Grassroots Leadership In The News

Jul 16, 2019
Austin-American Statesman

Austin immigrant community on alert amid possibility of ICE raids

The Central Texas immigrant community and advocacy organizations are on alert this week amid expected nationwide immigration sweeps.

More than 300 local volunteers distributed informational fliers to the immigrant community in the Austin, Bastrop, Elgin and Manor area last weekend. Information included how to reach a hotline at (512) 270-1515 as well as how to access resources such as legal clinics.

Volunteers with the nonprofit Grassroots Leadership and the community group ICE Out of Austin are monitoring streets this week checking for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement activity as well as following up on community reports.

Since Monday, there has been at least one confirmed arrest, according to Grassroots Leadership. ICE Out of Austin has also said that immigration officials this week have been visiting several apartment complexes and asking for tenant information from apartment staffers. [node:read-more:link]

Jul 15, 2019
Austin Chronicle

How to Help Detained Migrant Families

With in-kind donations to detention centers being refused by Customs and Border Protection authorities, many are looking for ways to help improve conditions for refugees. Here is a list of organizations in need of volunteers and donations providing direct support and relief to detained refugees in Texas.

Grassroots Leadership

This Austin-based civil and human rights organization seeks donations for its Hutto Community Deportation Defense Bond Fund as well as a visitation program for the women detained inside the T. Don Hutto Detention Center, which is the only all-women’s facility in the country for asylum-seekers. [node:read-more:link]

Jul 12, 2019
Spectrum News

"Lights For Liberty" Vigils held in Texas, Nationwide

NATIONWIDE — Hundreds of vigils all across the nation took place Friday to shine light on migrant border facilities housing undocumented women, men and children called "Lights for Liberty." 

  • Rallies held in San Antonio, Austin, and around the country
  • Raising awareness on current migrant border facilities 

Hundreds of people made their way to Travis Park in Downtown San Antonio to stand in solidarity.  Many people brought posters and signs to demonstrate their feelings towards the current U.S. immigration policy and how undocumented people are being treated in the holding centers. One mother brought her three children and said she wants her children to witness an event like this and not be afraid to speak up. [node:read-more:link]

Jul 6, 2019

There’s A Democratic Civil War Brewing Over Decriminalizing Migration

Johnson’s statement that decriminalizing border-crossings would amount to open borders is patently false ― decriminalization would leave the civil enforcement system intact ― but it reflects the concerns common among DHS officials that human smugglers will take advantage of any change in border enforcement to convince more migrants to make the journey. 

“I have yet to see a really clear argument about how criminal prosecutions help anything in immigration policy,” Kagan said. “It seems like the argument for it is that we have to somehow display our willingness to be harsh ― to show that we’re serious. … I find it hard to justify being harsh to a human being because you think it’s a good political play.” 

The liberal backlash against the decriminalization proposal is an unwelcome intrusion for progressive groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union, Grassroots Leadership or Mijente, which have for years pushed Democrats to take notice of the issue with little success.  [node:read-more:link]

Jul 5, 2019
CBS Austin

Civil rights groups bracing for post-Fourth of July ICE raids

Grassroots Leadership's Rebecca Sanchez says families and other civil rights groups are concerned.

"It is really devastating. We know of a lot of folks who did not go to work today because of that threat it's going to happen right after the Fourth of July holiday. We know of a lot of folks thinking of new routes to work, trying to figure out alternative ways to live their day-to-day lives," Sanchez said.

Now, Grassroots Leadership members are working around the clock to prepare families who may be targeted.

"We are being super proactive. If you are approached, if somebody comes knocking on your door, don't answer it, don't let your kids answer the doors. Be vigilant, and exercise your right to remain silent as much as possible," Sanchez said. [node:read-more:link]

Jul 4, 2019

Hundreds rally at Texas Capitol, call out treatment of migrant children at detention centers

The Austin protest was organized by Austinites Crystal Bird Caviel and Randi Jones Hensley. Local immigrant and advocacy groups provided speakers, including the Southwest Region Nation of Islam, who’s Director, Robert Muhammad, provided the closing speech.

