Travis County, Texas, has one of the highest deportation rates in the U.S. thanks to the local sheriff’s voluntary cooperation with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. An average of 19 immigrants a week are deported here. Stopping the deportation dragnet in Travis County would mean stopping the potential detention and deportation of thousands of Austin-area residents. Grassroots Leadership, in coalition with other groups in the Austin-area, is making that happen by engaging in direct action, community education, and dialogue with local elected officials.
The #19TooMany Campaign
Actually, there’s a lot to see: Donald Trump has made illegal immigration a central policy of his administration, and the changes that he is instituting are only going to make things worse, according to several people who work on behalf of illegal immigrants. Those changes include a harsh immigration crackdown with more jail time for detainees and rejecting asylum seekers. And the federal attitude is emboldening states to fire up their own harsher immigration laws, according to the accounts of more than a dozen organizations I contacted that are working on behalf of both illegal immigrants and asylum seekers.
One key change, according to those organizations, is that the Obama administration, which deported a record number of illegal immigrants, set the deportation priority on getting rid of people like Jiménez-Joseph, who had been convicted of a criminal felony. While Trump has said he will focus on those same convicted felons, he has actually made all illegal immigrants, from students to mothers of American kids, deportable. Additionally, some jail standards are being relaxed or ignored, worsening the living conditions of people in the deportation pipeline, and a whole lot more people are being detained because bonds for illegal immigrants have shot up.
Bethany Carson, an immigration policy researcher with Grassroots Leadership, an organization dedicated to eliminating private prisons, said it’s common practice since Trump took office: “There are so many asylum seekers turned away at the border that there are some immigrants’ rights organizations that are developing protocols that will allow them to accompany asylum seekers at the border to ensure that those seekers have their international rights, legal rights, protected.”
“We are seeing asylum seekers denied bond even after their credible fear interviews are passed,” Carson said. “They now have to wait for a judge to give them a bond amount, instead of an immigration official like it used to be done. That meant less waiting time in detention prior to being released to await your court date. But we are also seeing higher bonds being asked, and those bonds have to be paid in full.”
“I think that is a direct result of the changes to the immigration court system based on the officials that Trump has selected,” Carson said. “These are a direct result of Trump’s position on immigration.”
“We’ve already seen in words and actions how enforcement of detention and deportation has expanded in the last several months,” said Bob Libal, executive director of Grassroots Leadership. “We were already at record levels of detained illegal immigrants with the Obama administration, but that is quickly expanding. Read more about Back Into the Shadows
The Waller County (Texas) Jail was recently approved for Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s 287(g) program—despite failing its Texas Commission on Jail Standards inspection.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has reached an agreement with Waller County to deputize the sheriff’s office for the controversial immigration enforcement program 287(g). Theprogram authorizes deputies to act on the behalf of ICE to arrest and detain people based on their immigration status. In turn, county officials are given broad powers to jumpstart deportation proceedings for immigrants who otherwise wouldn’t have been on the radar of federal agents.
The Waller County Jail was required to revamp its protocols and provide additional medical care in the wake of Bland’s death. Yet even after those reforms were implemented, major problems continued to persist.
The county jail came under investigation in March after a female prisoner alleged that she was sexually assaulted by a man who was also incarcerated in the jail. The man was performing cleaning duties for the jail at the time of the alleged incident. County officials later acknowledged that the inmate was never authorized to take on those duties in the first place.
The jail later failed its inspection with the Texas Commission on Jail Standards, state documents show. Jail staff was found non-compliant in three separate areas, including violations for not keeping male and female inmates separate at all times, unless under direct supervision.
Within days of both the assault and the failed inspection, ICE officials formally approved Waller County’s application to join 287(g).
Texas activists are now concerned that the program’s loaded background doesn’t help Waller County’s already strained relations between police and people of color. Despite all that the community has been through, particularly after Bland’s death, it’s unclear whether officials have learned their lesson, says Bob Libal, executive director of the Texas-based civil rights groupGrassroots Leadership.
“What 287(g) does is literally turn local police into deportation agents,” Libal added. “That’s obviously profoundly disturbing and certainly seeds distrust with law enforcement.” Read more about The Jail Where Sandra Bland Died Now Authorized to Detain Undocumented Immigrants
Thursday, June 29, began like any other day for the Guerrero family. Martin Guerrero Alvarado, the patriarch, left early for work at his construction firm. His daughter Alicia hopped in her car a half-hour later, and went off to her internship at theGrassroots Leadership office in East Austin, 45 minutes outside her family's home in Dripping Springs.
But a mile into her drive, Alicia noticed that a Hays County Sheriff's deputy had pulled someone over. It caught her eye because the vehicle, she told theChronicle, looked like her father's truck. As she got closer, the 26-year-old graduate student saw her father handcuffed next to his truck.
Guerrero Alvarado expected to be released from the Hays County Jail in San Marcos within 48 hours. After all, a Hays County judge had already waived his bail bond, and all he would need to do, he was told, was make a court appearance and be free to go.
"But that didn't happen," he said. Instead, he was placed on a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) hold, though he was in the process of obtaining legal residency. Per department policy, the HCSO had notified the federal agency of his undocumented status – information Guerrero Alvarado offered, noted HCSO spokesperson Lt. Dennis Gutierrez. (Under the Secure Communities program, ICE automatically gets fingerprints of people who've been arrested or booked, then uses that information to determine whether it will take enforcement action.) ICE requested a detainer, which the HCSO honored.
