Grassroots Leadership In The News

Mar 27, 2017
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The Daily Beast

Sanctuary City Starts GoFundMe After Gov Cuts Grants

In Austin, some courts might have to be crowdfunded.

That’s because the city is what President Donald Trump calls a “sanctuary city”—and it’s facing extraordinary pressure, both political and financial, to join the Trump administration’s mass deportation efforts.

Austin is in Travis County, where its so-called sanctuary policy has already cost it $1.5 million in state funding that would have paid for drug courts, veterans’ courts, and aid to domestic violence victims.

Trump, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and other advocates of tougher immigration enforcement urge local police and sheriffs to help ICE in its deportation efforts. But many local law enforcement officials—including including Travis County’s new sheriff, Sally Hernandez—are hesitant, fearing that undocumented immigrants will be less likely to help police track down dangerous criminals if those police are in cahoots with ICE.

When Hernandez announced the county wouldn’t always cooperate with Trump, Texas Governor Greg Abbott cut state funding to the county.

So the sheriff’s supporters are now crowdfunding to make up for the lost cash—cash that pays for special courts designed to help War on Terror veterans with PTSD and parents with drug addictions. And it’s unlikely to be an anomaly, as Austin has become a national focal point in Trump’s efforts to crack down on undocumented immigrants.

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That’s a lot of pressure by itself—lost funding, and even the threat of prison. But some say it’s not all. Bob Libal, who heads the anti-deportation group Grassroots Leadership, told The Daily Beast in February that he thought ICE deportation raids taking in place in Austin were retaliation for Hernandez’s policy. Since then, a federal magistrate judge said she shared that view.

Libal said he thinks ICE crackdowns will continue.

“We fully anticipate that we will continue to be a target,” he said. Read more about Sanctuary City Starts GoFundMe After Gov Cuts Grants

Mar 23, 2017
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The Daily Texan

Federal judge says Austin ICE raids in response to sanctuary policy

A federal judge revealed Monday that federal agents told him last month’s immigration enforcement raids in Austin were in response to a policy protecting undocumented immigrants.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Andrew Austin said Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents notified him and another judge about a specific operation during a meeting in late January. The mid-Feburary raids occurred after the Travis County Sheriff’s Office stopped allowing ICE agents to detain inmates without warrants space on Feb. 1.

“We had a briefing … that we could expect a big operation, and at least it was related to us in that meeting that it was the result of the sheriff’s new policy, that this was going to happen,” Austin said in open court.

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A federal judge revealed Monday that federal agents told him last month’s immigration enforcement raids in Austin were in response to a policy protecting undocumented immigrants.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Andrew Austin said Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents notified him and another judge about a specific operation during a meeting in late January. The mid-Feburary raids occurred after the Travis County Sheriff’s Office stopped allowing ICE agents to detain inmates without warrants space on Feb. 1.

“We had a briefing … that we could expect a big operation, and at least it was related to us in that meeting that it was the result of the sheriff’s new policy, that this was going to happen,” Austin said in open court.

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Sarah Eckhardt, Travis County District Attorney, met with ICE regional field office director Dan Bible in February, who told her ICE was not targeting Austin, according to the Statesman.

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Bob Libal, director of immigrants rights advocacy group Grassroots Leadership, said ICE cannot be trusted given Monday’s announcement.

“It’s completely outrageous and appalling that ICE is choosing to terrorize the immigrant community in retaliation for a perfectly legal policy,” Libal said. “They are lying to local officials and to the press about what their activities are.” Read more about Federal judge says Austin ICE raids in response to sanctuary policy

Mar 21, 2017
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Downtown Austin patch

Federal Judge Confirms Heightened Austin ICE Action Is Payback For Softened Immigration Policy

The recent sweeps for undocumented immigrants in Austin by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents were done in retaliation for the new sheriff's policy ending a close partnership with the federal agency over a preference in focusing on high-level felons for deportation, according to a published report.

As first reported by the Austin American-Statesman Monday, federal agents privately alerted two magistrate judges in late January they would target Austin with heightened a heightened immigration crackdown.

The reason: A more nuanced policy by Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez that doesn't cooperate with ICE in honoring so-called "detainers," 48-hour holds placed on any arrested person suspected of being undocumented to allow an agent plenty of time to arrive (usually from San Antonio) to fetch the detained person and follow up on deportation.

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“We had a briefing … that we could expect a big operation, agents coming in from out of town, that it was going to be a specific operation, and at least it was related to us in that meeting that it was the result of the sheriff’s new policy that this was going to happen,” Austin said, as quoted by the Statesman.

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What followed less than three months later was unprecedented in Austin, with people being pulled over on roadways or visited at homes and workplaces as ICE agents descended on Austin to root out undocumented immigrants beginning in early February. ICE agents' efforts undoubtedly were fueled by Hernandez's more softened approach but buoyed by Donald Trump and Greg Abbott, both eager proponents of wholesale deportations from their presidential and governor's perches, respectively. 

Immediately, suspicions emerged that the crackdown never before seen (the undocumented before detected largely during times of arrest, not personal visits by ICE agents) was sort of payback against Hernandez. The revelation made in court on Monday seems to support those suspicions.

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Bob Libal, executive director of Grassroots Leadership in Austin, reacted angrily to the revelations, calling out past missives by ICE positing enforcement action as routine to have been outright lies.

“This revelation in open court proves what immigrants and advocates have known for years — that ICE regularly lies to immigrants, local officials, and the media,” Libal said. “Now more than ever, officials at every level of government should rethink their relationship with this agency, and cut ties with an entity that used its power to terrorize our community and then lies to elected officials about the reason for its operation.” Read more about Federal Judge Confirms Heightened Austin ICE Action Is Payback For Softened Immigration Policy

Mar 20, 2017
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The Huffington Post

Trump's DHS Rolls Out Public Shaming Campaign Against 'Sanctuary Cities'

The Trump administration has begun publicly shaming so-called “sanctuary cities” in an attempt to get them to cooperate with deportation efforts. 

