials have told the volunteers helping her, with the nonprofit Grassroots Leadership, that in order to be reunited, she would have to clear a rigorous screening process, including fingerprinting and background checks. Read more about Some migrant children are reunited with parents as Trump administration misses court deadline
When the Texas legislature passed SB4, effectively outlawing sanctuary cities in the state, Austin did not give in. Instead, advocacy groups banded together and passed two resolutions that make Austin a “freedom city,” one that not only refuses to target immigrants but actively protects them from harmful policies and deportation.
Resolution 73 calls for the elimination of “discretionary arrests,” or arrests made in cases when a citation could be issued instead, such as marijuana possession. Resolution 74 ensures that immigrants are aware of their rights when being questioned by the police.
United We Dream and two Austin-based advocacy nonprofits—Workers Defense Project and Grassroots Leadership—have been organizing on this issue since 2016. In May of 2017, they led a protest against SB4, known as the “show me your papers” law, which allows police to check the immigration status of anyone they arrest. Read more about Austin, Texas: If We Can’t Be a Sanctuary City, How about a Freedom City?
Immigrant parents who have been separated from their children have been asked to complete extensive paperwork to begin the process of reunification. The forms request basic information, such as date and city of birth, but also require documentation that the people, who are often poor, may not have, such as a passport. Advocates note that these are people who are still hoping to settle in the United States and so have not yet secured the required proof of address, such as a recent water bill or a letter from a bank.
Government officials have said they request extensive information because they are required to protect children and must prove family relationships.
But Bethany Carson, an organizer with Grassroots Leadership, a nonprofit in Texas assisting immigrant families, called the requirements listed on forms provided to mothers "not realistic" and "demeaning."
"It’s very clear they are trying to make this difficult and ignoring the court order that says to reunify these parents as quickly as possible," Carson said Tuesday. Read more about U.S. government is asking immigrant parents separated from their children to fill out this lengthy form
Calls to abolish Immigration and Customs Enforcement is a rocky road between activists who want deportations to stop and Democratic officials who want to see fellow Democrats elected.
Some Texas Democratic leaders say campaigning on one issue is a sure way they will lose this November Election. Immigration activists are pushing them to do it anyway.
Cristina Parker with Grassroots Leadership is calling for eliminating the agency as well. She thinks thousands of officers looking for people to deport is too drastic, since living in America without legal status is a civil violation, not a criminal offense.
"We're talking about people's families. We're talking about the people who live next door to you. The idea of someone out there hunting them down is terrifying," said Parker. Read more about Activists push for end to ICE despite fears of political harm to Dems
A thousand Episcopalians, at least two for every one female incarcerated at the Hutto Detention Center in rural Texas, stood under the blistering sun July 8 in public witness to the actions of the U.S. government in its enforcement of immigration policies that have separated families over the last couple of months and have led to roundups of migrants and deportations.
An ad hoc planning team lead by the Rev. Winnie Varghese, director of justice and reconciliation at Trinity Church Wall Street, and the Megan Castellan, rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Ithaca, New York, organized the prayer service in partnership with Grassroots Leadership, an Austin-based nonprofit organization that works for a more just society by challenging the for-profit prison system, mass incarceration and deportation and criminalization of migrants. Read more about Episcopalians gather in public witness outside immigrant detention center
In a letter recently made public to shed light on the lives of detained immigrants, an asylum-seeking mother held at the T. Don Hutto Residential Center in Taylor laments the monthlong separation from her 12-year-old son.
Grassroots Leadership, an Austin nonprofit that sends volunteers to visit women in the Taylor facility, obtained the letters, translated them from Spanish and published them online to offer a glimpse into life in detention. The accounts detail the women’s desire to reunite with their children and the treatment they allege they have received while in custody.
Grassroots Leadership spokeswoman Cristina Parker said the organization seeks to be “the eyes and ears” for those detained in the all-women facility.
“We want to make sure that we get out the stories of women who are detained,” Parker said. “We were seeing a big group of mothers coming in who’ve been separated.” Read more about Detained immigrants describe treatment, anguish in letters
What Is the Flores Settlement?
Prior to the creation of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and ICE in 2003, there was Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS). In the 1980s, attorneys filed several lawsuits on behalf of detained unaccompanied minors, including a 1985 class action lawsuit from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on behalf of a 15-year-old Salvadoran girl named Jenny Lisette Flores. The suit challenged INS procedures for detaining, treating, and releasing immigrant children.
“The fight for Flores to be followed has been a long one, but what we’re seeing now is an explicit challenge to Flores and the law of the land that governs the way that children can be detained,” said Bob Libal, the executive director of the Austin, Texas-based immigrant rights organization Grassroots Leadership. “This is part of a larger attack on the legal protections vulnerable people have in the immigration system, including children, asylum seekers, and victims of domestic violence and gang violence. When it comes to challenging Flores, I think we can accurately say that [Attorney General Jeff] Sessions doesn’t care about immigrant children.” Read more about #FamiliesBelongTogether—in Detention? The Administration Seems to Think So.
County Commissioner Eliberto Guerra also told the Observer he wasn’t worried about another riot because, unlike in 2015, the facility would be holding civil immigrant detainees instead of immigrants serving criminal sentences.
Guerra emphasized the need for the prison guard jobs in Raymondville. Willacy County, population 22,000, has a poverty rate of 38 percent. He added that the county stands to earn as much as $930,000 a year in administrative fees from the contract, plus additional taxes.
But critics weren’t convinced. Norma Herrera, criminal justice organizer for the Austin-based nonprofit Grassroots Leadership, told the commissioners during public comment that MTC had already proven itself unable to provide “sustainable jobs.” During its nine years in Willacy County, MTC was effectively shut down on two occasions for alleged mismanagement. Read more about Despite Protests, Willacy County Forges Ahead with Resurrection of Notorious Immigrant Detention Center
Immigrant mothers whose children were forcefully taken from them at the border are begging for help. And the non-profit civil rights organization Grassroots Leadership is now amplifying their calls for mercy by publishing their letters.
When President Donald Trump’s attorney general announced the administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy at the border, separating families who arrived at the U.S.-Mexico border, a great outcry pushed Trump to later change his tune. He eventually signed an executive order in what appeared to be an attempt to stop the separation policy. Still, 2,053 children had already been forcefully ripped apart from their parents, and only 538 have been reunited so far.
As attorneys and volunteers from Grassroots Leadership try to help these mothers and children, reporters published some of the letters written by these women. Since many involve mothers who are asking for asylum, not all women were identified. Read more about In Letters, Immigrant Mothers Beg: ‘Return Our Children’