Grassroots Leadership In The News

Aug 30, 2018

Advocates Want to Know Why ICE Hasn’t Reunited These Separated Families

Advocates told Rewire.News that some of these children remain purposely separated from the adults they migrated with because they are legal guardians, not "parents."

Immigration officials deported 54-year-old “Grandma Rosy,” as she’s being called by advocates, on August 16 after separating her from her 12-year-old granddaughter “Cindy” (a pseudonym) on May 7.

Rosy, whose name is withheld for safety reasons, and her granddaughter were fleeing gang violence in El Salvador. The grandmother’s own daughter was disappeared by local gangs and presumed killed, her attorney told Rewire.News. Rosy searched for her daughter for months, to no avail. This is how Rosy came to be Cindy’s legal guardian. But when gangs began recruiting Cindy to run errands for them and be a lookout during drug deals, Rosy knew it was time to leave.

“They threatened Cindy’s life. They pointed a gun at her and threatened to harm her. They said they were going to take Cindy from Rosy. They demanded money. Rosy went to the police, but they didn’t do anything,” her attorney, Lizbeth Mateo, told Rewire.News. “The police actually told Rosy that if she didn’t pay, she would end up killed. She had no choice but to leave. She told me that she already lost one child and she wasn’t going to lose another.”

Mateo said that her deportation was unlawful “on multiple levels.”

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) repeatedly asked Rosy to give up the legal rights to her granddaughter while she was in detention, Mateo said, which suggests that ICE knew she had rights over her granddaughter and that she should have been protected by a recent preliminary injunction. Issued by a California judge, the injunction required the government to reunite parents with their children by July 26, and ordered the government to stop deporting parents without their children unless the parent “affirmatively, knowingly, and voluntarily” agreed to be deported alone.

“She refused to sign her rights away and ICE kept trying, every couple of weeks they would ask her the same thing,” Mateo told Rewire.News in a phone interview prior to Rosy’s deportation. “How can someone like Rosy not qualify for reunification and be told they’re not the parent, and then get pressured to sign away their rights to their child?” [node:read-more:link]

Aug 30, 2018

Del Valle residents grow anxious over Bastrop sheriff’s weekend patrols

Del Valle residents are on edge after learning about the Bastrop County sheriff’s office’s plans to increase traffic patrols over Labor Day weekend.

On Thursday afternoon, after learning about the operation from an unnamed source within the sheriff’s office, the Austin-based community activist group Grassroots Leadership made a Facebook post saying that Bastrop Sheriff Maurice Cook “was planning to conduct another traffic checkpoint in the Del Valle area over the holiday weekend” — similar to one conducted on June 23 in the Stony Point neighborhood that resulted in 16 people sent to immigration authorities for deportation proceedings.

Two hours later after Grassroots Leadership’s post, the sheriff’s office issued a statement on Facebook announcing that the department will be increasing its “traffic patrol presence in order to identify unsafe drivers and vehicles being operated in an unlawful manner” over the holiday weekend.

The post does not say whether the traffic patrols will be focusing on any particular area of the county as had happened during the June 23 operation, when deputies focused on the heavily-Latino Stony Point neighborhood, according to a sheriff’s memo. Cook has denied accusations that the operation targeted immigrants and described it as a routine law enforcement tactic. [node:read-more:link]

Aug 30, 2018
Texas Observer

How Texas Cops Turn Mental Health Crises into Deportations

Two recent cases in Central Texas illustrate how police aggression and the “sanctuary cities” ban have built a nasty pipeline to deportation.

Janelie Rodriguez’s family had already decided: If she had another bad episode, they’d call 911 and have her taken to the hospital. One night last October, it happened. Rodriguez, a 25-year-old who suffers from intermittent psychosis, was struck with paranoid hallucinations; she began hurling wild accusations at her brother in an increasingly heated argument. Her family — five siblings, her mom and stepdad — knew she needed medication, but she often stubbornly refused treatment. Eventually, her little sister made the call for help — but help is not what they got.

“We were thinking we would get professional support to calm her down,” said Rodriguez’s 19-year-old brother, Alexis. “But instead, it was police.”