The Department of Homeland Security on Monday issued a report about jurisdictions that had declined “detainer requests,” or appeals to hold individuals solely to assist Immigration and Customs Enforcement, along with some of the crimes those people had been accused of committing.

Such weekly reports are part of President Donald Trump’s executive order targeting jurisdictions that limit their cooperation with ICE in some way, and are seemingly meant to pressure these cities and counties into compliance.

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ICE made 3,083 total requests to detain individuals between Jan. 28 and Feb. 3, according to the report. Jurisdictions declined in at least 206 instances. Travis County, Texas ― which encompasses the city of Austin ― began to implement its “sanctuary” policies on Feb. 1 and accounted for about two-thirds of these denials to detain immigrants. 

Maj. Wes Priddy of the Travis County Sheriff’s Office said his county’s numbers were high because they included many people who had been in custody for months. After Sheriff Sally Hernandez took office, her office compiled all the names of people who wouldn’t be held under the new “sanctuary” policy and submitted them to ICE 10 days before implementing it. 

“The week they chose happens to fall at the time we implemented our new policy,” Priddy told The Huffington Post. “Any subsequent reports that ICE may choose to put out are going to show much smaller numbers.”

Since implementing the new detainer policy, Priddy said, the county jail has released on bonds 38 people with felonies on their records. All but one person, who was charged with driving under the influence, had attended their scheduled court hearings. 

“That’s every bit as good as the record of U.S. citizens that have to go to a court date,” Priddy said. “These people are showing up.” 

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Bob Libal, the director of Grassroots Leadership, an organization that pushed for the Travis County sanctuary policy, said the Trump administration’s pressure on local jurisdictions to cooperate with ICE would make immigration enforcement more erratic than it was under former President Barack Obama.

“I fully expect that we’re going to see a dramatic uptick in detainers placed by ICE everywhere in the country, which only increases the rationale for county’s refusing to honor detainers,” Libal told HuffPost. “We’re not going to see the prioritization we saw under the Obama administration. We’re going to see a broad scope of people suspected of being undocumented or any immigration issue.” 

A growing number of local officials have refused over the past several years to honor ICE requests to hold undocumented immigrants, arguing that it undermined immigrants’ faith in local law enforcement and that the detainers funneled too many people with minor offenses or ties to the local community into deportation proceedings. Manylocal officials also worry that honoring all ICE detainers will force them to violate the constitution. Federal courts have ruled that local jurisdictions violate the Fourth Amendment when they honor a request from ICE and hold someone who would otherwise be allowed to go free. Read more about Trump's DHS Rolls Out Public Shaming Campaign Against 'Sanctuary Cities'

Mar 19, 2017
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The Bryan-College Station Eagle

Bryan-College Station spiritual leaders back immigrants

Muslim, Christian and Jewish spiritual leaders from across Bryan-College Station are putting aside doctrinal differences and focusing on scriptural similarities to determine how they can best join forces to support immigrant and refugee communities during a period of anxiety and uncertainty.

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Since taking office, President Donald Trump has issued orders instructing the Department of Homeland Security to hire 15,000 Immigrations and Customs Enforcement and Border Patrol agents and broadening the parameters of prioritization of forced removal to include more immigrants. Trump's policies have left many immigrants across the country -- including some in Bryan-College Station -- afraid to leave their homes.

Spiritual leaders throughout Bryan-College Station have stepped in to assuage some of their concerns; De Leon estimated that between 15-20 clergy members have been meeting with the Brazos Interfaith Immigration Network, or BIIN, for the past several months to determine how to work together to advocate for immigrant and refugee communities. 

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De Leon laid out a number of explicit actions he said his church could do to support immigrant and refugee communities across Bryan-College Station.

"When we think of being a sanctuary church, our minds go to an open-door church where immigrants are housed," said De Leon. But being supportive of the sanctuary movement, he added, could involve "meeting people where they are versus harboring undocumented immigrants."

Among the options are visiting immigrants being held in detention centers, helping to find legal counsel for the detained, holding fundraisers to pay lawyers to help those about to be deported in getting their affairs in order and getting trained to participate in Sanctuary in the Streets, a four-hour class taught by the Austin-based Grassroots Leadership. Sanctuary in the Streets teaches supporters to be witnesses to ICE raids by live-streaming arrests using cell phones and engaging in direct-action protests in response to immigration raids.

Alejandro Caceres, a representative from Grassroots Leadership, said that 250 people had been certified through the training in the Austin/Central Texas area. About six are certified in B-CS.

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None of the houses of worship in this article have formally become part of the sanctuary movement, though Friends Congregational Church will have a congregational discussion and vote today on whether and how to pledge support to the sanctuary movement. Read more about Bryan-College Station spiritual leaders back immigrants

Mar 11, 2017
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Austin American-Statesman

130 miles from Austin, immigration court decides the fate of thousands

A Central Texas welder named Jorge Lozada-Castillo sat in a small courtroom holding headphones to his ears as he listened to the Spanish translation of a judge’s decision.

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The entire proceeding took about 10 minutes, and, by the time it ended, Lozada-Castillo had agreed to leave the country of his own accord by Tuesday or face forced deportation.

This small 20-by-30-foot courtroom, set behind two locked steel doors inside an immigrant detention center in Pearsall, 45 miles southwest of San Antonio, is on the front line of the Justice Department’s efforts to deport each year more than 250,000 people living in the U.S. illegally. Lozada-Castillo’s hearing was just one of thousands that happen every week, many of which occur outside of the public’s view in detention centers across the nation.

And with stepped-up enforcement expected under President Donald Trump’s approach to immigration violations, Central Texas and the rest of the state will likely see an increase in activity by immigration and Border Patrol officers.

