Grassroots Leadership In The News

Jan 9, 2018
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Austin American-Statesman

Activists calling for improvements to Austin police’s body camera policies

"In its first meeting of 2018, Austin’s Public Safety Commission on Monday discussed opportunities to improve the Police Department’s body-worn camera policy. Austin police began rolling out body-worn cameras to patrol officers in three stations throughout the city in October. By the end of 2017, officers stationed in east, south and central Austin had been outfitted with the devices.

[...] Chris Harris, of the local organization Grassroots Leadership, told the commission that it is important to consider who the body-worn camera policy really works for, and said that in its current form, it is stacked in favor of police." Read more about Activists calling for improvements to Austin police’s body camera policies

Jan 8, 2018
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US News

Advocates Want #MeToo Debate to Include Immigrant Detention

"The advocacy group Grassroots Leadership, which publicized Monterrosa's case, says two other women in the same facility have since written letters describing sexual harassment.

'Women are forced to do what they say or stay silent out of fear,' Monterrosa said.

Bethany Carson, an immigration researcher at Grassroots Leadership, called on authorities to release Monterrosa so 'she can live in peace and recover from this new trauma she experienced at the hands of those responsible for ensuring her safety.'

Monterrosa is being held at the T. Don Hutto Residential Center in Taylor, Texas, a rural town outside of Austin. Hutto has been the target of lawsuits and criminal investigations since shortly after it opened in 2006, having been converted from a medium-security prison." Read more about Advocates Want #MeToo Debate to Include Immigrant Detention

Jan 8, 2018
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KGNS

Advocates pushing for sexual misconduct to include immigrant detention

Grassroots Leadership continues to advocate for accountability for abuses of power in detention, including sexual assault. "Advocates say the national discussion of sexual misconduct should include immigrant detention facilities where they say cases of abuse have not been adequately investigated.

Advocates point to the FBI announcing that it had opened a civil rights investigation into a Texas case as a positive sign that federal authorities are responding to pressure." Read more about Advocates pushing for sexual misconduct to include immigrant detention

Jan 4, 2018
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Houston Chronicle

Texas prisons push back against claims of freezing, unheated units

"Lewis Conway Jr., who served time in a slew of different prisons across the state, said officers sometimes wielded control of the heater to make a point.

'If you weren't being compliant or obedient, that thing stayed off,' said the Austin man who now works with Grassroots Leadership. 'Every winter the only choice you have is a heater that blows on high regardless of the temperature so you're in a sweltering hell or if you're in a dorm where there's no central air or heating and it's just concrete and steel.'" Read more about Texas prisons push back against claims of freezing, unheated units

Jan 3, 2018
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The Chronicle of Philanthropy

15 People Changing the Nonprofit World

"Bob Libal
Grassroots Leadership
Austin, Tex.

Immigration detention and mass incarceration share a lot in common, argues Bob Libal. Both often start with a crackdown on petty crimes in communities of color and benefit the same private prison companies, he says. Many people when they leave prison feel as though they’re undocumented: They lose some of the rights of citizenship and struggle to find jobs and housing.

Grassroots Leadership, the advocacy group Mr. Libal leads, takes on the two hot-button subjects together. 'We believe that there’s more power when the communities that are impacted by these issues come together and fight alongside of each other.'" Read more about 15 People Changing the Nonprofit World

Dec 27, 2017
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Al Jazeera

Sanctuary churches fight Trump's deportation surge

"When Alirio Gamez was served a deportation order earlier this year, he decided to push back rather than submit himself to authorities to be returned to his native El Salvador.

On August 8, the 40-year-old, who fled his homeland after receiving a slew of death threats, joined a growing number of undocumented people taking sanctuary in churches across the United States when he set up shop in the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Austin, located in the capital of Texas.

'The violence El Salvador is living through is very strong [for everyone],' he told Al Jazeera, recalling his flight from his homeland. 'When you live it personally, it's even worse.

'I lost the legal process [on deportation], but I want to keep fighting,' Gamez insisted." Read more about Sanctuary churches fight Trump's deportation surge

Dec 22, 2017
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Salon

Austin activists win important victory on abusive policing

"The police union's contract was up this year, and the city and community pressured the Austin Police Association to come up with a more equitable contract. Instead, activists argue, the police came back with some minor reforms that fell far short of what the city asked and demanded huge pay raises in exchange. So organizers flooded a city council meeting for nearly nine hours on Dec. 13 and, aided by national activists DeRay Mckesson and Samuel Sinyangweconvinced the council to reject the contract.