That night, records show, two Hays County sheriff’s deputies and one police officer showed up at the family’s two-story home in Buda, a booming exurb just south of Austin. Their arrival sent Rodriguez into a panic. Just over 5 feet tall and weighing less than 100 pounds, she didn’t want the three male cops to touch her, and she tried hiding in a bathroom. The officers ran out of patience within minutes, according to family members. “They went from being patient to like they were about to arrest a criminal on the street, instantly,” said Alexis. “They start circling her, and obviously she freaks out; that’s when they pin her down.”

As the three armed men forcibly restrained her on a bed, police allege that Rodriguez bit the wrist of Buda Police Officer Kevin Oates. A spokesperson for the Hays County Sheriff’s Office, Lieutenant Todd Riffe, said the officers were forced to detain Rodriguez because her family members expressed fear for their safety, and added that Rodriguez’s choice to bite the officer was “not in [their] control.” Rodriguez’s brother told the Observer he wasn’t afraid of his sister, and the whole family agrees the police needlessly escalated the situation. [node:read-more:link]

Aug 29, 2018

Greater Austin YWCA Schedules 2nd Annual Fabulous People Party

SOUTH AUSTIN, TEXAS — As most residents would agree, Austin is a fabulous city (except for maybe the traffic) filled with fabulous people. What better way to celebrate than with a party honoring such fabulousness?

If you agree, you're in luck: The 2nd Annual Fabulous People Party staged by the Greater Austin YWCA is scheduled Sept. 13, honoring local leaders who "...have exemplified the YWCA mission to strengthen our communities and work together to eliminate racism and empower women," organizers wrote on the Facebook event page.

That's a pretty heady charge, but candidates (fabulous ones, naturally) abound locally willing to rise to the occasion. This is dramatically illustrated in the finalists for the #NewRadical Award to be honored during the party. The award recognizes a self-identified woman between 18 to 35 years of age and/or an up-and-coming diverse and innovative group of self-identified change-makers demonstrating passion and dedication in eliminating racism and promoting the empowerment of women " striving to make history through courage, connection and change," YWCA officials noted.

Yet the event won't be some low-key awards dinner gathering where people pausing to look up from their dry chicken dinners to politely applaud award winners. Oh no. This is a party in the true sense, a community celebration accentuated with a live performance by the Jane Ellen Bryant, named Austin Chronicle's Best New Band 2016-17. [node:read-more:link]

Aug 28, 2018

Heartfelt effort continues to help refugees seeking asylum

Longtime Westlake resident Ann Finch is not for an open border and isn’t sure how the U.S. and Mexico governments should change policy for granting asylum to refugees who cannot return to their homeland. But she is dedicated to helping asylum-seekers after leading a recent mission to distribute 316 “dignity bags” along the Texas-Mexico border.

That effort, Finch said, was the result of news reports that prompted her to attend a protest in June led by the American Civil Liberties Union to challenge mass hearings for asylum seekers in Brownsville. She also met contacts who helped her understand the problem and identify people with the greatest needs.

Upon arriving home, she went to her church and asked for help funding the gift bags, which are filled with items ranging from raisins and crackers to toothbrushes and first aid kits.

“They sure are generous,” Finch said of her Westlake United Methodist Church leaders. “They gave me some money and said, ‘Go do what you need to do.’” [node:read-more:link]

Aug 28, 2018
Community Impact

East Austin’s voice reverberates at the City Council dais

City leaders point to shift in budget, policy priorities as representation east of I-35 grows

Today, Austin ranks as the best place to live in America and boasts a thriving job market, rapid development and continued population growth; however, the failure of that success to reach specific corners of town reflects a troubled past that remains more than peripheral for many leaders and longtime residents.

When minorities were coerced by the city government 90 years ago to move east of what is now I-35, it left a distinct seam down the center of Austin. As a result, East Austinites have endured generations of economic and racial disparities.

Amid its success, Austin continues to wrestle with equity. The east side has become a more attractive investment for developers, but gentrification increases. Property values go up, but so do taxes—longtime families are priced out and school enrollment numbers fall.