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Immigrants who go before the court aren’t guaranteed a lawyer, unlike citizens and immigrants in criminal court. Yang, a staff attorney for American Gateways, said she believes a large majority of people who come before the court aren’t represented by lawyers.


 

Highlights

A court in Pearsall, 130 miles south of Austin, decides whether to deport thousands of immigrants each year.

The court is housed at a detention center that holds most immigrants detained in the Austin-San Antonio area.

Most people who go before the court show up without an attorney and are deported, data shows.

PEARSALL —

A Central Texas welder named Jorge Lozada-Castillo sat in a small courtroom holding headphones to his ears as he listened to the Spanish translation of a judge’s decision.

No, the judge decided, he wouldn’t be granted bail. Lozada-Castillo’s two convictions for driving while intoxicated made him a danger to the public and a flight risk.

No, he wouldn’t be allowed a last-ditch chance to formally wed his common-law wife, a Lockhart woman who is the mother of his 5-year-old autistic son. He would be sent back to Mexico, despite the hardship it would cause his family.

“I’m sorry to hear about your son, but that is not going to affect my decision,” said Judge R. Reid McKee in the hearing late last month.

The entire proceeding took about 10 minutes, and, by the time it ended, Lozada-Castillo had agreed to leave the country of his own accord by Tuesday or face forced deportation.

This small 20-by-30-foot courtroom, set behind two locked steel doors inside an immigrant detention center in Pearsall, 45 miles southwest of San Antonio, is on the front line of the Justice Department’s efforts to deport each year more than 250,000 people living in the U.S. illegally. Lozada-Castillo’s hearing was just one of thousands that happen every week, many of which occur outside of the public’s view in detention centers across the nation.

And with stepped-up enforcement expected under President Donald Trump’s approach to immigration violations, Central Texas and the rest of the state will likely see an increase in activity by immigration and Border Patrol officers.

Pearsall immigration court

Austin has already seen U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents conducting more high-profile operations in the region, including the courthouse arrest of a Mexican citizen last week and an ICE raid that swept up 51 peoplesuspected of being in the country illegally.

SPECIAL REPORT: Meet the immigrants arrested in Austin ICE raids

ICE agents have appeared emboldened since Trump signed an executive order Jan. 27 that gave the agency far wider latitude on whom it detains. In Austin, more than half of the people swept up last month in Operation Cross Check were found to be noncriminals, including some whom the agency wasn’t even seeking. Many of them have been deported since then.

Nearly all of the 683 people rounded up in the nationwide operation will eventually end up at a hearing like Lozada-Castillo did.

These little-known courts conduct hearings for immigrants every day — and they take place largely out of view. At the detention center where Lozada-Castillo’s hearing was held, four judges, all hired by the U.S. Justice Department, decide who gets to stay and who is deported.

Lozada-Castillo’s hearing took place at the South Texas Detention Complex, a sprawling prisonlike facility that holds most of the immigrants detained in the Austin-San Antonio area who are accused of being in the U.S. illegally. The 1,904-bed facility is commonly known as the Pearsall Unit, named after the city of about 9,600 residents along Interstate 35 where it is located.

Of the 57 immigration courts across the U.S., the Pearsall immigration court is the seventh-busiest, according to data from the Justice Department’s Executive Office for Immigration Review. Pearsall had just over 10,000 hearings in 2015 — more than immigration courts in Houston and Dallas — and was second only to San Antonio among the eight immigration courts in Texas.

About 284,000 new cases were filed across those courts in 2015, and the number of new cases has topped 300,000 several times in recent years. Seventy-two percent of the people who go before the courts for possible removal are deported, according to five years of data tracking 761,000 cases.

Cases like Lozada-Castillo’s are typical for the courts. Often, a judge will hold an initial hearing for several people at once that, without a lawyer representing the immigrants, might last only two minutes. Despite their brevity, those hearings decide whether the “respondent” should be deported.

In Lozada-Castillo’s case, he sat with two other men seated beside him. All three wore headphones to hear the rapid translation from the court’s interpreter.

“It’s confusing,” immigration attorney Edna Yang said. “If you are not represented (by a lawyer) or don’t know what is going on, you might accept deportation because you don’t know what else to do.”

‘Deck is stacked against you’

Immigrants who go before the court aren’t guaranteed a lawyer, unlike citizens and immigrants in criminal court. Yang, a staff attorney for American Gateways, said she believes a large majority of people who come before the court aren’t represented by lawyers.

Aggregate data aren’t available, but research from a Syracuse University group suggests that Yang is correct. In October, the university’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse released a report analyzing 38,000 cases on the immigration courts’ “rocket docket” for adults with children and found that70 percent appeared before the court without an attorney to represent them.

Those unrepresented immigrants filed paperwork seeking relief from deportation through asylum and other means at a far lower rate than immigrants with lawyers, 6.5 percent, the analysis found. About 95 percent of those who received deportation orders at their initial appearance — like Lozada-Castillo — didn’t have an attorney.

Having an attorney improves the odds for those seeking to avoid deportation, but it’s not a guarantee. In Texas, roughly three-quarters of those with attorneys were still ordered deported, the TRAC data shows.

“The deck is stacked against you,” said Bob Libal, executive director of local advocacy group Grassroots Leadership, which opposes the detention of immigrants who are living in the country illegally. “The vast majority are not represented and they are fighting for their lives in a language that is not their own in a legal system that is not familiar.”

Nonprofit organizations like American Gateways offer free legal services for some immigrants in the deportation process. They also connect immigrants to attorneys available for little or no cost. And at Pearsall, immigrants are given worksheets that show organizations that might assist them in legal matters.

However, because deportation hearings are not criminal charges, respondents do not have the same right to an attorney.

