Grassroots Leadership In The News

Feb 2, 2017
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The Washington Post

The 'sanctuary city' on the front line of the fight over Trump's immigration policy

 Last spring, Jim Rigby opened the doors of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church to Hilda Ramirez and her 10-year-old son, undocumented immigrants fleeing civil strife in Guatemala. He borrowed some furniture, set up bunk beds in the Sunday school teacher’s office — and trained church members to lock the doors and form a human shield if immigration officers come knocking.

“Do we stand up for human rights now? Or do we act like zebras on the Serengeti, hoping the lion eats us last?” said Rigby, 66, the longtime minister of one of Austin’s most liberal houses of worship. “People of good conscience,” he said, must put themselves between asylum seekers and “harm’s way.”

Rigby is part of a growing movement determined to oppose President Trump’s policies for cracking down on immigration. While thousands of protesters gather nationwide to decry Trump’s temporary travel ban on refugees and on citizens of seven majority-Muslim nations, Rigby and other activists in cities with large immigrant populations are bracing for what they fear will come next: a wave of raids and deportations.

Trump has called for the deportation of as many as 3 million undocumented immigrants who have committed crimes on U.S. soil. In one of his first acts as president, Trump ordered the Department of Homeland Security to look at withholding federal funding from cities that refuse to assist immigration officials, a loose collection of municipalities known as “sanctuary cities.”

Austin has become the first battleground in that conflict, where the governor and a local sheriff are now locked in a standoff over the issue. A liberal enclave in the heart of conservative Texas, the capital city lies a little more than three hours from the Mexican border. About 35 percent of its 931,000 residents are Hispanic, according to U.S. Census estimates, and the city is home to a vibrant sanctuary movement that sprang to life during President Barack Obama’s first term, when his administration carried out a record number of deportations.

In November, voters in Travis County, which includes Austin, elected a new sheriff, who campaigned on a promise not to detain people based solely on their immigration status. Hours after Trump took office, Sheriff Sally Hernandez (D) posted an eight-minute video on her official website explaining the new policy, which took effect Wednesday.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R), a Trump supporter and immigration hard-liner, quickly fought back, accusing Hernandez of playing “a dangerous game of political Russian roulette — with the lives of Texans at stake.”

This week, Abbott made good on a threat to withhold $1.5 million in state criminal justice grants, money that funds services for veterans, parents struggling with drug addiction and victims of family violence. He also asked state agencies by Friday to prepare a full list of all state funding provided to Travis County, suggesting that additional punishment may be forthcoming.

...

Abbott called on lawmakers to act urgently to ban sanctuary cities. A measure drafted by state Sen. Charles Perry (R-Lubbock), an Abbott ally, would withhold state funding from cities, counties and colleges that do not comply with immigration detainers. It also would require county jailers to determine and record the immigration status of every arrestee. Supporters and protesters of the legislation crammed into the Texas statehouse Thursday for a hearing of the bill, which, as Perry acknowledged under questioning, does not actually define “sanctuary city.”

Last week, Abbott threatened to oust Hernandez, who was elected with 60 percent of the vote. Legislation to permit him to do so has yet to be filed, but a spokesman for Abbott noted that the threat to cut off state funding was sufficient to persuade the Dallas County sheriff to abandon sanctuary policies last year.

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In Austin, sanctuary activists applaud the new sheriff’s stance. But they say that keeping ICE out of the county jail will not be enough to thwart the crackdown. So they’re planning mass acts of civil disobedience, soliciting churches to shelter undocumented immigrants, developing neighborhood warning systems so people know to hide when ICE comes through and training volunteers to act as human shields.

“Our plan is to prepare 500 people to do sanctuary in the streets,” said Alejandro Caceres, 29, a legal resident from Honduras who leads the ICE Out of Austin campaign for the civil rights group Grassroots Leadership.

...

Rigby, the church minister, acknowledges that sheltering an undocumented immigrant is risky. “When you’re aiding someone who is being called a criminal, you’re protecting them in your church, you can be charged with violating federal law,” he said.

But Rigby insists that Americans have a humanitarian obligation to provide shelter to innocent people fleeing violence and lawlessness — even if it means defying the government in Washington and the Texas statehouse.

“You got a president and a governor who are rattling swords,” Rigby said. “Would you protect people being hunted? Well, now we get to find out the answer.” Read more about The 'sanctuary city' on the front line of the fight over Trump's immigration policy

Feb 2, 2017
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KXAN

Immigration advocates bracing for possible raids, training volunteers

Local immigration attorneys and activists are bracing for possible raids in Central Texas, after President Donald Trump recently signed an executive order that makes substantial changes to America’s immigration system. This federal order, combined with the current immigration policy back-and-forth battle between Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez and Gov. Greg Abbott, has immigration advocates concerned.