However, a new East Austin focus has impacted policy and budget priorities now that those east of the dividing interstate highway have a louder voice inside City Hall.

“Since [the city began district-based City Council representation in 2015]there has been an undeniable pivot east,” District 4 City Council Member Greg Casar said. “And an undeniable focus of the City Council away from just issues of the environment and developers toward social justice, equity and trying to create reparations for the past.” [node:read-more:link]

Aug 25, 2018
AZ Central

Hawaii, Nevada, California (and maybe soon Puerto Rico) send inmates to Arizona

As some states scale back on sending prisoners out of state, Puerto Rico explores contracting with Arizona.

About 40 percent of the private prison beds in Arizona are reserved for inmates brought here from as far as 2,500 miles away.

The nation’s largest private-prison company, CoreCivic, contracts with California, Hawaii and Nevada to house prisoners at two Eloy facilities. In total, 3,559 out-of-state prisoners are currently housed in Arizona.

The situation — which academics have criticized because it limits prisoners' contact with family and friends that can help them re-enter society — was highlighted Wednesday in a viral tweet.

Eric Tong, a Ph.D. student, tweeted that a "majority of Hawaii's incarcerated males" are "locked up at the Saguaro Correctional Center, a for-profit private prison in Arizona."

As of July 31, Hawaii had 1,347 individuals detained in Eloy, and contracts to send about 1,500 to the facility.

Arizona private prisons house even more Californians, a total of 2,014. Nevada contracts for 200 beds at the Saguaro correctional center.

Tong, who described himself as a student and an activist, wrote his series of tweets attempting to connect Hawaiians with a national prison strike. “I wanted to draw a link, a personal connection to the larger social movements to the country,” Tong said. [node:read-more:link]

Aug 23, 2018

Exclusive: Five Immigrants Briefly Leave Sanctuary to Learn How to Organize

Not all of the collective's members could be in Durham for the three-day gathering, but those in attendance told Rewire.News that what they were learning would benefit all people in sanctuary—especially if they are able to get out. 

In the basement of CityWell Church in Durham, North Carolina, five undocumented immigrants, all part of a new nationwide collective, met in person for dinner. Up until then, they had only ever spoken on the phone or through video calls, but the August 10 dinner wasn’t just about sharing a bite. All five are facing deportation and, while on respite from sanctuary, risked detainment to come together and learn how to organize. It was an unprecedented move, and a historic one.

Hilda Ramirez came from St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Austin, Texas, where she has been forced to take sanctuary twice. Edith Espinal came from Clintonville, Ohio’s Columbus Mennonite Church, where she has been detained since October 2017. Samuel Oliver-Bruno has been detained since December 2017 in CityWell, which hosted much of the gathering. Pastor Jose Chicas, who has been detained in Durham’s nearby School for Conversion, was also there with his wife, Sandra Marquina, who for 13 months has been fiercely fighting for her husband’s release. Juana Luz Tobar Ortega almost didn’t come, said her oldest daughter Lesvi Molina, who spent the weekend at the meeting with her mother. Ortega was the first person to enter sanctuary in the state of North Carolina, and she has remained in Greensboro’s St. Barnabas Episcopal Church since May 2017.

“The night before, she thought about not coming,” Molina told Rewire.News at the meeting. “She had never left sanctuary before and this was a really hard decision for her. I don’t want anyone to think this was easy. But she heard of the others coming from Ohio and Texas, and she decided to do it. She needed to do this for her own sake because she knows nobody can push her case forward but her.” [node:read-more:link]

Aug 23, 2018
Mundo Hispánico

Hablan mujeres inmigrantes que no calificaron para la reunificación con sus hijos adoptivos en centros de detención en Texas (VIDEO)

Algunas mujeres que fueron separadas de sus hijos adoptivos después de cruzar la frontera de manera irregular y pese a la orden de un juez federal, no calificaron para la reunificación, según la organización Grassroots Leadership.

