Grassroots Leadership In The News

May 9, 2019
Austin Chronicle

Women’s Jail Closer to Funding

The Travis County Commissioners Court voted last week to issue a debt package that includes initial funding for a new women's jail – despite the objections of justice advocates who, for more than a year, have identified the proposed facility as a troubling move away from efforts to decrease incarceration in Travis County.

Several Travis County agencies, along with the Austin City Council and groups such as Grassroots Leadership, have embraced programs and policies aimed at reducing jail bookings for minor offenses such as driving with an invalid license, public intoxication, and marijuana possession. This is in part a budget measure – incarceration costs to taxpayers will grow $10 million this year over 2018 – but also reflects the community's commitment to restorative justice.

These strategies seem to be making a difference; female bookings for misdemeanors are down 24% since 2016, and 2019's average overall daily population is the lowest it's been in six years. That's what makes the Commis­sion­ers Court's move to fund a new jail for women inmates controversial and why the county responded to advocate concerns and held off on funding last year. But on April 23 the court put the jail, currently budgeted at more than $80 million, back on the list of projects to be funded by certificates of obligation; then on April 30, commissioners voted to issue the CO package, with $6.6 million in design and pre-construction funding. [node:read-more:link]

May 7, 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]

Apr 24, 2019
Community Impact Newspaper

Travis County staff recommend increased capacity for planned women’s correctional facility

Travis County commissioners voted unanimously to increase capacity at a planned women’s correctional facility at an April 23 meeting.

County staff requested the facility have 360 beds, an increase from the 336 beds recommended in a master plan adopted by the Commissioners Court in 2016.

Commissioners chose instead to approve 350 beds for the facility and include funding for a study on the housing needs of diversion programs, emphasizing they want to divert individuals from jail while also improving conditions for those who are incarcerated. [node:read-more:link]

Apr 22, 2019
Teen Vogue

How the Department of Homeland Security and Immigration Policies are Changing After Kirstjen Nielsen's Resignation

Since Kirstjen Nielsen resigned from her position as secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on April 7, the future of immigration policy in the United States has felt, in many ways, uncertain.

Under Nielsen’s leadership, agencies like Immigration and Customs Enforcement(ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) carried out some of the cruelest and most controversial tactics we’ve seen from the Trump administration thus far. More than 2,300 children were separated from their parents at the U.S. border with Mexico last summer and reportedly endured highly traumatic conditions, such as being placed in large cages and what some children described as “ice cold” rooms, according BuzzFeed News. Secretary Nielsen incorrectly blamed Congress for the separations at the time — just like she appeared to blame the asylum-seeking parents of seven-year-old Jakelin Caal and eight-year-old Felipe Gomez Alonzo for their deaths while in CPB custody. [node:read-more:link]

Apr 18, 2019
Austin Chronicle

Travis County Revisits Creating Public Defenders’ Office

Judging from Monday night’s “conversation” about the possibility of creating a Travis County Public Defenders’ Office, the myriad stakeholders still want to make progress toward that goal – and even managed to agree that any such office must be “adequately” funded. How to get from here to there … remains to be determined.

The Carver Library forum, sponsored by the Travis County Democratic Party, the Black Austin Democrats, and the University Democrats, spent a couple of hours going over the very basic details of what needs to happen – and what it would likely cost – to lay the groundwork for a new PD office. The multi-party sponsorship, the multi-panelist conversation, and the considerable attendance of current courthouse players, suggested both that (to borrow a phrase from Albert King) everybody wants to get to heaven … but nobody is yet eagerly volunteering to endure the necessary transition. [node:read-more:link]

Apr 5, 2019
Public Radio International

Immigrant detention centers are a grim reminder of Japanese American history

It’s hard to not compare the South Texas Family Residential Center and the Crystal City camp.

Bob Libal, director of Grassroots Leadership, an anti-incarceration advocacy organization that provided ground support for the protest at Dilley, says that the “visuals are eerily familiar.”

“[They’re] on the same highway, they’re both places where families live, the language is exactly the same,” Libal says. “Dilley was built on the site of an oil worker man camp, Crystal City on site of agricultural workers camp.”

Japanese Americans have been spurred into action because of these similarities.

After the protest, some of the group spent the rest of the week doing more: They handed out backpacks to women and children released from the Dilley detention facility. Others met with undocumented organizers and left a string of cranes across the Laredo bridge leading into Mexico. Some traveled to Austin to meet Texas state legislators and speak in opposition to SB-4, an anti-immigrant bill that critics say condones racial profiling. [node:read-more:link]

Apr 4, 2019
Austin Chronicle

Austin Struggles to Adjust as SB 4 Takes Its Toll on Immigrants

Claudia Muñoz, immigration programs director at Grassroots Leadership, notices the uptick in pushback against migrants who advocate for their rights. "It seems like ICE field officers are now more emboldened than ever to do what they want, thanks to SB 4 and the anti-immigrant tone overall that has changed the culture," says Muñoz, "even in a progressive city like Austin."