“Right now there’s a lot of rumors that Immigration and Customs Enforcement is beefing up their officers here in Austin because they plan to do a raid sometime in the weekend or sometime in the next few days,” said Alejandro Caceres, an immigration organizer for Grassroots Leadership. “I think that people should be on alert. I think that folks should be on the lookout.”

The activist group is going so far as to train volunteers on how to interact with law enforcement officials, local and federal, if an immigration raid breaks out in the area. The training is provided through a new program the organization started called “Sanctuary in the Streets,” which the organization said they’re borrowing from movements in Philadelphia.

“We’ve trained up to 130 people, but the plan is to train 500 people to get ready if a raid does happen,” said Caceres. The trained volunteers are already on-call and will be in the next few days.

Caceres says it comes as no surprise that members of the local immigrant community are fearful of possible raids.

“I think that they’re seeing what the state is doing. I think they’re seeing what the federal government is doing. I think it’s a really scary time,” he added.

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Austin-area Grassroots Leadership is echoing the need for what they’re calling “Know Your Rights Education.”

“Don’t open your door if there isn’t a warrant. Make sure that your kids don’t open the door as soon as the door is knocked. If there is a warrant, make sure that it’s signed by a judge. Make sure that everyone’s information is correct,” said Caceres. “Don’t open your door. Don’t talk to officers if you don’t need to, and don’t sign anything.”

    Read more about Immigration advocates bracing for possible raids, training volunteers
    Feb 2, 2017
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    Texas Public Radio

    Immigrants rally against Governor's call to ban sanctuary cities

    Immigrants rallied at the Texas Capitol Wednesday to oppose Gov. Abbott’s calls to make a ban on sanctuary cities an emergency item. 
    At the State Capitol close to 100 immigrants and activist rallied against so-called sanctuary city legislation.  They’re worried about a bill filed by Sen Charles Perry a Lubbock Republican.  It would withhold funding from local law enforcement departments if officers arrest immigrants –even for minor charges – then don’t hold them longer for possible deportation.
     
    Maria Fructosa’s, 43, was one of dozens of legal immigrants who spoke at the rally.  In 2015, Fructosa’s adult son was detained by federal immigration agents after police in Pearsall southwest of San Antonio stopped him for a traffic violation.
     
    “So my son was detained because of a traffic stop because one of his lights was out and because of that he was then transferred and detained for three months," she says.
     
    Fructosa says her son was finally released – 3 months later -after federal agents determined he was in the country legally. She says every morning since she has clutched her son a little tighter.
     
    "Every morning I give him a blessing, I tell him to have a good day, to go with the blessing of God because sometimes we see each other in the morning and we don’t know if we are going to see each other that night," she says.
     
    Fructosa fears that under Sen. Perry’s bill, detention and deportations will increase.  She says Texas immigrants will be afraid of reporting crimes because they might end up being deported.
     
    Bob Libal with Grassroots Leadership, a non-profit fighting for fewer deportations, believes Latinos would be targeted if Perry’s bill passes.
     
    “There’s that old saying in Texas, you can beat the rap but you can’t beat the ride.  And a ride downtown now means deportation.  So this essentially opens up a license for individual officers to discriminate if they suspect someone is undocumented," he says.
     
    Libal claims when similar laws passed in other states deportations that began with minor traffic stop increased.   Read more about Immigrants rally against Governor's call to ban sanctuary cities

    Feb 2, 2017
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    Al Jazeera

    Protests grow as Texas moves against 'sanctuary' cities

    Hundreds of protesters took to the Texas capital on Thursday to rally against the halting of more than a million dollars towards law enforcement.

    Earlier, Governor Greg Abbott kept to his promise to withhold $1.5m from Travis County's law enforcement in an effort to penalise Austin's "sanctuary city" status.

    Sanctuary cities in general offer safety to undocumented migrants and often do not use municipal funds or resources to advance the enforcement of federal immigration laws. Sanctuary city is not an official designation.

    Now, Texas politicians are discussing Senate Bill 4, which aims to cut funding and impose other consequences on cities that provide safe harbour to the undocumented.

    "When I came in, there was a long line to sign up to testify in support of Austin's sanctuary city status … it's a lot of people," Cristina Parker, immigration programmes director at the civil rights group Grassroots Leadership, told Al Jazeera.

    Parker explained that Abbott's decision was viewed negatively by the community. 

    "We all rally around law enforcement. We don't see any reason behind cutting their funding," she said. "It doesn't make any sense."

    ...

    The protests in Austin come as US President Donald Trump continues to target the undocumented, threatening to deport them, and boasting about the construction of a wall along the border with Mexico to stem migration.

    But according to Parker, this has given vigour to the movement to protect the undocumented.

