Grassroots Leadership In The News

Jun 26, 2018

The Trump administration says it has reunited more than 500 families. One legal group in Texas has confirmed 4 cases.

Advocates for the immigrants say a huge barrier to reunification is the fact that parents and children are being detained by two completely different government agencies: Parents are held by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (or ICE, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security or DHS), and children, by the Office of Refuge Resettlement (ORR, part of the Health and Human Services infrastructure known as HHS).

“These two different agencies have the pieces of families and no communications lines established at all,” said Bethany Carson, an immigration researcher and organizer for Grassroots Leadership who works with detained mothers in Texas. “There’s no process that’s being followed for reunifying these women with their kids.” [node:read-more:link]

Jun 26, 2018
The Texas Observer

Williamson County Votes to End Contract with Detention Facility Holding Separated Mothers

Commissioners voted 4-1 to terminate the county’s contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and CoreCivic Inc., a for-profit company that operates the 512-bed T. Don Hutto Residential Center in Taylor. Since at least 2010, the county was party to a contractual arrangement that brought it roughly $100,000 a year.

The vote doesn’t necessarily mean the end of the Hutto facility, which opened in 2006 as the first for-profit family detention center in the country. ICE operates many detention facilities around the country without a county acting as middleman, and it could now do the same with Hutto. The agency must go through a lengthy rebidding process in order to do so, said Bethany Carson, immigration policy researcher and organizer at Grassroots Leadership, an Austin nonprofit that fights private prisons and has led the campaign to close the facility.

About 35 asylum-seeking mothers who were separated from their children at the border because of the Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy are detained at the facility, according to Grassroots Leadership. The group has pressured county officials to investigate sexual assault allegations made by detainees. [node:read-more:link]

Jun 25, 2018

Williamson County ends relationship with Taylor detention center

The relationship between Williamson County and a detention center has ended.

The Williamson County Commissioners Court voted Tuesday to terminate the county's contracts with ICE and CoreCivic, the company that operates the T. Don Hutto Residential Center in Taylor. The commissioner's court voted 4-1 in the termination of contracts.

Immigration advocates from groups like Grassroots Leadership have been calling for the center's closure. [node:read-more:link]

Jun 24, 2018
FOX 7 Austin

Wilco Commissioners to discuss terminating contract with ICE Hutto T. Don Detention facility

Local activists are asking Williamson County commissioners to end their contract with the T. Don Hutto Residential Center operated by ICE.

Inside the T. Don Hutto Residential center are hundreds of women detainees awaiting the outcome of their immigration status. Local non-profit, Grass Roots Leadership is currently working with 35 mothers who have been separated from their children under the Trump administration's short-lived ‘zero tolerance’ policy.

Liliana Lozada-Beverido was one of many volunteers who came to Grassroots Leadership orientation Saturday to become a mentor for detainees.

Most recently grassroots leadership fought for women who say they've been sexually abused in the facility. [node:read-more:link]

Jun 23, 2018

Austin organization training volunteers to be advocates for detained asylum-seeking women

Leaders of an Austin organization want women who are detained at the T. Don Hutto Residential Center to know they're not alone. 

Grassroots Leadership -- a non-profit organization that works to end mass incarceration, among other issues -- held a meeting Saturday afternoon at their headquarters in East Austin in a room full of eager community members who want to help these women.

Nearly three dozen people from the Austin area, mostly women, attended the session to find out how they can help.

According to the non-profit, there are more than 30 asylum-seeking women who've been separated from their children at the Hutto detention center. [node:read-more:link]

Jun 22, 2018
Facing South

VOICES OF RESISTANCE: Seizing this moment to demand immigration justice

The U.S. is experiencing an immigration crisis fueled by the criminalization of poor people of color. With the understanding that much of what we are witnessing today has roots in the failed war on drugs, Bob Libal, executive director of Austin, Texas-based Grassroots Leadership, works to combat unjust immigration policies and the inhumane system of mass incarceration.

We recently spoke with Libal about his work on the front lines for an ongoing "Voices of Resistance" series, which aims to draw insight and inspiration from the South's deep history of struggle for social change and to learn from a new generation of Southern leaders working in today's volatile political climate.

What have you seen working on the ground with Grassroots Leadership?

I remember going out to the Hutto Detention Center in 2007 and visiting a man and his family who were detained there. It was a family detention center at the time, and I heard stories about how absolutely awful it was. I think those kind of things have certainly motivated me for the last decade.

How have you seen communities rally in recent weeks?

It has been really heartening to see people, for the last two years really, stand up and fight back. We've seen an outpouring of support of people who are saying, "We will give our time, we will give our money, we will put our bodies on the front lines." We trained hundreds of people to do civil disobedience in Austin in the last couple of years. I think there's a real sense of urgency and moral crisis, and it's not hard to get people to stand up and fight back. [node:read-more:link]

Jun 22, 2018

Trump wants to prosecute all illegal border crossings without splitting up families. That will be a challenge.