The judge’s decision to deport a person or not is based on several pieces of criteria. Having children who are U.S. citizens is one factor that judges look at; another is how long a person has been in country continuously. Many immigrants will also seek asylum in confidential hearings in which they have to prove their lives could be threatened if they are returned to their country of origin.

Asylum pleas have been denied at a greater clip in recent years. In 2016, 57 percent of requests were denied, according to TRAC data, the highest rate since 2005.

Without legal representation, the hurdles are heightened for immigrants trying to prove they would be put in danger if deported.

“It’s harder to communicate to find those documents while you’re behind bars,” Libal said. Read more about 130 miles from Austin, immigration court decides the fate of thousands

Mar 10, 2017
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Austin Chronicle

Undocumented, Unafraid

On Feb. 10, her community experienced the first tangible signs of that danger. As part of a sweep through 12 states, ICE detained dozens in the Austin region and more than 680 immigrants nationwide. While "Operation Cross Check" ostensibly targeted "public safety threats," reports later showed that most of those arrested locally did not have criminal records, sparking questions of political retaliation. The immigrant community, an already vulnerable population, has since been forced to reckon with deep anxiety, fear, and feelings of destabilization. Like many undocumented Austinites today, Alvarado's parents are "laying low," she said, forgoing the 40-minute drive to visit their daughter in San Marcos, and updating her on nearly every trip out of the house they make.

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But while some immigrants back into the shadows for self-preservation, others have felt empowered to take to the streets and speak up. The raids ignited daily protests at the intersection of Rund­berg and North Lam­ar, and several rallies and demonstrations in the ensuing weeks. Over the past month, and now into an uncertain future, the community navigates a delicate balance between protecting themselves and their families while letting the public know they deserve to call Austin home.

"Trump, escucha! Estamos en la lucha!" ("Trump, listen! We are in the fight!") chanted roughly 200 immigrants and allies over the sounds of Tejano accordion music and drumbeats outside the J.J. Pickle Federal Building on a clear day in mid-February. Toting handmade signs and the Mexico and U.S. flags, activists – surrounded by Austin Police and Department of Homeland Secur­ity officials – joined the nationwide Day Without Immigrants strike in peaceful protest to assert their self-worth, remind the city of their many contributions, and condemn the recent raids.

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Early rumblings of ICE raids in the first days of February sent local nonprofit and legal groups into an organizing frenzy ("ICE Raid in Austin?" Feb. 2). And the strategizing paid off: Groups, including the Texas Here to Stay coalition, were able to respond to the enforcement action. A rapid text alert system for attorneys led to a pop-up legal clinic at the Grassroots Leadership offices on Cesar Chavez. Around 80 people showed up, including 10 family members directly affected by the arrests. "I think we were the first city in Texas to have something set up that had a rapid response and alert system," said Faye Kolly, a local immigration attorney and member of the American Immi­gra­tion Lawyers Association. "As a city, we have a lot to be proud of."

Kolly described the mood in the makeshift legal clinic as one of mass confusion and panic. "Many were visibly frightened and shaken, there was a lot of uncertainty and fear," she said. While conducting consultations, Kolly and other attorneys began to notice that while ICE claimed they were only going after those with serious and dangerous criminal records, some of the cases clearly didn't match the call. "ICE was waiting for people to leave their homes in the morning so they could pick them up from work," said Kolly. "We saw a lot of people being swept up who were not supposed to be targeted. Of course, what we know now is that everyone is a target."

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Alejandro Caceres, immigration organizer with Grassroots Leadership, which leads the ICE out of Austin movement, said the next step is finding safe haven for those facing the threat of deportation; in effect creating an underground network of businesses, clinics, restaurants, churches, and other places that can harbor immigrants in the event of upcoming massive raids – or at least banish ICE from their private property.

"It doesn't seem like the local government can protect us from the federal administration, so we've got to find a way to protect ourselves," he said. "We want people to be actively on the lookout and make sure ICE doesn't feel comfortable in parking lots and businesses. If ICE is going to do a stakeout on private property, we want it to be as inconvenient as possible." Count St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church (part of the interfaith Austin Sanctuary Network) and Black Star Co-op as havens. AISD also recently passed a resolution reaffirming that the district is a safe space for all students, regardless of immigration status.

Of course, under the Texas Legislature's plan to pass a so-called "sanctuary cities" bill this session, safe shelter is equally under threat ("Matters More Than the Law," Feb. 10). Senate Bill 4, by Sen. Charles Per­ry, R-Lubbock, would punish local governments and universities that don't comply with ICE detainer requests to hand over immigrants. Violating the potential law could mean a loss of state grant funds. Labeled as one of Gov. Greg Abbott's "emergency" priorities, SB 4 sped through the full Senate and now heads to the House, despite resounding testimony in opposition.

Sen. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, and 10 co-authors, including Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Aus­tin, have proposed a counter bill (SB 997) that would establish "safe zones" for immigrants at hospitals, public schools, courthouses, and places of worship, where local and state police would be prohibited from enforcing federal immigration laws. "These have always been in our society: institutions where it should be safe and one can trust that institution," Garcia said at a Feb­ruary legislative press conference. "If we break that, it breaks our democracy." Read more about Undocumented, Unafraid

Mar 8, 2017
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Alternet

Private Prison Execs Are Gloating Over Soaring Profits from Trump's Mass Deportation Agenda

In a February 22 call with investors, the private prison corporation GEO Group openly boasted that the Trump administration’s crackdown on undocumented immigrants is boosting its bottom line and fueling its expansion.

One of the largest private prison companies in the world, GEO Group, stands accused of widespread human rights violations, including charges that the company forced tens of thousands of immigrants in ICE detention at the Aurora, Colorado Denver Contract Detention Facility to perform slave labor. GEO Group’s Karnes family detention center in Texas, where mothers are incarcerated with their children, has been the site of repeated hunger strikes over poor conditions and indefinite detention.