U.S. Reps. Joaquin Castro and Lloyd Doggett contacted ICE Field Director Daniel Bible to request reconsideration of Gámez and Ramirez's deferred action; however, Bible declined. Warrants for their arrest will be issued and their cases have been referred to fugitive operations in Austin, Muñoz was told. The three Austin residents have returned to sanctuary and will continue to remain there for the "foreseeable future."

"If thousands of community members and elected officials determine that we are welcome in this community, why is ICE not listening to them and terrorizing us?" asks Ramirez. "They know we are not a priority for deportation and granted us discretion, and then, without reason, they took it away. ICE doesn't think they have to listen to anybody, and that's dangerous. I am going to continue fighting because I have a community behind me and because my faith is bigger than any terror they can inflict on me." [node:read-more:link]

Apr 3, 2019
Austin-American Statesman

Texas WWII internees support asylum-seekers

Some of Satsuki Ina’s earliest memories as a girl include being reunited with her father after living in separate American internment camps in the 1940s.

Ina was among thousands of women, men and children who were incarcerated at the Crystal City Family Internment Camp near Uvalde during World War II. Now, former internees like her are calling for history not to repeat itself.

On Monday, Japanese American and Japanese Latin American former internees, their descendants, and faith and community leaders came together at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church to show their support of two asylum-seekers who have been living in Austin churches. [node:read-more:link]

Apr 2, 2019
Hill Reporter

Survivors of Japanese Internment Protest Migrant Detention Center

Between 1942 and 1946, nearly 80,000 Japanese Americans were held in concentration camps dotted along the West Coast. The decision to hold these citizens is seen as one of the darkest moments in American history.

Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

The White House’s decision to hold the children of migrants in camps has reminded many of this moment in time. Six Japanese Americans who were imprisoned during Japanese internment joined close to 100 other protesters in Dilley, Texas this weekend. [node:read-more:link]

Mar 27, 2019

Formerly Incarcerated Japanese Americans Organize a Protest Against Family Separation at the Border

In February 1942, a couple of months after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, forcibly removing people of Japanese descent from their homes on the West Coast and putting them in hastily built camps where they were incarcerated for the remainder of the war.

The War Relocation Authority hired photographer Dorothea Lange to document the internment. One photo shows a group of Japanese Americans, dressed in suits, dresses, and hats, lining up to register. One woman is stepping out of line to look ahead, a distressed look on her face.

The photo hangs in an exhibition at Futures Without Violence in San Francisco’s Presidio, Then They Came For Me: Incarceration of Japanese Americans during WWII and the Demise of Civil Liberties, which tells the story of the 120,000 Japanese Americans — two-thirds of them born in the United States — incarcerated without due process. They had to leave their homes and businesses and take only what they could carry to one of 10 internment camps. [node:read-more:link]

Mar 26, 2019
Kyodo News

Japanese Americans make origami in show of support for immigrants

Japanese Americans across the United States last week folded thousands of origami cranes to be strung together and hung across a fence outside a detention center in Texas on Saturday in protest at the detainment of immigrant families.

"It is important to show solidarity with detained migrant children, women and families because of (Japanese Americans') history with unlawful detention and family separation during WWII," Stanley Shikuma, a third-generation Japanese American whose family was incarcerated during the war, told Kyodo News on Monday. [node:read-more:link]

Mar 25, 2019
NBC News

Japanese-American activists will bring paper cranes to show solidarity with migrant families

Japanese-American activists who are visiting a World War II-era incarceration camp in Texas on March 30 will join a nonviolent protest of the separation of families and children seeking asylum in the United States with origami paper cranes, or tsuru.

Members of the Crystal City Pilgrimage Committee are scheduled to tour the former site of the Crystal City Family Internment Camp in Texas. The camp held as many as 4,000 people of Japanese, German and Italian descent during WWII, according to the National Park Service. [node:read-more:link]

Mar 21, 2019
Mother Jones

“Hoodwinked”: Kansas’ Low-Staff, Long-Term Prison Deal Hints at a Booming Future for Private Corrections

By becoming a long-term landlord for government agencies like KDOC, the company is ensuring a cash flow for decades—which is particularly crucial as the private prison industry faces threats to its long-term profitability, including changing attitudes toward mass incarceration, declining prison populations, and the souring of public opinion regarding private prisons and detention centers. “The private prison industry, at least before the election of Donald Trump, was really rethinking its strategy,” explains Bob Libal, executive director of the anti-private prison advocacy group Grassroots Leadership. Now it seems very likely that additional arrangements like the one at Lansing will be a part of the company’s longterm plans.