The two family detention centers in Texas are operated under intergovernmental service agreements that allow for ICE to work with local jurisdictions, which hand operations over to private prison companies, CoreCivic and the GEO Group.

Bob Libal, executive director of Grassroots Leadership, an immigrants rights group, said the government goes through these agreements because they’re faster than a direct contract with the operating companies. With the new federal policy and increased detention of families, he expects to see solicitations for new family centers. [node:read-more:link]

Jun 21, 2018
San Antonio Current

'Vigil for Humanity' Opposing Family Separations to Be Held Outside of San Fernando Cathedral

On Sunday, June 24, there will be a “Vigil for Humanity” in front of San Fernando Cathedral at 6 p.m. to express opposition toward the U.S. government’s systematic mistreatment of asylum seekers. The event, originally intended to protest the mass separation of immigrant families (a part of the ‘zero tolerance policy’), has not shifted focus in light of Trump’s Wednesday signing of an executive order which substitutes this practice of separation with communal family detention.  

In a press release posted Wednesday, Grassroots Leadership, a national civil and human rights organization based in Austin, stated “the president’s order merely transforms a mass family separation crisis to a mass family incarceration crisis.” [node:read-more:link]

Jun 21, 2018
Episcopal News Service

Prayer service set at Texas detention center during General Convention

Responding to calls from Episcopalians across the church to act on behalf of families seeking asylum at the southern U. S. border, a team of concerned leaders heading to General Convention has planned a prayer service outside the T. Don Hutto Residential Detention Center in Taylor, Texas, at about noon on Sunday, July 8.

The planning team, led by alternate Deputy Megan Castellan, rector of St. John’s Church in Ithaca, New York, is working with Grassroots Leadership — a local community organizing group in Texas that has held numerous gatherings at the Hutto Residential Center. Deputy Winnie Varghese, director of justice and reconciliation at Trinity Church Wall Street, is helping to arrange buses to the event. [node:read-more:link]

Jun 21, 2018

GEO Group and Private Prisons Stand to Profit as Trump Pushes Indefinite Family Detention

President Donald Trump’s executive order ending family separations at the border opts to indefinitely detain families together instead. The Nation reports that this policy will directly benefit the two largest prison companies in the United States: GEO Group and CoreCivic, formerly Corrections Corporation of America. We speak with Bob Libal, the executive director of the Austin-based civil and human rights group Grassroots Leadership. They sued the state of Texas when it tried to classify ICE’s family detention centers as “child care” facilities. They won, but the detention centers continue to operate without a license. His new article in the Texas Observer is headlined, “It’s Time to Decriminalize Immigration.” It is co-authored with Judy Greene. [node:read-more:link]

Jun 20, 2018
The Daily Beast

Poor Medical Care in ICE Custody Is Fatal, New Report Finds

Half the people who died in ICE custody in recent years could potentially have been saved if they had just gotten adequate medical care, according to a new report from immigration advocacy groups.

Bob Libal, who heads the anti-detention group Grassroots Leadership, said that just being detained can harm people’s health. 

“Detention is traumatizing, particularly for people who have been traumatized,” he said. “So there are additional ailments that people get from being in detention. So it’s both about the treatment and about detention itself being physically and mentally distressing.” [node:read-more:link]

Jun 20, 2018
The Nation

How Private Contractors Enable Trump’s Cruelties at the Border

President Donald Trump has signed an executive order that ends family separations at the border by indefinitely detaining parents and children together. Such a policy is illegal. It violates a 20-year-old court settlement called the Flores Agreement, which limits how long and under what conditions children can be kept in immigration-detention facilities. Choosing to ignore Flores allows Trump to put children in the same cages as their parents, indefinitely, for those accused of the misdemeanor of unauthorized border crossing. It will create a Guantánamo in the Southwest United States.

According to a 2015 Grassroots Leadership report, CCA, Geo Group, and their counterparts operate 62 percent of all immigration-detention centers. Their business model was bolstered by a congressional quota mandating that ICE maintain 34,000 detention beds every day, whether filled or not. [node:read-more:link]

Jun 20, 2018
The Texas Observer

It’s Time to Decriminalize Immigration

Prosecuting migrants is not a substitute for civil deportation, but instead postpones that process and adds additional human and financial costs associated with their criminalization. Because these prosecutions have primarily been concentrated in five federal court jurisdictions located along the U.S.-Mexico border, they have remained the least publicized element of the immigration enforcement machinery. Still, they represent the most severe exercise of federal power in furtherance of immigration enforcement.