    "There's a lot more energy. I credit that with Trump supplying more fear. People feel a different sense of urgency," she concluded. Read more about Protests grow as Texas moves against 'sanctuary' cities

    Feb 1, 2017
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    Austin American-Statesman

    Immigrants, former inmates team up against prisons, deportations

    A coalition of more than 100 immigrants, activists and former inmates marched through downtown Austin on Wednesday, urging lawmakers to give them a break as they consider legislation aimed at punishing so-called sanctuary cities and rolling back “fair chance” hiring policies.

    ...

    The experiences of former jail and prison inmates are not always the same as those of immigrants who entered the United States illegally, but Sofia Casini, immigration programs coordinator for Grassroots Leadership, said there are many parallels to the challenges they face.

    “There is a (cross section) between the same communities who are being exploited and oppressed for profit and for gain from these private prison corporations, and from those who would wish to push us down through these bills in the legislature,” Casini said.

    Lewis Conway Jr., a towering man who spent eight years in prison and another 12 on probation shouted into a megaphone as the crowd rumbled through downtown behind a booming drum line.

    “Make Some noise for no more prisons, no more deportations, no more ICE, no more police brutality, no more drug wars in our community,” he said.

    Conway now serves as a criminal justice program associate for Grassroots Leadership, a group that seeks an end to mass incarceration, deportation and privately run prisons. He called the prison system a social control mechanism.

    “Many of the members of our community are locked in that jail, and they keep making excuses for keeping them locked up. But we’re not going to accept any more excuses,” Conway said. “The same excuses they made for those jails they made for slavery. The same excuses they made for why black lives don’t matter (are) why that jail exists.”

    Melvin Halsey, a Navy veteran with the Texas Advocates for Justice said he wants to promote unity between the LBGT community, immigrants and the formerly incarcerated, and band together against the challenges the groups face.

    Halsey, who said he suffers from mental health issues and has been incarcerated four times for offenses related to drugs and alcohol, said he is looking for a chance to be a good father and grandfather.

    “There are so many of us who are formerly incarcerated who need a job, who need housing, who need to take care of our children and grandchildren,” Halsey said. “To kill that would just be devastating to a lot of us.” Read more about Immigrants, former inmates team up against prisons, deportations

    Feb 1, 2017
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    The Texas Tribune

    Ahead of Thursday hearing, Texas Senate adds muscle to anti-sanctuary city bill

    Ahead of a hearing on the measure that is expected to draw hundreds, Senate Republicans have updated their bill that would ban sanctuary cities in Texas to cover college campuses and expand potential punishments for local entities that choose to not enforce immigration laws.

    The modified version of Senate Bill 4, by state Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, was given to members of the Senate State Affairs Committee Tuesday, and a public hearing on the proposal is scheduled for Thursday morning.

    On Tuesday, Gov. Greg Abbott declared the issue one of four emergency items of the session. That designation means lawmakers could debate and pass the bill within weeks rather than adhering to the traditional 60-day waiting period to hear bills on the floor of either chamber. 

    Sanctuary policies refer to entities — such as cities, counties or colleges — that do not comply with federal immigration law. Perry’s bill would allow local police to enforce immigration laws but only if the officer is working with a federal immigration officer or under an agreement between the local and federal agency. It would also punish local governments if their law enforcement agencies — specifically county jails — fail to honor requests, known as detainers, from federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers to hand over immigrants in custody for possible deportation. The punishment would be a denial of state grant funds.

    ...

    Bob Libal, the executive director of watchdog group Grassroots Leadership, said Perry's bill opens the door to local leaders being bullied by the state's leadership. 

    "Threats to localities that are trying to do right by their residents is a big problem," Libal said. "It threatens to make our communities less safe."

    Libal also said that demanding local entities comply with ICE will lead to mass deportation that would also sweep up nonviolent offenders.

    "We can safely assume that we [will be] back to the peak numbers because of this program," he said. 

    The UT-Austin chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) also plans to protest Perry's bill during Thursday's public hearing, according to a chapter spokesman. Read more about Ahead of Thursday hearing, Texas Senate adds muscle to anti-sanctuary city bill

    Jan 30, 2017
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    Texas Observor

    Taking Shelter

    FOR DECADES, RESIDENTIAL SHELTERS HAVE OPERATED AS HUMANE ALTERNATIVES TO IMMIGRANT DETENTION. COULD THEY WORK ON A LARGER SCALE?

    ...

    Residential shelters, in contrast, are based on a model that stresses humane treatment. They offer freedom of movement and a sense of community. Immigrants in shelters also have a dramatically better shot at finding legal representation and winning their cases.

    Yet the federal government has shown little appetite for embracing such a model, instead expanding its detention regime. In October 2016, the detainee population hit an all-time high of42,000.