Tal es el caso de Lesiby quien pidió no ser identificada por seguridad y en una entrevista telefónica dijo a MundoHispánico que es orginaria de Honduras, llegó a los Estados Unidos con su hermana Mariela que cumplió 15 años estando en detención.

La madre de ambas falleció hace algunos años y el padre de Leisby le otorgó su custodia legal de su hermana, sin embargo, eso no fue suficiente para que pudieran ser reunificadas, indicó Bethany Carson, organizadora de Grassroots Leadership, organización que apoya a un grupo de madres adoptivas que se encuentran en custodia del Servicio de Inmigración y Control de Aduanas (ICE por sus siglas en inglés) en la misma situación.

Por su parte, Luisa, quien también pidió proteger su identidad, es una mujer hondureña que acompañada de su hija adoptiva de 10 años, llegó a los Estados Unidos huyendo de la violencia de su país natal.

La mujer dijo a MundoHispánico en una conversación vía telefónica que desde hace tres meses está bajo detención en el centro de Port Isabel, Texas. [node:read-more:link]

Aug 19, 2018
Community Impact

What was Williamson County’s role at T. Don Hutto?

Williamson County’s relationship with the T. Don Hutto Residential Center in Taylor will end in early 2019, but officials doubt the change will have a noticeable effect on day-to-day county business.

County commissioners voted 4-1 on June 26 to end a contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and CoreCivic Inc., the private prison operator previously known as Corrections Corp. of America that runs the facility. The contract’s termination is effective Jan. 31, 2019.

The county’s role with the facility involved administering money transfers between CoreCivic and the federal government, according to the contract.

The T. Don Hutto center is a former medium-security prison that now holds women who are suspected by U.S. immigration officials of being in the country illegally. Some of the women held at the facility were separated from their children when they were detained by federal officers. [node:read-more:link]

Aug 17, 2018

Nine officers on leave after downtown shooting

AUSTIN, Texas - The shooting that killed a man Friday morning was the 8th officer involved shooting this year for APD.

“This will take a long time for investigators to work through,” said Ken Casaday, president of the Austin Police Association.

According to APD, eight officers fired at the man killing him. Casaday believes it was justified.

“If you point a gun at a police officer, you're going to get shot 10 out of 10 times,” said Casaday.

But now, nine more officers are on admin leave.  There are 23 police officers total on leave for various reasons, something Casaday believes is only affecting the department's ability to protect and serve.

“Three of the officers who were working Thursday night that were involved in this were working overtime,” said Casaday.

He says, with a police force which is already 300 to 400 officers short, it puts more strain on officers, while dealing with sometimes dangerous 6th Street confrontations,” said Casaday.

“We have to stop the celebration of how much money we make in tax dollars through the sale of alcohol in this city. It just leads to huge problems that gets left in police officers' laps,” said Casaday.

“Most of our officer involved shootings if I had to guess are dealing with people with mental illness,” said Casaday.

“We hear about the need for more officers in the city of Austin. But I think if you listen to officers, they would admit they are asked to do things that aren't really within their job,” said Chris Harris, with Grassroots Leadership. [node:read-more:link]

Aug 16, 2018
Mundo HIspánico

Abuela separada de su nieta por ‘tolerancia cero’ podría ser deportada pese a orden de juez federal

Activistas reportan que pese a la orden emitida por un juez federal, de detener las deportaciones de padres separados de sus hijos ICE mantiene alejada a una abuela de su nieta de quien tiene custodia legal.

Bethany Carson, organizadora de Grassroots Leadership dijo a MundoHispánico que la mujer a quien llaman Rosy para proteger su identidad por seguridad, cruzó la frontera con Cindy, su nieta de 15 años, fueron detenidas y separadas.

Agregó que desde entonces la mujer ha estado bajo la custodia del Servicio de Inmigración y Control de Aduanas  (ICE por sus siglas en inglés), primero en el centro de detención  Taylor y después en Laredo Texas, mientras la menor salió en libertad y está bajo el cuidado de la hermana de Rosy.