Speaking with investors (transcript is available here), David Donahue, the President of GEO Corrections and Detention, directly cited the Trump administration’s “deportation force” as a boon to business.

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Speaking with investors, chairman and chief executive officer George Zoley gloated, “We’re very pleased with our strong fourth quarter and year end results and our outlook for 2017," adding: “It is gratifying to see GEO’s continued financial success.”

Zoley went on to directly cite Trump’s anti-immigrant executive orders as a boon to business, proclaiming:

With respect to detention services, in support of border security, we would continue to be the largest provider of detention services to the three federal agencies — that is to ICE, the Bureau of Prisons and the U.S. Marshals Service. With this increased and expanded approach to border security, the first agency that will need additional capacity is ICE. Border Patrol will catch individuals and then send them to an ICE facility. Subsequently, there will be a need by the U.S. Marshals Service for those people that have committed criminal acts and need to be detained for adjudication. And further on down the line, BOP will need additional capacity as well for those people who’ve been sentenced and need to serve their time in one of the CAR facilities.

So it’s really an escalation of capacity need for all three federal agencies as a result of the president’s new executive orders redirecting the approach to border security for the three federal agencies.

The advocacy organization Grassroots Leadership blasted the company for profiting from Trump’s plans to implement mass deportations. "While immigrant communities are being terrorized by raids, the private prison industry is quietly celebrating a potential boom in business,” said Bob Libal, the executive director of the organization. “Prison companies like GEO Group and Corrections Corporation of America are preparing for an enormous expansion to detention under this administration. Mass deportations should make our country ashamed, not make private prison executives rich." Read more about Private Prison Execs Are Gloating Over Soaring Profits from Trump's Mass Deportation Agenda

Mar 3, 2017
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The Austin American Statesman

ICE agents in Travis County courthouses looking for suspects

Juan Coronilla-Guerrero was one of dozens of unauthorized immigrants released from the local jail after Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez implemented a new policy to not honor many ICE detainers.

Coronilla-Guerrero’s wife, in a news release from the immigrant advocacy group Grassroots Leadership, confirmed that Coronilla-Guerrero was one of more than 30 immigrants released in the days following Hernandez’s implementation of a policy that greatly limited cooperation with ICE requests to hold suspected undocumented immigrants.

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ICE agents in Austin on Friday detained an immigrant suspected of being in the country illegally at the Travis County courthouse, in what appears to be a new tactic by immigration officials.

Defense attorney Daniel Betts confirmed to the American-Statesman that his client, Juan Coronilla-Guerrero, was detained at the courthouse, where was scheduled to appear for two misdemeanor charges, assault-family violence and possession of marijuana.

Betts said his client was arrested in an elevator at the Blackwell-Thurman Criminal Justice Center.

The Travis County sheriff’s office confirmed that ICE agents were at the courthouse serving a warrant.

Attorney George Lobb, who saw the arrest, said the paperwork he saw was not a warrant or other court order.

“It struck me as extraordinary,” said Betts, who added that his client was in court expressly to resolve the misdemeanor charges so we would not run into problems with immigration.

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The report of federal agents looking for suspects at the Blackwell-Thurman Criminal Justice Center and the Heman Sweatt Travis County Courthouse comes three weeks after an ICE enforcement operation centered on Austin and four other metro areas across the US that led to the arrests of 683 people.

In the past, deportation proceedings in Travis County have largely been prompted by an arrest that led to immigration checks. But during the four-day enforcement operation, ICE officials were out in the community, pulling people over and taking them in.

The mid-February ICE raids fueled speculation that Austin was being singled out because of recent controversy over newly elected Sheriff Sally Hernandez’s policy to deny most of the agency’s requests to delay the release of inmates at the Travis County jail for immigration checks. Read more about ICE agents in Travis County courthouses looking for suspects

Mar 2, 2017
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Business Insider

A notoriously abusive detention center nicknamed 'Ritmo' may be re-opening under Trump

One of America's most notorious detention centers may be opening its doors again under President Donald Trump.

Immigrations and Customs Enforcement is considering reactivating the vacant Willacy County Correctional Facility in Raymondville, Texas, according to Texas Monthly, prompting concerns about the center's history of abuse, neglect, and other illegal activity.

The news comes as ICE rapidly moves to expand its detention capacity along the Mexican border, under instruction from Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly.

Built in 2006 with a maximum capacity of 3,000, the detention center was the largest in the country at the time —but it faced problems immediately.

Attorneys and immigration advocates revealed that undocumented immigrants were held up to 23 hours a day in the center's 10 windowless tents, and reported insufficient food, medical attention, clothing, and access to telephones, all within a year of the facility opening.

The problems continued in 2007, when in July officials discovered maggotsin the inmates' food supplies. Though officials called the incident a one-time occurrence, inmates complained the next month of mold, flooded toilets, and infestations of insects and rodents.

Inmates also claimed they were being given dirty underwear and towels for use, as well as shoes and socks with holes.  The American Bar Association reported some detainees "indicated that they had been instructed not to say anything negative to the delegation about the facility."

The facility earned the disparaging moniker "Ritmo" during this time, because it was "like Gitmo, but it's in Raymondville," said immigration lawyer Jodi Goodwin, using the nickname for the Guantanamo Bay detention camp. 

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The facility was shuttered in 2015 after inmates revolted and set fire to three of its tents, leaving the center uninhabitable — a "welcome but long overdue move," the ACLU said at the time.

However, critics are now worried about its potential re-opening.

"To reopen this troubled private prison would be a giant step backwards," said Bob Libal, executive director of Grassroots Leadership, an Austin-based social justice group that opposes private prisons, in a statement. Read more about A notoriously abusive detention center nicknamed 'Ritmo' may be re-opening under Trump

Mar 2, 2017
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The World Weekly

America First, minorities last?