    ICE does have a $126 million alternatives-to-detention program, the Intensive Supervision Appearance Program, or ISAP, but it’s run by a for-profit company and relies on punitive methods, such as GPS ankle monitors, rather than residential shelters.

    Advocates for more humane alternatives faced a setback when President Trump won the election.Private prison corporations saw their stocks soar immediately after his victory. In his first week in office, Trump ordered the Department of Homeland Security to establish new detention centers along the border, begin construction of a wall and swell the ranks of Border Patrol and ICE.

    Bob Libal, executive director of Grassroots Leadership, an Austin group that fights private prisons, said he predicts another round of growth for the immigrant detention regime. But that doesn’t mean he’s given up hope.

    “Trump is volatile; he doesn’t know when he wakes up in the morning what he’s going to do,” Libal said. “There’s a fiscal argument to be made that might still hold sway.”

     
     
    Read more about Taking Shelter
    Jan 29, 2017
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    News Channel 25

    Central Texans discuss immigration in community

     

    Waco's Immigration Alliance, an open forum presented "Welcoming Communities" on Sunday. 

    Deshauna Hollie, a member of the Leadership Team for the group, helped put together the event weeks ago. She described the event happening this weekend after President Trump's recent executive orders as, "serendipitous."

    For Hollie, and many others, this week was a reminder of why it's important to protect immigrants in the community.

    Hope Mustakim spent her weekend protesting at DFW airport, before heading back to Waco to join the evenings discussion. Mustakim first became involved with Waco Immigration Alliance after her family's experience with the system.

    "We bought a house in North Waco through Waco CDC every way you could plug into Waco. I was a student at Baylor so yeah we were living the Waco dream."

    She said that dream was snapped into reality when immigration agents showed up at her front door.

    Mustakim's husband was at risk of losing his green card after 20 years in the country. The long legal battle opened Mustakims eyes to what millions of [immigrants] are going through.

    "We started becoming advocates for immigration reform instead of kicking people out instead of making a wall why not make the system functional."

    Now a member of Waco Immigration Alliance, Mustakim works with the group to promote advocacy and understanding through education.
    Sunday alongside Grassroots Leadership and members of the Austin Sanctuary movement, they met to share ideas on how to make Waco welcome for everyone. "Just feel very strongly about welcoming people in our community making sure that everyone feels safe like they're welcomed- we want everyone to be treated with dignity and respect.," Hollie said.

    Mustakim knows that not everyone will agree but says it shouldn't stop the conversation.

    "Let's do relationship with people let's get to know their story about their family whenever we have a face and a name to attach they are not just issues anymore they are real people." Read more about Central Texans discuss immigration in community

    Jan 28, 2017
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    NPR

    Austin Sheriff Says She'll Limit Cooperation With Federal Immigration Authorities

    Trump's war on sanctuary cities is playing out in Austin, Texas. The sheriff vowed to defy federal demand to turn over immigrants in the country illegally. The governor is threatening to remove her.

    SALLY HERNANDEZ: The public must be confident that local law enforcement is focused on local, public safety, not on federal immigration enforcement. Our jail cannot be perceived as a holding tank for ICE or that Travis County deputies are ICE officers.

    ...

    BURNETT: With this action, Travis County joins 300 other jurisdictions around the country, such as New York City, Chicago and the state of California, that reject ICE detainers. These are requests by ICE to local law enforcement to hold unauthorized immigrants in jail so federal agents can decide whether to pick them up for possible deportation. In deep-red, law-and-order Texas, the sheriff's announcement, which she campaigned on, was akin to kicking a fire ant mound. Republican Governor Greg Abbott's response was swift. He spoke to FOX News.

    (SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

    GREG ABBOTT: She would give sanctuary to people who are in the United States illegally, who've been convicted of crimes in the past, of heinous crimes like armed robbery. They could have been operating in conjunction with drug cartels, and she would not cooperate with ICE whatsoever.

    ...

    Bob Libal is director of an immigrant human rights group in Austin called Grassroots Leadership. He points to studies that show noncitizens commit crimes and go to jail at about the same or lesser rate as citizens do. He sees the president's and the governor's offensive against sanctuary cities as scapegoating immigrants.

    BOB LIBAL: It's simply playing on a cheap kind of anti-immigrant bigotry.

    ... Read more about Austin Sheriff Says She'll Limit Cooperation With Federal Immigration Authorities

    Jan 27, 2017
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    Public News Service

    Battle Over Sanctuary Cities Heats Up in Texas

    The fight over sanctuary cities in Texas has become a high-profile political battle between a county sheriff in Austin and Gov. Greg Abbott.

    The governor has vowed to withhold millions in state funds under a proposed "Sanctuary Cities" bill if Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez keeps her election promise to not enforce most federal immigration policies. Add to that President Trump's executive order this week to withhold federal funds from sanctuary cities, and Cristina Parker, immigration programs director for the immigrant-rights group Grassroots Leadership, called the threats "political grandstanding."