“Inmigración está intentando deportarla a pesar de la orden del juez Dana M. Sabraw de California quien dijo que todas las familias tenían que estar reunidas antes del 26 de julio, ella sigue detenida”, indicó Carson. [node:read-more:link]

Aug 15, 2018

‘ICE Is Not Welcome’: Agency Tries to Keep Immigrant Detention Center Open After Texas County’s Rebuke

The T. Don Hutto detention center has been plagued by accusations of human rights abuses and sexual assault. The facility is emblematic of the criticisms made by immigrant rights activists of the use of private prisons to detain undocumented people.

Officials in a Texas county approved a plan in June to end their agreement with the federal government and a for-profit prison company operating a notorious immigration detention facility, but the federal government appears to be taking steps to keep that facility operational before the contract is terminated.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) last week posted a Request for Information (RFI) seeking information from contractors that could operate a 500-woman detention facility that could be operational by January 1, 2019.

Williamson County contracts though an intergovernmental service agreement with ICE and CoreCivic, formerly known as Corrections Corporation of America, to operate the T. Don Hutto detention center in Taylor, Texas. The county commissioners voted in June to terminate the contract by January 31, 2019.

Sofia Casini, immigration programs coordinator for Grassroots Leadership, told Rewire.News after the June vote that she was suspicious of why the county commissioners didn’t end the contract immediately, instead of giving a 90-day notice. 

Bethany Carson, immigration researcher and organizer at Grassroots Leadership, said in a statement that the organization was “outraged, but not surprised” by the apparent attempt to keep open the T. Don Hutto Detention Center.

“ICE grows more shameless every day and is as beholden to their private prison partners as ever,” Carson said. “The community has made it crystal clear: ICE is not welcome. “

Hutto has been plagued for years by accusations of human rights abuses and sexual assault. The facility is emblematic of the criticisms made by immigrant rights activists of the use of private prisons to detain undocumented people.

“This place is so bad that Williamson County Commissioners ended the contract so they wouldn’t be liable for its litany of abuses,” Carson said. “So we’ll keep fighting to see this place close for good.” [node:read-more:link]

Aug 14, 2018

ICE Attempting To Keep Taylor Immigrant Detention Center Open

Despite county's end to working relationship with T. Don Hutto site, federal immigration officials now seek contractors to keep it running.

AUSTIN, TX — Federal immigration officials have solicited information from potential contractors in a seeming attempt to keep a Williamson County detention center for immigrant women operational even after a recent community rebuke of the facility, an advocacy group said Monday.

In a press advisory, Austin-based Grassroots Leadership reported that the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency has issued a so-called Request for Information for a 500-bed detention facility centered on the existing T. Don Hutto detention center in Taylor, Texas. An RFI is something of a precursor to a Request for Proposals (RFP) for contractors to submit bids in running a site.

The detected RFI is being seen as an attempt by ICE to keep the facility running even after Williamson County Commissioners Court members on June 26 opted to end an intergovernmental contract with the facility by the end of January 2019. That action ends a years-long relationship the county has had with ICE in allowing the facility to operate in the region that proved lucrative to local coffers. The site's owner/operator, CoreCivic, pays Williamson County some $8,000 each month for costs related to the county's liaison role as it relates to the detention site. [node:read-more:link]

Aug 14, 2018

Immigration advocates to protest Taylor detention center possibly staying open

Tuesday morning, a group of Central Texans will be protesting the possibility of a detention center in Williamson County remaining open.

TAYLOR, Texas — A group of Central Texans plan to protest the possibility of a detention center in Williamson County remaining open.

Less than two months ago, Williamson County Commissioners voted 4-1 to end the contract with U.S. Immigration Customs and Enforcement at the T. Don Hutto Detention Center in Taylor, Texas, forcing it to close down on Jan. 31, 2019. The detention center, which has been around for 15 years, houses detained immigrant women. Now the immigration rights group, Grassroots Leadership, claims ICE is trying to keep it open.

Grassroots Leadership made the allegations after federal immigration officials issued a request last week for information from contractors capable of running a 500-bed detention facility for women within 50 miles of Austin. Before commissioners voted in June to close this center, protesters gathered outside the courthouse, citing abuse allegations and recent controversy about children being separated from their parents after entering the country.