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Since taking office, the president has sought to tackle immigration on two fronts. First, at its external borders through building a Great Wall of Mexico and imposing a travel ban on immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries. On top of this, the Department of Homeland Security announced measures that drastically expanded immigration agencies’ power to arrest and deport those in the US illegally.

On February 6, ICE officers arrested 680 people in Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta, New York and San Antonio. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly described these measures as a continuation of Obama-era policies that had been in place “for many years”, but the flurry of raids was seen by groups like the American Civil Liberties Union - which rushed to publish explainers on how to act in the event of an ICE raid - as the opening shot in a new war.

The number of people expelled may not yet set the Trump administration apart, but the way deportations are being carried out distinguishes it from its predecessor. Take the case of Irving Gonzales in El Paso, who was arrested inside a county courthouse moments after she had received a protective order as a victim of domestic abuse. 

Her story is one of many. In Alexandria, Virginia, agents recently waited across the street from a church, detaining several Latino immigrants as they left a cold weather shelter. Near Seattle, immigration officials raided the home of a convicted Mexican drug trafficker. They also picked up his son, part of the DACA programme, who had no criminal record and held a legal permit to work in the US.

When incidents like these occurred under President Obama, Human Rights Watch's Clara Long told TWW, the White House would usually apologise or excuse them as the misdemeanour of an overzealous agent. Now, she noted, immigration agencies are “going full steam ahead”.

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Bob Libal, executive director of the advocacy group Grassroots Leadership in Austin, Texas, agreed that the Trump administration has widened ICE’s “dredge-net”. He shared the story of two Latino brothers in Austin who had got up on a Saturday morning to go to work, and had been cornered by ICE agents in the parking lot of their apartment complex. The agents had been looking for someone else, but they asked the brothers if they had papers. They did not. One of the brothers was back in Mexico by Saturday evening.

Many of those apprehended by ICE are detained rather than deported. According to Mr. Libal, we can expect a “massive expansion” of the detention system. There are reports that immigration detention centres previously shuttered due to high-profile cases of violence, sexual and psychological abuse might be reopened. A recent New York Times op-ed asked whether these detention centres are the next Abu Ghraib. That, Mr. Libal said, is “very telling”.

... Read more about America First, minorities last?

Mar 1, 2017
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The Austin American Statesmen

Three weeks after ICE raids, Austin immigrant community still panicked

When news of the ICE raids spread throughout Austin, area nonprofits organized, mobilized and improvised as fear ran through the city’s immigrant community.

Carmen Zuvieta, a volunteer with the Austin-based nonprofit Grassroots Leadership, describes the days during Operation Crosscheck as days of madness. The criminal justice and immigration reform group has operated the ICE Out of Austin campaign for years.

Zuvieta became a leader in the campaign after her husband was deported about four years ago, leaving her to raise her two children on her own. She’s spoken everywhere from City Hall to the University of Texas about the campaign, but since the ICE arrests of 51 people in the ICE raids, she has been volunteering around the clock.

“Although we expected there to be ICE raids, to be honest, I never thought it’d happen with this magnitude,” Zuvieta said.

Three weeks after the enforcement operation, Zuvieta’s cell phone hasn’t stopped ringing. One day she’s buying diapers for families who are here illegally and afraid to leave their homes and the next she’s consoling mothers whose deported children are going back to countries where their lives are in danger.

There hasn’t been a typical day for Zuvieta since the ICE raids. Her day begins at 6 a.m. and immediately checks her phone and social media to check on families and make sure no one else has been arrested. She’s constantly answering calls and texts from distressed families while juggling her own full-time housekeeping job and family. Zuvieta dashes from community meetings to rallies to the homes of families who need a power of attorney in case they get deported and need to leave their children behind with someone.

“My cell phone is working at 100 and my body at zero,” she said. But she converts the pain of having her family separated, she said, into energy to defend other families in fear.

“I see a future that’s very dificult for many of these families,” Zuvieta said. “But I think the pain of their children will transform into desire to make changes in this country.” Read more about Three weeks after ICE raids, Austin immigrant community still panicked

Feb 27, 2017
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Westword

The Torturous, Completely Preventable Slow-Motion Death of Dennis Choquette

When he entered a for-profit Colorado prison in July 2014, Dennis Choquette had a serious but treatable foot malady related to diabetes.

But according to a lawsuit filed by his estate, his jailers repeatedly refused to address this problem as a way of saving money, thereby allowing his condition to deteriorate slowly and agonizingly over the course of more than a year.

He died in November 2016, on the very day that lawyers working on his behalf had been scheduled to file a motion asking a judge to set aside his sentence and order that he be admitted to a hospital for an amputation.

...

Choquette was imprisoned in the Bent County Correctional Facility, a jail owned by Corrections Corporation of America. CCA, whose website currently lists thirteen jails or facilities in Colorado, including the one in Bent County, is at the center of the 1999 feature article by Alan Prendergast headlined "McPrison." And in 2013, Prendergast tackled the topic again in "Thirty Years of Private Prisons: New Report Details Trouble Behind Bars."

In the latter post, about a scathing condemnation of the firm by the group Grassroots Leadership, Prendergast wrote that CCA was "launched in 1983 by a group of Kentucky Fried Chicken investors" and has been criticized over the years based on allegations that its "for-profit model cuts too many corners, resulting in ill-trained and poorly paid staff," as well as "inadequate medical care."

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The length of time that elapsed between Choquette's entry into jail and his demise makes the manner of his passing even more tragic, in Holland's view. "This was a slow-motion death. In some cases of people dying in jail, people come in and their condition is exploding with urgency at that specific moment. But this was like watching a slow torture unfold."

Co-counsel Holland Edwards sees the story as an example of a larger problem.

"What happened to Dennis is exactly what's wrong with health care at corrections," she says. "They knew he had a condition, and it was treatable. But they refused to help him or to intervene even after we sued. Even when we brought to their attention that it was likely to result in irreparable harm or death, they still didn't want to help him. We went from trying to help our client to trying to figure out the value to his estate of them having killed him."