'It was hectic. It was beautiful. It was democracy,' Chris Harris, a campaign coordinator for the Austin-based Grassroots Leadership, told Salon about that night. 'It was also the culmination of a lot of work a bunch of us have put in for a while."' Read more about Austin activists win important victory on abusive policing

Dec 15, 2017
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Downtown Austin Patch

International Day Of Migrants Celebration Takes Place Dec. 18

"Hermanos en el Camino, First Unitarian Universalist Church of Austin Inside Amigos, The Foundation for Sustainability and Peacemaking in Mesoamerica, Austin Sanctuary Network & Austin Tan Cerca de la Frontera will organize Dia Internacional del Migrante to celebrate immigrants in the greater Austin area, who migrated here in a variety of ways from many countries. The event will be held on International Migrants Day, Dec. 18 from 6 PM - 8 PM.

The event will feature guitarist Ángel Ibañez performing in between speeches and himself an immigrant of Mexico City. Speakers for the evening will include Sulma Franco, Activist and Organizer with Austin Sanctuary Network, who in 2014 took sanctuary at First Unitarian Universalist Church to prevent her deportation and who now holds a U.S. resident card. Additional speakers include, Chencho Alas, the Executive Director and Founder of the Foundation for Sustainability and Peacemaking in Mesoamerica; Banafsheh Madaninejad, Professor of Religious Studies at Southwester University; Deborah Alemu, an immigrant activist from Ethiopia/Sweden; Antonio Herrera, Director and Founder of El Centro Comunitario Monseñor Romero, and Edwin Murillo, Salvadoran activist for the TPS Campaign, Dallas; and Claudia Muños, Immigration Program Director for Grassroots Leadership." Read more about International Day Of Migrants Celebration Takes Place Dec. 18

Dec 14, 2017
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Austin American-Statesman

Austin council votes to send police contract back to negotiating table

'"We have to have something different in place in this town. The time is now,' local activist Chris Harris said. 'This is only once every five years. If we don’t do it now, many of you won’t have another opportunity. So this is your chance, and I really implore you to take it.'

Harris called on the council to recognize that those who spoke against the contract included not just criminal justice advocates, but people who work in public health, mental health, academia, environmental issues and more who came to the council with the message: 'We must vote down this contract. We must begin to rethink public safety in this town in a new way,' he said." Read more about Austin council votes to send police contract back to negotiating table

Dec 14, 2017
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Texas Monthly

Disturbing Allegations

"A month after a woman detained in the T. Don Hutto immigration detention center in Williamson County alleged that a guard sexually assaulted her, the FBI is officially investigating the complaint, according to the Associated Press. According to immigrant advocacy group Grassroots Leadership, Laura Monterrosa said a guard repeatedly touched her breasts and legs without consent at the women’s federal detention facility. The group says Monterrosa’s complaints were ignored by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and by facility operator CoreCivic, formerly known as Corrections Corporation of America. After Monterrosa first alleged the sexual assault in November, two more women said they were sexually assaulted by guards at the facility. As of last week, Monterrosa was still being held at the detention center." Read more about Disturbing Allegations

Dec 13, 2017
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AP

FBI examinará presunto abuso sexual a inmigrante

El FBI investigará las acusaciones de una inmigrante detenida en Texas que dice que un guardia abusó sexualmente de ella, informó la agencia el martes.

El FBI dijo que abrió una investigación de derechos civiles con relación al caso de Laura Monterrosa, detenida en el Centro Residencial T. Don Hutto.

Según el grupo activista Grassroots Leadership, Monterrosa dijo que un guardia tocó varias veces sus senos y sus piernas sin su consentimiento. El grupo dice que el Servicio de Control de Inmigración y Aduanas (ICE, por sus siglas en inglés) y el operador de las instalaciones, CoreCivic, no respondieron a las quejas que presentó Monterrosa. Read more about FBI examinará presunto abuso sexual a inmigrante

Dec 13, 2017
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Washington Post

FBI to examine alleged sexual abuse of detained immigrant

"SAN ANTONIO — The FBI says it will investigate allegations from a woman held in a Central Texas immigrant detention center who says a guard sexually assaulted her.

The bureau said Tuesday that it opened a civil rights investigation regarding the case of Laura Monterrosa, a detainee at the T. Don Hutto Residential Center.

According to advocacy group Grassroots Leadership, Monterrosa said a guard repeatedly touched her breasts and legs without consent. The group says U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and facility operator CoreCivic didn’t respond to her complaints." Read more about FBI to examine alleged sexual abuse of detained immigrant

Dec 13, 2017
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KXAN

Big crowd expected as Austin city council debates APD contract

"Austin police could find out as early as Wednesday if they will have a new contract to work under. A big crowd is expected at City Hall in the afternoon — to call on city council to scrap the entire contract all together.