    "The governor has issued two main threats," she said. "One is to withhold state funds from Travis County - these are things that fund stuff like homeless programs, public-safety programs, needed money - to the tune of about $1.8 million."

    Abbott's other threat is to remove Hernandez from office for not enforcing immigration policies. Parker said no law allows the governor to do that. Senate Bill 4, with a legislative hearing next week, would define sanctuary cities as those that do not cooperate with federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE. 

    Parker said state officials - and now the president - are trying to make an example of cities such as Austin, Dallas, Houston and others, for opposing ICE requests for immigration holds.

    "I've heard many other people describe it as the feeling that the governor is bullying our community and our local officials, who are putting in place policies that we demanded of them," she said. "Sort of an overreach, a little overstepping of bounds, to try to come and tell us what we should do in our community."

    She said Hernandez mainly wants ICE to follow the same rules as any other law-enforcement agency.

    "She will work with ICE if they come with a warrant. They come with a warrant for someone, she'll honor that," Parker said. "And every other law enforcement agency, they come with a warrant. And so really, Sally's just saying she wants ICE to have to follow that kind of due process."

    The Immigrant Legal Resource Center lists 15 cities and counties in Texas among the 400 across the country it has identified as sanctuary cities.

    The sheriff's statement is online at tcsheriff.org. SB 4, the Sanctuary Cities bill, is at capitol.state.tx.us. Read more about Battle Over Sanctuary Cities Heats Up in Texas

    Jan 27, 2017
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    The Nation

    How to Fight Trump's Racist Immigration Policies

     After bracing for the worst, it’s finally here. Every day since he was inaugurated, Donald Trump has taken steps to implement more of his hate-filled, fear-mongering agenda. Just this week, he began moving forward with a ban on refugees, a wall along the Mexico-US border, a suspension of visas for anyone from particular Middle Eastern and African countries, and cuts to federal funding for sanctuary cities.

    ...

     With so much happening, how can we continue to support immigrants, Muslims, and refugees? Here are five steps you can take to support communities targeted by the Trump administration:

    ...

     4. ACT LOCAL: JOIN GRASSROOTS EFFORTS AND INITIATIVES
    Many of the efforts protecting immigrants will be on the local level, so find the groups in your community doing the work. As with most small nonprofits, donations are always welcome, but if that’s not within reach, take time to learn about the organization, its active campaigns, and volunteer your time. Below are a few examples to get you started.
    ...

     Grassroots leadership: Located in Austin, Texas, Grassroots Leadership believes “no one should profit from the imprisonment of human beings” and they “work for a more just society where prison profiteering, mass incarceration, deportation, and criminalization are things of the past.” They are currently organizing Sanctuary in the Streets Training to build sanctuary networks through direct action and organizing throughout Texas.

    Read more about How to Fight Trump's Racist Immigration Policies
    Jan 27, 2017
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    KCENTV

    Battle gets heated in Austin against Sheriff and Governor over new Immigration executive orders

    As border control becomes more of a priority with the new White House administration, the fight over sanctuary cities is heating up close to home.

    The county sheriff of Austin and Gov. Greg Abbott are facing off in a high-profile political battle as two different party mindsets clash in the Texas state capitol.

    ...

    “The governor has issues two main threats,” she said. “one is to withhold funds from Travis County- these are things that fund stuff like homeless programs, public-safety programs, needed money-to the tune of about $1.8 million,” Cristina parker, Immigration Programs Director for the Immigrant-Rights group Grassroots Leadership said.

    ...

    Senate Bill 4, which will be reviewed next week by legislation committees, defines sanctuary cities as those that do not cooperate with federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE.  

    Hernandez has said that she will be willing to work with ICE if they give the proper due process of the law.

    “She will work with ICE if they come with a warrant. They come with a warrant for some, she’ll honor that,” Parker said, “And every other law enforcement agency, they come with a warrant. And so really, “Sally’s just saying she wants ICE to have to follow that kind of due process.” Read more about Battle gets heated in Austin against Sheriff and Governor over new Immigration executive orders

    Jan 27, 2017
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    Brenham Banner-Press

    Battle heating up over 'sanctuary cities'

    The fight over sanctuary cities in Texas has become a high-profile political battle between a county sheriff in Austin and Gov. Greg Abbott.

    The governor has vowed to withhold millions in state funds under a proposed “Sanctuary Cities” bill if Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez keeps her election promise to not enforce most federal immigration policies. Add to that President Trump’s executive order this week to withhold federal funds from sanctuary cities, and Cristina Parker, immigration programs director for the immigrant-rights group Grassroots Leadership, called the threats “political grandstanding.” Read more about Battle heating up over 'sanctuary cities'

    Jan 26, 2017
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    Vice News

    Cell High: Trump's immigration orders will make private prisons filthy rich

    Private prison companies just hit the jackpot.