“We could not provide protection for their women and their children and we could not even guarantee that their children would be present with them in their adolescent years,” Muhammad said, referring to children being transferred to other facilities.

Other speakers at the rally were from the nonprofit Grassroots Leadership, UndocuBlack Network and Girasol. Casa Marianella, YWCA Austin and Democratic Socialists of America also had tables at the event.

Organizers say donations collected at the rally will go to Girasol, which supports immigrants both during and after they’ve been detained. The organization is housed in the Texas Institute for Child and Family Wellbeing at the University of Texas at Austin. [node:read-more:link]

Jul 1, 2019
Austin360 by Austin-American Statesman

Willie’s Picnic: Celebrating America through Guy Clark’s ‘Immigrant Eyes’

She wove together various sources of film for the video, including shots of her father singing and playing guitar, historical clips from the Library of Congress and footage from rallies she attended at the Texas Capitol last year and at a South Texas detention center in 2015.

Participants in that 2015 demonstration, organized in part by Texas organization Grassroots Leadership, called for a shutdown of what was then the largest immigration detention center in the nation. “I felt that was a s sad as it could get. I had no idea where we were headed,” Amy says.

Amy will also perform at this year’s Picnic with Folk Uke, which includes Cathy Guthrie, daughter of folk singer Arlo Guthrie. They’ll play a short set on the main stage during a set change before Jamey Johnson’s performance.

Folk Uke’s material centers on humor rather than politics, but Amy said she might use the occasion to raise awareness about immigration issues. After O’Rourke’s appearance at the 2018 Picnic, the door seems open for more activism at the Independence Day event.

“Dad doesn’t get on the soapbox very often; he usually just does his show,” she notes. “But maybe I’ll say something. I’ll try to get people to support Grassroots Leadership, because they are doing some amazing stuff.”

If nothing else, she points out, Clark’s “Immigrant Eyes” speaks for itself. “I’d never heard Guy sing it until after Dad recorded it,” she said. “We’re hearing it with different ears today, now that this reality has set in.” [node:read-more:link]

Jun 23, 2019

“Willful Recklessness”: Trump Pushes for Indefinite Family Detention

Meanwhile, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved a bipartisan $4.6 billion emergency supplemental funding bill on Wednesday that Republicans say will support a more humanitarian response to the migrant surge at the border in part by providing additional funds for holding families, ostensibly in better conditions. Democratic leaders like Sen. Chuck Schumer (NY) and Rep. Steny Hoyer (MD) have said they hope to pass it by the Fourth of July recess. “Now is the moment for Democrats to boldly hold the line and say we shouldn’t be detaining anyone in family detention centers,” said Bob Libal, director of Grassroots Leadership. The Austin, Texas-based nonprofit is appealing a court decision which allowed Texas to issue child-care licenses to facilities that hold parents and children and could open the door for ICE to detain them indefinitely under the terms of the Flores agreement. Last month the group hosted survivors of Japanese internment camps during World War II when they came to Dilley to protest outside the South Texas Residential Center. “One of our themes was that it should not take 70 years to recognize when something is a moral shame,” Libal said. “I hope it does not take us that long to recognize this round of family detention and family separation at the border is a moral tragedy.”
Jun 21, 2019
Univision Austin

En medio de amenazas de redadas, activistas hacen llamado a funcionarios electos locales

La organización Grassroots Leadership emitió una declaración en respuesta al reciente anuncio del presidente Donald Trump sobre redadas masivas de inmigración e hizo un llamado a los funcionarios electos locales. “La comunidad de inmigrantes de Austin no será fácilmente intimidada. El lunes presidente Trump anunció un supuesto plan para los agentes de inmigración de Estados Unidos. Estamos investigando con fuentes locales para confirmar si ha habido solicitudes de colaboración entre las agencias locales de aplicación de la ley, el Departamento de Policía de Austin o el Sheriff del Condado de Travis, y el ICE”, indicó la organización en comunicado de prensa.
Jun 21, 2019