The incarceration costs for improper entry and re-entry were $7 billion between 2005 and 2015, according to research conducted jointly by Justice Strategies and Grassroots Leadership. These costs are increasing, yet, there is no credible evidence that migrants are deterred from crossing or re-crossing the border. [node:read-more:link]

Jun 19, 2018
The Los Angeles Times

'Freedom city'? Going beyond 'sanctuary,' Austin, Texas, vows to curtail arrests

Amid the controversy over sanctuary cities, Austin this month took its fight against strict immigration law enforcement a step further by declaring itself to be the first “freedom city” in Texas. City Council members unanimously passed two resolutions last week that will restrict police attempts to question immigrants about their status and curtail arrests for nonviolent crimes.

Grassroots Leadership, an Austin nonprofit that pushed the initiative, said in a statement that the council’s move was an “important first step.”

“This is a long-term struggle and we are in part one of what is actually a decathlon,” said Rebecca Sanchez, a representative of Grassroots Leadership. “We’re committed to fighting for a city where we redefine safety for ourselves and not through badges, and where we determine how our communities thrive.” [node:read-more:link]

Jun 15, 2018
CBS Austin

Austin becomes Texas' first 'Freedom City'

Austin City Council has unanimously passed what are being called "Freedom City" resolutions.

Groups including Grassroots Leadership, Workers Defense Project and United We Dream say minorities across the country and here in Austin aren't treated fairly when it comes to arrests or interactions with police.

“We are excited about our victory tonight. This is an important first step for the city to take,” says Rebecca Sanchez of Grassroots Leadership. “This is a long term struggle and we are in part one of what is actually a decathlon. We’re committed to fighting for a city where we redefine safety for ourselves — and not through badges, and where we determine how our communities thrive.” [node:read-more:link]

Jun 15, 2018
Community Impact Newsletter

Austin City Council unanimously approves “Freedom City” policies

Late Thursday evening, Austin City Council voted unanimously to pass two “Freedom City” ordinances intended to reduce racial disparities in discretionary arrests and to ensure police officers who ask about immigration status inform people of their right not to answer.

More than 100 people signed up to speak about the policies.

“This is an important first step for the city to take,” said Rebecca Sanchez of the local nonprofit group Grassroots Leadership, which works to end mass incarceration, in a statement on Thursday. “We’re committed to fighting for a city where we redefine safety for ourselves—and not through badges—and where we determine how our communities thrive.” [node:read-more:link]

Jun 14, 2018
The Austin Chronicle

Civics 101

Thursday 14

AUSTIN CITY COUNCIL VOTE ON FREEDOM CITY POLICY Join Grassroots Leadership, Texas Advocates for Justice, and more to urge City Council to approve the Freedom City policy (Items 73 and 74) and move toward making Austin an inclusive and safe city for all. 5:30-8pm. Austin City Hall, 301 W. Second, 512/974-2220. [node:read-more:link]

Jun 14, 2018
Downtown Austin Patch

Austin Activists Stage 'Families Belong Together' Protest (Video)

Hundreds of people are expect to descend on the grounds of the state Capitol on Thursday evening to protest the Trump administration's policy of separating migrant children from their parents amid an immigration crackdown.

"We have been working with local and national organizations to raise our voices in protest against this inhumane treatment of people who are seeking refuge at our door," organizers wrote on the Facebook event page. One of those organizations, Grassroots Leadership, previously staged an event in front of City Hall in support of the city council's vote on efforts to mitigate the disproportionate number of minorities jailed in Austin for minor offenses. [node:read-more:link]

Jun 14, 2018

City Council passes ordinances targeting racial disparity in arrests

A study that tracked Austin Police Department arrests shows African-Americans were more likely to get arrested instead of just getting a ticket for minor non-violent misdemeanor offenses than any other race. Those include marijuana possession, driving with an invalid driver's license and city ordinance violations.

"African-Americans and Latinos make up about 45 percent of Austin's population but from police data, it shows they make up 75 percent of the driving while license invalid arrest," Casar said.

Data analyst and campaigns coordinator for Grassroots Leadership, Chris Harris, believes there's a problem with our justice system.

"Racial disparity and arrests are a serious problem in our community," he said.  [node:read-more:link]

Jun 12, 2018
FOX 7 Austin

Advocates push for "freedom policies" before Thursday council meeting

Karen Reyes recalls a time last year when she thought she'd never see her mother again.

“My mom was pulled over and it was a really, really scary time for her and myself as well as other people who were undocumented,” said Reyes who is a teacher.“As a teacher I saw a lot of the trust between our communities and the police kind of break down when we were having a lot of ICE raids last year."

She is one of many who believe arrests for minor offenses can lead to the deportation pipeline.  She also thinks the City of Austin should adopt two resolutions, coined “freedom policies,” authored by council member Greg Casar.

“What we're talking about are low level offenses that the state legislature back in 2007 said, police can give tickets for this,” said Chris Harris with Grassroots Leadership. [node:read-more:link]