Grassroots Leadership In The News

Jul 10, 2018
Nonprofit QUarterly

Austin, Texas: If We Can’t Be a Sanctuary City, How about a Freedom City?

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. [node:read-more:link]

Jul 10, 2018
The Los Angeles Times

U.S. government is asking immigrant parents separated from their children to fill out this lengthy form

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. [node:read-more:link]

Jul 8, 2018

Activists push for end to ICE despite fears of political harm to Dems

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. [node:read-more:link]

Jul 8, 2018
Episcopal News Service

Episcopalians gather in public witness outside immigrant detention center

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. [node:read-more:link]

Jul 7, 2018
Austin American-Statesman

Detained immigrants describe treatment, anguish in letters

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.” [node:read-more:link]

Jul 6, 2018

#FamiliesBelongTogether—in Detention? The Administration Seems to Think So.

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.” [node:read-more:link]

Jul 6, 2018
Texas Observer

Despite Protests, Willacy County Forges Ahead with Resurrection of Notorious Immigrant Detention Center

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. [node:read-more:link]

Jul 5, 2018

In Letters, Immigrant Mothers Beg: ‘Return Our Children’

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. [node:read-more:link]

Jul 4, 2018

'They treated us as though we were animals': Letters from inside an immigration detention facility

"They treated us so horribly, as though we were animals," she wrote in the letter, in which she called herself "anonimo," anonymous.

The account came via Grassroots Leadership, a nonprofit that describes itself as "a nationally recognized civil and human rights organization" that fights to "end prison profiteering, mass incarceration, and deportation." The group, which is circulating a petition to reunite separated families, posted the letter on its website on June 25. Four days later, the group posted several more accounts from women who had been separated from their children. 

Grassroots Leadership volunteers met with the women in T. Don Hutto Residential Center in Taylor, Texas, organizer Bethany N. Carson told CNN. Those volunteers spoke to the women about writing the letters and "helped them figure out how to get the letters out," she said in an email. 

"They were written to tell their experience publicly to ask for help in being released from detention and reunited with their children," Carson said. [node:read-more:link]

Jul 4, 2018

These Letters From Migrant Women In Detention Centers Are Gut-Wrenching To Read

In often gut-wrenching narratives, detained migrant women are speaking out about the heartache caused by the Trump administration's policy of separating families apprehended at the border. Letters from more than a dozen migrant womencurrently being held in immigration detention centers are being made public by the nonprofit human rights organization Grassroots Leadership. Written by women detained at the T. Don Hutto Residential Center in Taylor, Texas, the letters give readers a glimpse into life inside an immigration detention facility and the anguish and distress that plagues a mother torn away from her child.

Grassroots Leadership has recently published a total of 18 letters — some addressed to Grassroots Leadership organizers and others addressed to the women's children — which were written by 16 migrant women currently being detained in Texas. According to the nonprofit, the motivation behind each letter varied; some were attempts to shine a light on the conditions inside detention centers, others were simply desperate please for help.

"They were written to tell their experience publicly, to ask for help in being released from detention, and reunited with their children," Bethany Carson, an immigration policy researcher and organizer for Grassroots Leadership, told CNN. [node:read-more:link]

Jul 3, 2018

These child abuses shut down Obama’s family detention policy. Trump is resurrecting it.

Detention ≠ child wellbeing

Family detention is incompatible with child welfare, immigrant advocates say. “The idea of having a place where children are in prison… that could never be made in such a way that would be appropriate,” said Cristina Parker, a spokeswoman for Grassroots Leadership, a group that fought against the Obama administration’s family detention policy. [node:read-more:link]

Jul 3, 2018
The Herald

Immigrant women in detention describe their treatment

Last week, the Los Angeles Times asked volunteers and attorneys visiting detained immigrant parents in Texas to convey written questions. More than a dozen mothers at the T. Don Hutto Residential Center, 30 miles north of Austin, responded. Volunteers from the local nonprofit Grassroots Leadership shared their letters with The Times, identifying the women by first name because some of their asylum claims are still pending.

Over the weekend, mothers at Hutto — many of whom have applied for asylum — told volunteers from Grassroots Leadership that they had been notified by immigration officials to prepare for transfer to a temporary detention center at Fort Bliss Army post outside El Paso for reunification with their children and deportation.

Despite concerns about the possibility of being deported, in their notes to their children, the mothers tried to stay positive. [node:read-more:link]

Jul 2, 2018
Los Angeles Times

'We beg you to help us': Immigrant women in detention describe their treatment and share fears about their children

Last week, The Times asked volunteers and attorneys visiting detained immigrant parents in Texas to convey written questions. More than a dozen mothers at the T. Don Hutto Residential Center, 30 miles north of Austin, responded. Volunteers from local nonprofit Grassroots Leadership shared their letters with The Times, identifying the women by first name because some of their asylum claims are still pending.