    While attention was focused Wednesday on President Donald Trump’s orders to start building the border wall and cut federal funding to sanctuary cities, another aspect of his decree went mostly overlooked: Trump effectively gave the Department of Homeland Security carte blanche to expand immigrant detention.

    His executive order authorizes the department to “allocate all legally available resources” to “establish contracts to construct, operate, or control facilities to detain aliens at or near the land border with Mexico.” That means paying private prison companies like CoreCivic and the GEO Group to open new facilities to keep up with the Trump administration’s draconian “enforcement priorities” on immigration.

    “It’s worse than we even imagined,” said Bob Libal, executive director of Grassroots Leadership, a nonprofit that opposes private prisons. “It’s the policy manifestation of all the ugly bigotry that Trump spewed on the campaign trail.”

    The Trump administration’s enforcement priorities, also outlined in Wednesday’s executive order, will likely ensnare hundreds of thousands of people, including asylum seekers who present themselves at the border, undocumented immigrants who have merely been accused of crimes but not found guilty, and others convicted of petty offenses like driving without a license. All of those people could end up being locked up indefinitely — and the current detention facilities are already at capacity.

    ... Read more about Cell High: Trump's immigration orders will make private prisons filthy rich

    Jan 25, 2017
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    The San Antonio Current

    Trump's Order Means Border Wall, More Immigrant Detention In Texas

    Five days after his swearing in as president, Donald Trump signed executive orders on immigration that seem to follow through with some of his bleakest campaign promises — from strong-arming Mexico into paying for a border wall to banning Muslim immigrants from entering the country (including refugees of Syria's brutal civil war) and building up a deportation force to remove some of the country's estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants.

    ...

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    Wednesday, January 25, 2017

    Trump's Order Means Border Wall, More Immigrant Detention In Texas

    Posted By  on Wed, Jan 25, 2017 at 5:40 pm

    CBP

    • CBP

    Five days after his swearing in as president, Donald Trump signed executive orders on immigration that seem to follow through with some of his bleakest campaign promises — from strong-arming Mexico into paying for a border wall to banning Muslim immigrants from entering the country (including refugees of Syria's brutal civil war) and building up a deportation force to remove some of the country's estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants. 

    What the Trump White House announced on Wednesday is expected to have an enormous impact on Texas, which over the past decade has already seen a buildup of federal agents, state police, fencing and walls and other barriers along its 1,250 mile border with Mexico. In addition to expediting the buildup of a border wall (which Texas members of Congress don't even really want), the Trump administration hinted at how it might try to force Mexico to chip in on its construction; one executive order Trump signed Wednesday directs agency heads to "identify and quantify" the amount of foreign aid Mexico has received over the past five years, which the Trump administration could threaten to withhold if Mexico won't play ball. 

    What's also notable, but not surprising, about Trump's executive action on immigration is that it expands the massive detention complex that has thrived in South Texas — and enriched private prison corporations that secured lucrative federal contracts to jail everyone from immigrants convicted of crimes to asylum-seeking women and children. Here's what White House press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters on Wednesday, according to the Texas Tribune: "We’re going to create more detention space for illegal immigrants along the southern border to make it easier and cheaper to detain them and return them to their country of origin. We’re going to end the last administration’s dangerous catch-and-release policy, which has led to the deaths of many Americans.”

    Cristina Parker with Grassroots Leadership, a Texas-based nonprofit that's pushed against the buildup of private-prison run immigrant detention centers in Texas (and even went to court when state health officials tried to give one such facility a child care license last year), said this of Wednesday's executive action: "This will almost certainly mean more immigrant detention in Texas, and if the past is any indicator, we'll be putting even more people in the hands of for-profit prison companies." 

    ... Read more about Trump's Order Means Border Wall, More Immigrant Detention In Texas

    Jan 24, 2017
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    The Austin American Statesman

    Like in Travis County, Dallas County sheriff incurred Abbott’s wrath

    Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez knows what it’s like to get a letter from the governor.

    In 2015, Valdez announced that her office would no longer provide blanket compliance with federal immigration officials seeking to intercept unauthorized immigrants at local jails for possible deportation.

    Her new policy raised ire from numerous fronts in a deeply red Texas. And, like recently sworn-in Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez, Valdez quickly became the recipient of a letter from Gov. Greg Abbott with harsh criticism.

    ...

    Abbott threatened Monday to cut off state criminal justice grant funding to Travis County unless Hernandez rescinds a policy that would limit detention requests from Immigration and Customs Enforcement and would end ICE agents’ unfettered access to the Travis County Jail. Travis County received $1.8 million in criminal justice grant funding from the state last year.

    ...