She argues that Choquette "died of deliberate indifference to his medical needs. He died because this Department of Corrections system and the Corrections Corporation of America were reckless with his medical care. Certainly, he had underlying medical conditions, like a lot of people in jail. He had diabetes and some heart issues. But his foot should have never gotten to the point where he needed amputation. He should still be alive today."

The length of time that elapsed between Choquette's entry into jail and his demise makes the manner of his passing even more tragic, in Holland's view. "This was a slow-motion death. In some cases of people dying in jail, people come in and their condition is exploding with urgency at that specific moment. But this was like watching a slow torture unfold."

Co-counsel Holland Edwards sees the story as an example of a larger problem.

"What happened to Dennis is exactly what's wrong with health care at corrections," she says. "They knew he had a condition, and it was treatable. But they refused to help him or to intervene even after we sued. Even when we brought to their attention that it was likely to result in irreparable harm or death, they still didn't want to help him. We went from trying to help our client to trying to figure out the value to his estate of them having killed him."

She argues that Choquette "died of deliberate indifference to his medical needs. He died because this Department of Corrections system and the Corrections Corporation of America were reckless with his medical care. Certainly, he had underlying medical conditions, like a lot of people in jail. He had diabetes and some heart issues. But his foot should have never gotten to the point where he needed amputation. He should still be alive today." Read more about The Torturous, Completely Preventable Slow-Motion Death of Dennis Choquette

Feb 24, 2017
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Rewire

Sessions: Contract With Private Prison Companies That Gave to Trump Campaign

The Department of Justice (DOJ) last year announced the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) would no longer contract with private prison corporations. Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Thursday instructed the Bureau to once again rely on these companies, which contributed large sums to President Trump’s 2016 campaign and his inauguration.

The DOJ in August cited private prisons’ failure to maintain adequate levels of safety and security as a primary reason to no longer contract with these companies. Privately run prison facilities have more incidents of violence than their public counterparts, according to the DOJ’s Bureau of Justice Assistance. Private corrections facilities experience 65 percent more prisoner-to-prisoner assaults and 49 percent more assaults on staff than public facilities.

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As Austin-based immigrant rights organization Grassroots Leadership noted in a statement about Sessions’ announcement, most privately-operated prisons within the BOP are Criminal Alien Requirement (CAR) prisons. These prisons hold noncitizens, most of whom have been criminally prosecuted for crossing the border.

“Today’s announcement likely marks a recommitment to the use of segregated federal prisons for non-citizens. CAR facilities have been racked with scandals and prison uprisings for years, including at theinfamous Tent City detention center in Willacy County, Texas,” Grassroots Leadership reportedCAR prisons were the focus of a recent investigation by the Nation about poor medical care resulting in in-custody deaths.

After the DOJ decision in August, advocates hoped that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) would follow suit. That same month, former Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson tasked the Homeland Security Advisory Council (HSAC) with evaluating “whether the immigration detention operations conducted by ICE should move in the same direction” as the DOJ. It was announced in December that ICE would continue contracting with private prison companies. The announcement did not come as a surprise to advocates, as Trump had just been elected, vowing to drastically expand the already unruly detention system.

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The Intercept reported that Geo Group was one of the first large, publicly-traded firms to make a hefty campaign contribution to Trump, giving $50,000 to a pro-Trump Super PAC and $45,000 to the Trump campaign via the “Trump Victory fund, a joint fundraising committee between Trump and various state Republican Party groups.” CoreCivic donated $250,000 to Trump’s inauguration.

Grassroots Leadership’s Executive Director Bob Libal in a statement cited Sessions’ announcement as yet another act by the Trump administration that undermines criminal justice reforms and civil rights for incarcerated people.

“This administration appears to be more interested in lining the coffers of its friends at private prison corporations than promoting common sense policies that would reduce the incarcerated population and close troubled prisons,” Libal said. Read more about Sessions: Contract With Private Prison Companies That Gave to Trump Campaign

Feb 24, 2017
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The Houston Press

Trump AG Rescinds Obama Decision to Stop Use of Private Prisons

Reversing yet another Obama administration decision, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Thursday that the federal government would resume the use of private, for-profit prisons.

Only six months ago, then-Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates had asked the Federal Bureau of Prisons to phase out its use of the controversial prisons by no longer renewing contracts. The directive affected 13 private prisons across the country that housed roughly 22,000 inmates. Nearly half of those inmates were housed in Texas at five private prisons.

"Private prisons served an important role during a difficult period, but time has shown that they compare poorly to our own Bureau facilities," wrote Yates, who was fired by President Donald Trump after she directed the Department of Justice not to defend Trump's travel ban. "They simply do not provide the same level of correctional services, programs, and resources; they do not save substantially on costs; and as noted in a recent report by the Department's Office of Inspector General, they do not maintain the same level of safety and security."

...

But on Thursday evening, Sessions appeared to write off these findings as insignificant. In a one-paragraph memo, he wrote:

“The memorandum changed long-standing policy and practice, and impaired the Bureau’s ability to meet the future needs of the federal correctional system. Therefore, I direct the Bureau to return to its previous approach.”

...

“Today’s announcement is yet another edict from this administration that undermines civil rights for incarcerated people and criminal justice reform efforts,” said Bob Libal, executive director of Grassroots Leadership. “This administration appears to be more interested in lining the coffers of its friends at private prison corporations than promoting commonsense policies that would reduce the incarcerated population and close troubled prisons.”

As the Washington Post reported, the private prison industry donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to Donald Trump's presidential campaign. One such $100,000 donation was sent in from private-prison giant GEO Group just one day after Yates announced they would be discontinued. Read more about Trump AG Rescinds Obama Decision to Stop Use of Private Prisons

Feb 24, 2017
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The Christian Science Monitor

Sessions memo: Reversal on private prisons could portend shift on justice, observers say

Private prisons could be here to stay, Jeff Sessions signaled on Thursday.