Austin Votes To Scale Back Laws Opponents Say Criminalize Homelessness

But David Johnson, an organizer with the nonprofit Grassroots Leadership, called the city's ordinances "modern-day racist oppression just broadened so that it's classist oppression." He said it's wrong for the city to punish homeless people for sleeping outdoors when the city doesn't have enough room in its emergency shelters. "Austin created this problem. Austin created this problem by failing to protect the interests of, provide for and plan with the individuals who are most in need," he said, "while we were enjoying this wonderfully boundless expansion and growth and financial development period in which we were so proud." The hourslong testimony got heated, with multiple council members admonishing attendees for jeering or shouting during testimony. Mayor Steve Adler said Austin is in a unique position, compared to other cities that have had to grapple with issues related to homelessness – largely on grander scales – like Seattle, Los Angeles and San Francisco. "The conversation that we're having in this room is unlike any of the conversations that are happening in any of the public meetings in those cities," Adler said. "We still have an opportunity to take advantage of the fact that there's a collective will ... that does not exist the same way in those cities, because battle lines have been drawn."
Jun 21, 2019
Austin Chronicle

A Year After Austin's Passage of the Freedom Cities Policies, Activists Urge APD to Do Better

Following the passage of Texas' anti-"sanctuary city" Senate Bill 4 in 2017, and with evidence of persistent racial disparities in local policing, a grassroots coalition of justice advocates pushed for rules that would protect immigrants and reduce disproportionate arrests. In June 2018, the Austin City Council passed the Freedom Cities Policies, an effort led by groups including Grassroots LeadershipWorkers Defense ProjectUnited We Dream Texas, and the Immigrant Legal Resource Center. One year later, the organizations applaud some headway made, but say there's a lot more work to be done when it comes to compliance.


One goal of the policies is to reduce the Austin Police Depart­ment's discretionary arrests for such citation-eligible offenses as driving without a license, and racial disparities in arrests generally. This work was informed by Grassroots Lead­ership's report, based on 2015 booking data, showing black residents experience significantly longer periods of jail time and are incarcerated at much higher rates than the white population charged with the same crimes in Travis County. [node:read-more:link]

Jun 19, 2019
Community Impact Newspaper

‘Freedom city’ policies have measured effect one year after Austin City Council approval

Data from the Austin Police Department shows two “freedom city” policies, unanimously passed by Austin City Council one year ago, are having their intended effect, slightly reducing racial disparities in APD’s use of discretionary arrests and contributing to a sharp decrease in the number of instances in which APD officers assisted federal immigration agency Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Council members voted June 14, 2018, to approve two policies meant to reduce racial disparities in discretionary arrests and to ensure police officers who ask about immigration status inform people of their right not to answe [node:read-more:link]

Jun 19, 2019
Fox 7

'Freedom city' policies bring misdemeanor arrests down by more than 60 percent

According to the Austin Police Department's report, racial inequities in these arrests decreased but only slightly. The Hispanic community accounted for about 36 percent of discretionary arrests before this year, going down to 29 percent. Black people accounted for 31 percent and now they account for 27 percent, still overrepresented, to be just 8 percent of Austin's population.

"The black community and Latino community, it's still disproportional because of the population here in Austin," said Chantel Pridgon, Grassroots Leadership. Pridgon said she experienced a low level arrest firsthand. She says she was arrested for having an invalid license. [node:read-more:link]

Jun 8, 2019
Daily Mail

'ICE Air': The fleet of Boeing 737s owned by immigration officials they say is 'like Con Air' and ships immigrants home every week

But migrant advocacy groups say ICE Air is an example of how tougher immigration enforcement - from detention to tracking to removal - enriches private companies.

‘The way you would save money on ICE Air is by deporting fewer people, not by privatizing the industry,’ said Bob Libal, director of Grassroots Leadership, which opposes immigration detention.

‘ICE is a largely privatized agency,’ Libal said. ‘In many ways, it's been captured by the industries that profit from deportation and detention.’

In November 2018, the Associated Press observed a deportation flight being loaded at a private terminal of Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston.

The Boeing 737 had no markings suggesting it was a deportation flight. [node:read-more:link]

May 29, 2019

Beto O’Rourke’s Immigration Plan Shows How Trump Has Shifted The Democratic Debate

An O’Rourke administration would limit detention of migrants to those with criminal backgrounds serious enough to represent “a danger to our communities.” Although the plan doesn’t specify what types of offenses would warrant detention, his pledge to eliminate private prison contractors from the detention system would drastically scale back the number of beds for which Immigration and Customs Enforcement now contracts.