More than 15 activist groups are asking council to not vote on this deal and rethink it.

'So we want to invest more in the root causes of public safety and that includes things like  mental health services, treatment centers, counseling, youth programs, all up and down the chain and right now we feel we are over allocating to the police,' says Chris Harris, campaign coordinator with Grassroots Leadership." Read more about Big crowd expected as Austin city council debates APD contract

Dec 13, 2017
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Univision 45 Houston

FBI investigará denuncias de acoso sexual a indocumentada en un centro de detención de ICE

El testimonio de Laura Monterrosa, una salvadoreña recluida en un centro penitenciario para mujeres inmigrantes en Texas, se conoció en octubre. Hasta ahora, según una organización de derechos civiles, ni las autoridades locales ni ICE han intervenido y la presunta agresora sigue en su cargo. Read more about FBI investigará denuncias de acoso sexual a indocumentada en un centro de detención de ICE

Dec 13, 2017
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Spectrum

FBI INVESTIGATING AFTER DETAINEE CLAIMS GUARD SEXUALLY ASSAULTED HER

"TAYLOR, Texas – The FBI is now stepping into investigate the case of woman who reported being sexually assaulted at a Central Texas immigrant detention center.

According to the advocacy group Grassroots Leadership, the woman claims a female guard at the T. Don Hutto Residential Center repeatedly touched her breasts and legs without consent.

The FBI said they are opening a civil rights investigation into the case of Laura Monterrosa. While victims of sexual assault are usually not named, Monterrosa is publicly sharing her story to encourage other victims to speak out.

'I was harassed every time I was around her, but I was scared of saying anything for fear that doing so may negatively impact my case,' the inmate told Claudia Muñoz of the immigration rights group, Grassroots Leadership. 'After other guards noticed the harassment, they encouraged me to file a report, but nothing happened to the guard and I was transferred in retaliation."' Read more about FBI INVESTIGATING AFTER DETAINEE CLAIMS GUARD SEXUALLY ASSAULTED HER

Dec 12, 2017
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Rewire

FBI Intervenes After Sexual Assault Allegations at Texas Immigrant Detention Center

“Laura wants justice and so far, it’s been delayed and denied,” Carson said. “What is happening to Laura is endemic of detention centers and almost impossible to completely eliminate unless we eliminate detention centers. A woman who spoke at Laura’s press conference was detained at Hutto seven years ago and said she saw inappropriate behavior from guards that was sexual in nature. There has been a trail of these incidents and most of them go unreported and this is why: they don’t get investigated and the women who come forward are shamed or transferred or otherwise punished. This is an extremely pervasive problem.” Read more about FBI Intervenes After Sexual Assault Allegations at Texas Immigrant Detention Center

Dec 8, 2017
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Austin Chronicle

T. Don Hutto Abuse Case Goes to FBI

"Outside the Williamson County Sheriff's Officeon Monday, Dec. 4, a group of activists held signs and criticized the department for its failure to transparently investigate alleged sexual abuse at T. Don Hutto immigration detention facility in Taylor. Last month, Laura Monterrosa accused a guard employed by private, for-profit detention operators CoreCivic of sexual abuse, and since then an outpouring of other women have stepped forward. And last weekend, according to Bethany Carson at Grassroots Leadership, a whistleblower inspired by Monterrosa confirmed pervasive issues of sexual abuse at Hutto and named two guards who have abused their power to the nonprofit, which has led the charge for justice for Monterrosa. 'This has been going on for a long time, since I was detained in 2009,' said Sulma Franco, a former detainee who's now an organizer with the Austin Sanctuary Network. 'The only thing that has changed is Laura's courage to speak up while she is still detained.'" Read more about T. Don Hutto Abuse Case Goes to FBI

Dec 7, 2017
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Latina

Two More Women Come Forward About Sexual Harassment in Detention Center

"In the Williamson County federal immigration detention center, a privately owned facility, two more women have accused guards of sexually harassing them. Grassroots Leadership, an organization that works with communities across the nation to abolish for-profit private prisons, jails, and detention centers, spoke to a woman, identified only as Ana, about a female guard who repeatedly asked her about her sexuality, told her they were going to be together one day, and stared at her inappropriately in the facility’s recreational area.

Grassroots also said another woman identified as Esmeralda, currently at T. Don Hutto, claimed she no longer goes to the recreational area to avoid that same guard." Read more about Two More Women Come Forward About Sexual Harassment in Detention Center

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