The commissioners said one of the reasons they decided to close this center was to end the county's involvement on a federal issue. [node:read-more:link]

Aug 13, 2018

Travis County wants to improve conditions for women in jail with new facility

The Statesman reports that Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez said a new facility is needed because the current one is in poor condition.

AUSTIN — After months of debate and reconsideration, funding for a new Travis County jail for women is once again on the agenda.

In March, the Commissioners Court postponed a decision to spend $6.6 million to design the facility. That's because critics wanted the county to expand jail diversion programs like mental health and substance abuse services instead, according to our partners at the Austin American-Statesman.

But the Statesman reports that Sheriff Sally Hernandez said a new facility is needed because the current one is in poor condition, and sometimes, women have to walk through the men's area. In the new 2018 plan, the Statesman said the facility would add classrooms for "gender-specific programming" and a satellite clinic for women's health issues, eliminating the need for correctional officers escorting inmates through other buildings. [node:read-more:link]

Jul 27, 2018
The Texas Monitor

Another citizen review board for Austin police in the works

Since June, a working group has been meeting quietly to discuss what kind of public oversight is needed for the Austin Police Department.

The group is working to rebuild from the wreckage of the Citizen Review Panel, suspended after 17 years when the City Council in December rejected the police labor agreement that has always included the terms of the panel’s authority.

Chris Harris, a member of the working group and an organizer for Grassroots Leadership, a local prison reform non-profit, told The Texas Monitor the issue is whether or not the police department will concede to citizens a voice in how they are policed.

“If you look at the history of the Citizens Review Panel, I think you’ll find that multiple chiefs over the years have been very comfortable ignoring it,” Harris said. [node:read-more:link]

Jul 27, 2018
The Storm Media


移民處理混亂 家長完全與外界斷絕聯繫


美國政府處理移民的混亂方式,引發美國公民團體撻伐。在德州奧斯汀(Austin)非營利組織「草根領導」(Grassroots Leadership)工作的卡森(Bethany Carson)指出,近幾周來,數百位家長送到德州伊莎貝爾港(Port Isabel)拘留所,等待與孩子見面,然而有些家長等了一個星期,仍等不到孩子,這段時間內更不能洗澡、打電話,或是參與宗教活動。卡森說道:「他們完全與外界斷絕聯繫,政府官員們竟然說他們是自由的。」 [node:read-more:link]

Jul 27, 2018
Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette

Border reunions meet deadline, U.S. reports, but hundreds of parents deemed ineligible


The reunifications have unfolded in chaotic scenes across the country. Many have been concentrated in Arizona, New Mexico and Texas, where families have been funneled into federal offices that were designated as "staging facilities," overwhelming area resources to the extent that some parents have had to wait days after arriving to rejoin their children.

At one such facility in south Texas, the Port Isabel Detention Center, the government has been labeling some parents as "released" while they are still in custody, according to Bethany Carson, who works for Grassroots Leadership, a nonprofit advocacy group in Austin. [node:read-more:link]

Jul 26, 2018
The New York Times

With Deadline Hours Away, Authorities Scramble to Reunite Migrant Families

The federal government was rushing on Thursday to reunite the last 1,634 migrant families separated at the Southwest border who have been deemed “eligible” for reunification, in the final hours of a court-ordered scramble to reverse a contentious immigration policy that drew international condemnation.

At one such facility in South Texas, the Port Isabel Detention Center, the government has been labeling some parents as “released” while they are still in custody, according to Bethany Carson, who works for Grassroots Leadership, a nonprofit advocacy group in Austin.

Ms. Carson said that hundreds of parents were sent to Port Isabel this week after receiving word in the middle of the night from Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials that their children were there. When they arrived, the parents quickly changed into street clothes and were broken into groups of about 70 to wait in rooms to rejoin their children.

Some waited up to a week, Ms. Carson said, and were not allowed access to showers, phones or religious services, while efforts stalled to return their children.

“They’re completely cut off from the outside world,” she said. “And officials are saying they’re free.” [node:read-more:link]