Prior to Trump’s election, Congress mandated that ICE maintain a detention bed capacity of about 34,500. In practice, that number has shot up to more than 50,000 in the years since Trump took office. Before the Trump expansion, about two-thirds of those beds were managed under private contracts, according to a report by Austin-based advocacy group Grassroots Leadership.

While O’Rourke’s plan would leave the illegal entry statute untouched, his pledge to more broadly cancel federal contracts with private prison companies would put a major dent in prosecutions for petty border-crossing violations. O’Rourke’s plan would eliminate private contractors from both migrant detention and the federal prison system, campaign spokesman Chris Evans confirmed. [node:read-more:link]

May 24, 2019
Austin Chronicle

In Search of Greater Justice With a Travis County Public Defender’s Office


On May 9, Travis County took its next step toward what may be a much improved, more equitable local criminal justice system. After much preparation, consultation, and institutional hemming and hawing, the Commissioners Court forwarded a grant application to the Texas Indigent Defense Commission for the creation of a Travis County public defender's office.

Austin is the largest city in the country without a public defender; Travis County instead relies on court-appointed private attorneys to represent its indigent criminal defendants in tens of thousands of cases each year. In a typical year, about 70% of felony charges and 50% of misdemeanors are defended by appointed counsel, according to TIDC statistics. This costs Travis County around $14 million annually, a number most agree is too low for the task. [node:read-more:link]

May 23, 2019
Telemundo Austin

Corte de comisionados aprueba creación de oficina de defensoría pública

La tarde del martes, la Corte de Comisionados del condado Travis aprobó la creación de la oficina de defensoría pública.

Los comisionados votaron 4 a 1 a favor del plan y aunque activistas apoyaban la formación de la agencia debido al crecimiento de la jurisdicción, no estuvieron de acuerdo con las estipulaciones de la propuesta que aprobaron.

El proyecto contempla la inversión de más de $20 millones de dólares y la firma de contratos con diferentes entidades y asociaciones que proporcionen abogados que se encarguen de los procesos legales.

La oficina operará las 24 horas y defenderá al 30% de las personas acusadas por delitos menores y de mayor cuantía.

Sin embargo, los activistas dijeron que su aprobación no representa una victoria completa para la comunidad.

“Tal y como fue aprobada, no hay representación de la comunidad, no se nombró una junta de supervisión y se incluyen fondos no restringidos, además de que no piden transparencia del servicio de defensa privada, un sistema que ha fallado a nuestra comunidad”, dijo Claudia Muñoz, directora de programas de inmigración de Grassroots Leadership.

Por ahora, la corte decidirá en los próximos días cuando efectuarán la entrega de los fondos. [node:read-more:link]

May 9, 2019

Travis County one step closer to creating public defender's office

TRAVIS COUNTY, Texas (KXAN) — A public defender's office could soon come to Austin — but not without some controversy. 

Travis County commissioners approved a plan to bring in millions of state funds to support it, but questions remain about how it'll work after some last-minute changes. 

"The fight will just go another day," said Amanda Woog, the chair of the Indigent Legal Services Group. 

"We live this, this isn't politics, this is our existence," said Rebecca Sanchez, the organizer for Grassroots Leadership.  

"Even though we are a progressive county, there are still significant deep Southern tendencies here," said Travis County Commissioner Jeffrey Travillion.  [node:read-more:link]

May 9, 2019
Austin Chronicle

Point Austin: Rising to the Defense

Travis County commissioners spent much of Tuesday afternoon contemplating a grant proposal to the Texas Indigent Defense Commission that (if approved) would initiate the creation of a public defender's office, beginning next year (see "Workers Defense," May 10). It's hardly the first time the issue has been discussed, but the subject has become increasingly pressing. One of the embarrassing notes sounded as the question has been raised is that Austin is "the largest city in the country without a public defender's office," charged with the legal obligation and institutional purpose to defend poor people accused of crimes. [node:read-more:link]