    Hernandez’s policy is more specific. According to Hernandez, the Travis County Jail will only honor ICE detention requests, or “detainers,” on people charged or convicted of capital murder, murder, aggravated sexual assault and human trafficking. All other detainer requests would require a court order or warrant.

    Bob Libal, executive director of Grassroots Leadership, called Hernandez’s policy the most progressive in the state. It comes closer to similar policies adopted in Colorado and Oregon.

    Hernandez had long promised to end Travis County’s cooperation with ICE. She announced her policy Friday as celebrations and protests of President Donald Trump’s inauguration were underway. In recent years, ICE has relaxed its policy on detaining undocumented immigrants at jails, but that could be changed with the stroke of a pen from Trump. Read more about Like in Travis County, Dallas County sheriff incurred Abbott’s wrath

    Jan 23, 2017
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    The Daily Texan

    Travis County Sheriff announces policy to not comply with federal immigration law enforcement

    On Monday, Gov. Greg Abbott denounced Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez’s promise to not detain undocumented immigrants for deportations by federal agents without warrants, according to the Austin American-Statesman.

    Abbott’s letter was in response to a video that was released last Friday in which Hernandez said she will not comply with Immigration Customs and Enforcement agents without warrants seeking to deport undocumented immigrants booked in local jails come Feb. 1.

    “It is my policy to focus on local, public priorities and to leave it to federal immigration officials to focus on federal immigration enforcement,”
    Hernandez said.

    ...

    Executive director Bob Libal of Grassroots Leadership, an advocacy organization championing immigration rights, said he has been waiting for such an official announcement for a policy by Hernandez.

    “This is a tremendous victory for immigrant community members who have been pushing for years to put an end to the county’s voluntary compliance with immigration detainers of the jail,” Libal said. Read more about Travis County Sheriff announces policy to not comply with federal immigration law enforcement

    Jan 20, 2017
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    The Huffington Post

    Austin Area Becomes Immigrant ‘Sanctuary’ As Trump Inaugurated

     The Travis County Sheriff’s Office announced a new policy Friday of limiting cooperation with detainers issued by Immigration and Customs Enforcement to hold undocumented immigrants.  

    The changes, which make Austin a so-called sanctuary jurisdiction for deportable migrants, puts incoming Sheriff Sally Hernandez at odds with both President Donald Trump and Republicans in the Texas Legislature who are pushing bills to crack down on undocumented immigrants. And just hours after Hernandez’s announcement, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott threatened to cut state funding to Travis County.

    ...

    Bob Libal, the director of the immigrant rights group Grassroots Leadership, cheered the Travis County policy, describing it as the culmination of years of pressure from activists.  

    “This sends a really loud and clear message that Travis County is against the mass deportation of our community members,” Libal told The Huffington Post. “And that is an incredibly important message to send today as Donald Trump is inaugurated, promising mass deportations and human rights violations in the immigrant community.”

    The group is still pressing for further limitations to ICE holds and to restrict local police from asking about immigration status, however.

    Supporters of limiting ICE holds contend that using local law enforcement agencies to help with federal immigration undermines trust in immigrant communities, drains local resources and unfairly ensnares victims of crime into the deportation process. In cases of domestic abuse, for example, police sometimes arrest both parties after an altercation. Read more about Austin Area Becomes Immigrant ‘Sanctuary’ As Trump Inaugurated

    Jan 19, 2017
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    The Guardian

    Activism in the age of Trump: meet the leaders of the grassroots resistance

    Women, immigrants and minorities were all targeted by Donald Trumpduring his presidential campaign.

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    Here are some of the people and groups who are already leading the progressive fights on these and other issues, and how they’ll lead the resistance against a President Trump.

    Bob Libal – immigration

    Executive director, Grassroots Leadership

    Based in Austin, Grassroots Leadership works to stop prison profiteering, mass incarceration and deportation. The organization successfully campaigned to stop immigrant families being detained at the T Don Hutton Detention Center in Texas in 2009.

    Since Trump’s election, the group has been providing “sanctuary in the streets” training to residents. The plan is to build a network of activists – Grassroots Leadership aims to have 500 people signed up in the next two months – who will “literally put their bodies on the line” to prevent immigrants from being arrested or deported.

    “We’re training people in every part of the city to be responsive should there be a raid, so people can get a call and actually turn out,” Libal said. Activists will then engage in “non-violent disobedience”, such as sitting between law enforcement officers and their suspected targets.

    “Regardless of where you are, there is probably an immigration rights organization,” Libal said. “Find that organization and get involved. Because even in a time when federally things look pretty bleak, we have infinitely more power locally, and we need to turn our energies into ensuring people in our immediate communities are safe.” Read more about Activism in the age of Trump: meet the leaders of the grassroots resistance

    Jan 17, 2017
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    VICE

    How Medical Copays Haunt Prisoners and Their Loved Ones

    In the Texas prison system, illness is just another way for the state to profit on the back of inmates.