Over the weekend, mothers at Hutto — many of whom have applied for asylum — told volunteers from Grassroots Leadership that they had been notified by immigration officials to prepare for transfer to a temporary detention center at Fort Bliss Army post outside El Paso for reunification with their children and deportation.

Despite concerns about the possibility of being deported, in their notes to their children, the mothers tried to stay positive.

“I miss you a lot, I love you and we will be together soon,” Noyma wrote to her son. “I don’t want you to be sad.” [node:read-more:link]

Jul 2, 2018
Southside Pride

Legacy of Hope

Last week on Wednesday I got an email that gave me hope. It showed what people who have compassion and goodness—and just plain human decency—can do when they get organized. The email came from Grassroots Leadership in Austin, Texas, and was forwarded by the Interfaith Coalition on Immigration (ICOM) here in Minneapolis. County commissioners in the Texas county of Williamson voted 4-1 to end their contract with the T. Don Hutto immigrant detention center. Formerly detained women, advocates, members of the faith community and Williamson County residents in the Shut Down Hutto Coalition had put public pressure on the Williamson County Commissioners Court for months in order to achieve this step forward. [node:read-more:link]

Jul 2, 2018
The Nation

Cities Are Saying ‘No’ to ICE by Canceling Their Contracts With the Agency

In clear-eyed recognition of the limits of existing sanctuary-city policies, the City of Austin decided this month to go a step further. The City declared itself a “Freedom City” on June 15, enacting legislation that will both discourage police officers from conducting arrests for minor offenses and require them to inform detainees that they aren’t legally required to answer questions about their immigration status.

"Anyone arrested even for a low-level offense could potentially face indefinite detention and deportation” says Chris Harris, a campaign coordinator and data scientist for Grassroots Leadership, one of the coalition members behind the legislation. “These are overlapping systems of oppression, so limiting encounters with law enforcement can address both.” [node:read-more:link]

Jul 2, 2018
Austin American-Statesman

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry to hold prayer service at Taylor detention facility

Bishop Michael Curry, the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church who spoke at the royal wedding in May, is holding a prayer service noon Sunday at the T. Don Hutto Residential Center in Taylor.

The prayer service is part of Curry’s trip to Austin for the church’s General Convention, according to a news release.

Grassroots Leadership, a group that has strongly advocated closing the detention center, also played a role in organizing the prayer service. [node:read-more:link]

Jul 1, 2018

Update On Migrant Women Detained In Texas

NPR's Lulu Garcia-Navarro talks with Bethany Carson, immigration researcher and organizer for the nonprofit group Grassroots Leadership, about immigrant women detained without their children.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Do you or do these women know or does the government know where these children may be?

CARSON: Some of them know where their children are. They've told they've been sent to places as far away as New York. Most of them have not been able to communicate on any kind of a regular basis with their kids. Some still have no idea where they are and are writing us letters, saying, please help us find my child. I haven't talked to them for almost a month. I have no idea where they are. [node:read-more:link]

Jun 30, 2018
Austin American-Statesman

Thousands rally at Capitol to protest family border separations

Marilú Fructuoso wiped a tear from her eye as she talked about the mothers she met at the T. Don Hutto detention center in Taylor crying for their children.

An immigrant from Mexico, Fructuoso said she came to the U.S. 12 years ago to give her children a better life. Today, she volunteers with the nonprofit Grassroots Leadership to help unauthorized immigrants who have been detained gain their freedom. [node:read-more:link]

Jun 29, 2018
Austin American-Statesman

Nonprofits seeking help for immigrant families

Bob Libal, executive director of Grassroots Leadership, has been working in this field for 15 years. “The fight is harder today,” said Libal. “The idea that the policy of the United States government would be to rip kids from parents’ arms in order to criminally prosecute their parents at the border is in some ways beyond what we’ve seen.”

Grassroots Leadership had a sort of victory this past week, engaging hundreds of activists over the course of months to pressure Williamson County to end its contract with ICE and the for-profit company that operates the T. Don Hutto Residential Center, a facility in Taylor that houses detained migrant women. Commissioners cited a desire to end the county’s involvement in a federal issue as the reason to terminate the contract.

While the vote means Williamson County will exit the contract in 2019, ICE can still contract directly with the for-profit company to run the facility. “But it’s a step in the right direction,” said Libal.

To help more women leave the detention centers, Grassroots Leadership recently established a charitable fund so donors could help contribute to paying the bonds, which can be between $1,500 and $10,000. [node:read-more:link]