In a memo to the Bureau of Prisons Thursday, the attorney general rolled back Obama-era guidance in which then-Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates directed the BOP not to renew contracts with private prisons. Attorney General Sessions wrote that Ms. Yates’ August order “impaired the Bureau’s ability to meet the future needs of the federal correctional system.”

The move may not have a significant impact immediately: The BOP has contracts with just 12 private facilities, housing only about 21,000 of the nearly 190,000 inmates in federal prisons, according to the Justice Department. But for observers, the rethink on private prisons from one administration to the next is indicative of their very different values – and may foreshadow the future of criminal justice under President Trump. 

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“A large part of the impetus for privatization among both Republicans and Democrats is this notion of efficiency – it just sounds really appealing,” says Professor Mears. 

And with a lack of "apples-to-apples" comparative research on similar inmates at the two prison types, politicians' ideology may be the guiding force behind their determination of whether private prisons offer a way to house inmates that is equally as humane, secure, and cost-effective as publicly-operated facilities, he says.

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Campaign donations may also have helped inform the Trump administration’s decision, some suggest. GEO Group, one of the largest for-profit prison operators in the country, gave $250,000 to support Trump's inauguration events, Pablo Paez, the company's vice president of corporate relations told USA Today. CoreCivic, another major private prison operator, gave $250,000 to the inauguration as well.

“Private prison companies were major donors to the President’s campaign.... No doubt there was an expected policy shift in exchange for their support,” writes Michele Deitch, a longtime attorney who is a senior lecturer at the University of Texas at Austin’s Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, in an email to the Monitor.

Private prisons with government contracts lauded Sessions’ memo.

“Our company welcomes the memorandum by the Attorney General reinstating the continued use of privately operated facilities,” Mr. Paez, of the GEO Group, said in a statement emailed to the Monitor. 

...

“It appears that this administration is deeply committed to increasing incarceration, particularly of immigrants, and has very close ties to the private prison industry,” says Bob Libal, the executive director of Grassroots Leadership, a criminal justice reform group based in Austin, Texas. Read more about Sessions memo: Reversal on private prisons could portend shift on justice, observers say

Feb 24, 2017
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Marketplace

White House overturns private prison policy as undocumented immigrant crackdown boosts demand

Last year, the Obama administration announced it was going to phase out federal government use of private prisons after reports surfaced of safety and security issues. Yesterday, that plan was overturned by the new attorney general, Jeff Sessions. The news immediately boosted share prices of the two largest companies that run private prisons. With the Trump administration’s crackdown on undocumented immigration creating thousands of detainees, all signs suggest it's a growth industry. Read more about White House overturns private prison policy as undocumented immigrant crackdown boosts demand

Feb 23, 2017
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WALB News10

Immigrants fearing deportation under Trump change routines

Around the country, President Donald Trump's efforts to crack down on the estimated 11 million immigrants living illegally in the U.S. have spread fear and anxiety and led many people to brace for arrest and to change up their daily routines in hopes of not getting caught.

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An undocumented Guatemalan migrant mother and her son have called an Austin, Texas, church home for more than a year. Hilda Ramirez says they were fleeing the danger of their country and were caught by immigration authorities as they illegally crossed the border at Texas in 2014. After they were released from a holding facility, a pastor allowed them to live on church grounds.

The unease among immigrants has been building but intensified in recent weeks with ever-clearer signs that the Trump administration would jettison the Obama-era policy of focusing mostly on deporting those who had committed serious crimes.

The administration announced Tuesday that any immigrant in the country illegally who is charged with or convicted of any offense, or even suspected of a crime, will now be an enforcement priority. That could include people arrested for shoplifting or other minor offenses, or those who simply crossed the border illegally.

Some husbands and wives fear spouses who lack legal papers could be taken away. And many worry that parents will be separated from their U.S.-born children.

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An organization in Austin, Texas, that runs a deportation hotline said it normally would receive one or two calls every few days. After recent immigration raids, the phone rang off the hook.

"We got over 1,000 phone calls in three days about the raids," said Cristina Parker, immigration programs director for Grassroots Leadership. "And certainly a lot of those were people who wanted information about the raids saying, 'I'm scared, I'm worried, what can I do?'... A lot of them were people who were impacted by the raids who saw a friend or family be taken." Read more about Immigrants fearing deportation under Trump change routines

Feb 22, 2017
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The Detroit News

Deportation fears adjust immigrants' daily routines

Around the country, President Donald Trump’s efforts to crack down on the estimated 11 million immigrants living illegally in the U.S. have spread fear and anxiety and led many people to brace for arrest and to change up their daily routines in hopes of not getting caught.

...

The unease among immigrants has been building for months but intensified in recent weeks with ever-clearer signs that the Trump administration would jettison the Obama-era policy of focusing mostly on deporting those who had committed serious crimes.

The administration announced Tuesday that any immigrant in the country illegally who is charged with or convicted of any offense, or even suspected of a crime, will now be an enforcement priority. That could include people arrested for shoplifting or other minor offenses, or those who simply crossed the border illegally.

Some husbands and wives fear spouses who lack legal papers could be taken away. And many worry that parents will be separated from their U.S.-born children.

...

An organization in Austin, Texas, that runs a deportation hotline said it normally would receive one or two calls every few days. After recent immigration raids, the phone rang off the hook.

“We got over 1,000 phone calls in three days about the raids,” said Cristina Parker, immigration programs director for Grassroots Leadership. “And certainly a lot of those were people who wanted information about the raids saying, ‘I’m scared, I’m worried, what can I do?’… A lot of them were people who were impacted by the raids who saw a friend or family be taken.” Read more about Deportation fears adjust immigrants' daily routines

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