    It's early on a weekday morning and Kyle Walker is thinking about what she has to do to keep her incarcerated boyfriend alive. At over six feet tall, the energetic 41-year-old stands out from the relatively somber rush hour crowd making their way to the office buildings of downtown Austin, Texas. She's on her way to work as a legal assistant, the job that supports her two kids and her boyfriend, who despite being in the custody of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice still needs a constant stream of help just to have the most basic necessities behind bars. 

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    Walker's boyfriend* has been labeled as a sex offender since he was 17, after he slept with his then-girlfriend, who was 13 at the time. Upon finishing a seven-year term in the Barry B. Telford Unit, a prison in New Boston, Texas, he struggled to find a home because of his sex offender status. When police came by her home acting on a tip that there were drugs on location in early 2015, Walker says, they arrested and charged her boyfriend with failing to register his residence, a violation of probation. Now he's back at the Telford Unit, the same prison in which he spent much of his youth. Despite making parole last summer, he's been unable to find a legal place to live, a condition of his release. And until Walker and her boyfriend sort that out, he needs to cope with the Texas prison system, where inmates supplement their meager provisions with food and supplies bought by their families on the outside. 

    More than anything else, though, it's health care that comes at a steep price.

    After a 2011 Texas law raised the copay for medical care from $3 for each visit to a $100 annual flat fee, families of the incarcerated have scrambled to find a way to pay the difference. If a prisoner is considered indigent, meaning they don't have any money in their "trust fund"—the account that's used to pay for items like food and toilet paper—then they don't have to pay the $100 to receive health care. But once any money is deposited into the trust fund, half of it is docked to go towards the outstanding copay until the full amount is paid off. For Walker, that means any money she places into her boyfriend's account would go to pay off his debt for the health care he's already received, which includes care for managing his schizophrenia, desperately needed dental work, and further treatment for mental health issues. 

    "I can only afford to spend $30 to $40 every couple of weeks to support him, and even to just put the money in his trust fund, there's a fee for that transaction," Walker explains. "So for them to deduct half of the money for services he's already received—it defeats the purpose of me even sending him money."

    Families and significant others like Walker have found themselves shouldering a growing financial burden as prison systems across America look to raise revenue by charging inmates for necessities like clothing, food, toilet paper, and even the prison cell they're being kept in. Right now, at least 35 states charge their prisoners for health care in some way or other, with some county jails going so far as to pursue civil actions against prisoners after they're released in hopes of recouping health care costs. But Texas has the highest state prison population in the country, with an average of over 150,000 people sitting in its cells at any one time. And like many things in Texas, the state's prison medical copay is easily the largest in America

    ...

    But the fact is that in Texas prisons, commissary—and the funds sent by families to ensure access to it—plays a key role in ensuring the safety and health of prisoners. Jennifer Erschabek has spent years advocating on behalf of the families of inmates as executive director of the Texas Inmate Families Association after her own son was incarcerated. Her son developed serious rashes on his hands and arms after working in a metal shop in incredibly hot conditions. Erschabek was able to buy for her son the anti-fungal medication to keep him from developing a serious medical problem, but others aren't so lucky as to have someone on the outside looking out for them. Scabies, skin infections, chicken pox, norovirus and other easily treated conditions confront prisoners, who face a constant struggle to maintain their health. 

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    And even when prisoners see a doctor, either by claiming indigence or paying the copay, there's still a serious gap between what prisoners receive and the healthcare people get in the outside world. Jorge Renaud spent 27 years in the Texas prison system and is now an organizer at Grassroots Leadership, a national organization that aims to take profit out of the prison industry. For the amount of agricultural and physical labor that prisoners have to do, Renaud says, he witnessed indifference on the part of some authorities to physical pain. 

    "I didn't have a really good medical check up the entire time I was there," Renaud tells me. "The medical care is atrocious, and every individual who has been incarcerated could give you a story about it."

    For the past several years, the state has slashed millions from the budget for medical care, provided for most prisons by the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB), which runs a prison hospital in Galveston. As the age of prisoners continues to rise, along with the cost of care, UTMB has relied on telemedicine to make up the difference, where doctors can videoconference with prisoners instead of being on site. Dr. Owen Murray, the vice president of correctional managed care at UTMB, has watched as the population in the prison shifted considerably—there are now 27,000 inmates over the age of 50. With costs running so high, and the governor looking to cut the overall prison budget by as much as $250 million, Murray doesn't see the money generated by the copay as making much of a difference in the larger picture. People aren't paying, but the state continues to need to provide tremendous amounts of money for care.  Read more about How Medical Copays Haunt Prisoners and Their Loved Ones

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