Mar 19, 2019

Asylum Seekers Take Sanctuary In Austin Churches

AUSTIN, TEXAS — A pair of asylum seekers have taken sanctuary in Austin churches after being ordered to appear in court for deportation proceedings, officials said on Monday.

Hilda Ramirez and Alirio Gamez, having taken sanctuary in St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church and First Unitarian Universalist Church, were notified this week that their requests for an extension to deferred action on their deportations were denied "...without a valid explanation as to why," officials advocating on their behalf said. [node:read-more:link]

Mar 19, 2019

“Zero Tolerance” policy greatly accelerates migrant criminalization through end of 2018

Justice Strategies and Grassroots Leadership released new infographics demonstrating that more than 109,000 migrants were prosecuted for improper entry or re-entry in 2018.  At a time when the Trump Administration is advancing the border wall, increased immigrant detention, and policies such as Remain in Mexico, the sharp increase of entry and reentry prosecutions are a lesser known component of the Administration’s crackdown on immigrants and asylum seekers. [node:read-more:link]

Mar 5, 2019

‘It’s Horrifying to Think About’: Migrants and Their Young Children Are Held in Isolation at Family Detention Centers

Family detention centers “routinely” utilize solitary confinement or “medical isolation” on parents and their young children, according to advocates and attorneys who spoke to Rewire.News.

Court documents obtained by Rewire.Newsdetail the turmoil of families held in isolation, typically in medical quarantine and with no information about their case or when they might be released.

In February 2018, the Berks County Residential Center, a family detention center in Leesport, Pennsylvania, held at least two families in medical isolation. In one instance, a Haitian father and his 3-year-old son were quarantined for two weeks. In another case, a Haitian mother and her 3-year-old son were isolated for more than five days. [node:read-more:link]

Mar 4, 2019
Fox7 Austin

Last year APD shared hundreds of people's personal information with I.C.E.

AUSTIN,Texas (FOX 7 Austin) - Last year, the Austin City Council adopted a resolution, directing the Austin Police Department to release reports, showing when and why the department ever contacted U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

"That report shows over 500 instances of the police department either cooperating or handing over information to speed up deportations,” said Greg Casar, with the city council.

The memo shows that last year, police shared certain people's personal information such as utility, phone, and school district records with ICE. But there wasn't much explanation of why I.C.E. was contacted. That's why Casar said the information in the report is too vague.

"We still don't have the information that we need or the context that we need to be able to see how many of these instances were forced by SB-4 and federal law, and how many of them were voluntary uses of police resources,” said Casar. [node:read-more:link]

Mar 2, 2019

Austin Police Cooperated With ICE Nearly 600 Times In 2018

Austin police cooperated with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials in rooting out undocumented immigrants in the city nearly 600 times last year, according to a document released on Friday that has raised the ire of advocates for the migrant class.

The Austin Police Department (APD) disclosed the level of their cooperation with ICE on Friday afternoon during a presentation before city council. Despite past assertions by Police Chief Brian Manley of a less aggressive stance in identifying undocumented immigrants toward their deportation, the document illustrates how compelled the police force is to cooperate with ICE in the wake of Senate Bill 4. The law that was championed by Gov. Greg Abbott effectively forces law enforcement officials to fully cooperate with federal immigration officials to help ensnare undocumented immigrants. [node:read-more:link]

Mar 1, 2019
The Austin Chronicle

T. Don Hutto Detention Center Still Open

After mounting public pressure and several allegations of sexual abuse, Williamson County commissioners ended the county's contract with T. Don Hutto Detention Center in June, marking a significant shift in government support of the troubled immigration jail ("Williamson County Commissioners Court Ends Hutto Contract," June 26, 2018). However, while the contract expired at the end of January, the Taylor facility remains open, sparking protest from immigration advocates, who gathered earlier this month at a Taylor City Council meeting to voice their disapproval.

The center, which holds roughly 500 mostly asylum-seeking women, is now run through a direct "short-term" contract extension between U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and private prison operator CoreCivic, says ICE spokesperson Nina PrunedaBethany Carson of immigrant rights advocacy group Grassroots Leadership questions the process, noting that it appears there was no competitive bidding involved, including a request for proposals, as is standard with federal contracts. There is also no clarity on the length of the temporary contract. "It's very unclear what this contract extension means," says Carson. "We still have a lot of questions about how this facility remains open." [node:read-more:link]