Immigration rights activists say Guerrero Alvarado's situation is indicative of what will happen once Senate Bill 4 – the anti-immigration legislation signed by Gov. Greg Abbott in May – takes effect Sept. 1. SB 4 would require local law enforcement agencies to comply with otherwise optional ICE detainer requests, as well as letting officers question a person's immigration status when they're detained – like, say, during a traffic stop. Opponents say that last provision of the law codifies racial profiling, and will also lead to hundreds of thousands more immigrants being arrested, detained, and deported from the United States, a country they call home.
"This is the kind of case that we expect to see all the time under SB 4," said Bethany Carson, an immigration policy researcher and organizer at Grassroots Leadership. "Immigrant families have a lot to lose."
But to his family, ICE's timing seemed off. According to detainer policy, an immigrant booked or arrested at a local jail is taken into ICE custody within 48 hours after their detainment, not including weekends or holidays. Since Guerrero Alvarado's bond was waived on Friday, and the Fourth of July fell that following Tuesday, ICE agents should have scheduled his pickup for the morning of Wednesday, July 5.
At least that's what Alicia, her family's immigration attorney, and members of Grassroots Leadership deduced from ICE's own policy. "Monday and Wednesday. It would have been those two days," Alicia said. "We just immediately underwent this shock. We didn't know what to do."
That Saturday, Alicia, her family, and Grassroots Leadership held a protest outside of the Hays County Jail, demanding Guerrero Alvarado's release. Grassroots also organized hundreds of calls and emails to Hays County Sheriff Gary Cutler objecting to Guerrero Alvarado's detainer.
A few hours after the protest ended, ICE dropped its hold on Guerrero Alvarado without explanation. Though his release is the "outcome that we hoped for," said Carson, "it still came as a surprise. It's very rare that ICE would release someone after requesting a detainer." Read more about Narrowly Evading Deportation Over July Fourth Weekend
Drunken driving. Property theft. Possession of a controlled substance.
These are some of the crimes for which the Travis County Sheriff’s Office did not honor requests from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to detain suspected undocumented immigrants past their sentences or dispositions.
Records obtained by KUT News show that while Sheriff Sally Hernandez’s policy regarding ICE detainers is largely being applied as laid out, in a couple of cases it was applied inconsistently, specifically when it concerned reoffenders.
On February 1, Hernandez’s policy went into effect: She would honor ICE detainer requests only if someone had been charged with murder, aggravated sexual assault or human trafficking, or had been convicted of these crimes in the past. She also maintained the ability to assess requests on a case-by-case basis. Later, the sheriff expanded her policy to include crimes committed against children and the elderly.
In a second case, an 18-year-old man was accused of organized criminal activity. Travis County declined the ICE detainer request placed on him, and he was released from jail on a personal recognizance bond, or no-cost bond.
A month later, in April, he was again booked into the Travis County Jail, this time on a home burglary charge. Travis County honored a second ICE detainer request placed on the man and he was released to federal immigration agents. Dark said the man’s escalating criminal activity might explain the decision to turn him over to ICE – but when she spoke with KUT she did not have the notes in front of her from the captain who made the decision.
Bob Libal, executive director of the immigrants’ rights group Grassroots Leadership, said he’s concerned by these inconsistencies.
“I do think that it raises concerns if the policy is not being followed,” he said.
“It’s really disappointing to hear,” said Amy Fischer, policy director at the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services, when told about the few inconsistencies in the application of Hernandez’s policy. “She’s gained a lot of political brownie points as someone who’s claiming to stand up for the immigrant community, and it shows that when push comes to shove that she’s laying down to the federal government.”
While Hernandez’s policy states that she maintains the right to assess ICE detainers on a case-by-case basis, most of the charges for which people were released to ICE fell below the threshold Hernandez set in her policy. They included charges of DUI, home burglary, domestic violence, manufacture and delivery of a drug, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, and sexual abuse of a child.
An oft-overlooked portion of Hernandez’s policy is the consideration of criminal history. In the case that someone committed one of the three violent felonies she set – murder, aggravated sexual assault and human trafficking – the ICE detainer placed on them would be honored.
Libal with Grassroots Leadership and Fischer with RAICES said they were concerned from the beginning to learn that Hernandez’s policy included the intent to honor any ICE detainers.
“Obviously, it’s good news that we have a dramatic reduction in the number of immigration detainers in our community,” Libal said. “But it doesn’t solve many of the issues that were raised by (detainers), including constitutional issues. It doesn’t matter what the criminal charge is. The sheriff is agreeing to honor a detainer that does not come with any backing of a warrant.” Read more about Here's what we learned about requests from ICE to pick up Travis County inmates
Without warning Sunday evening, Gov. Greg Abbott signed the anti-immigrant Senate Bill 4 into law.
Offering no notice to media until after he signed the bill, Abbott only issued a press release and a video of himself via Facebook defending the legislation that attacks so-called “sanctuary cities." (The term carries no legal definition but refers to, in the eyes of Abbott, any municipality that isn't acting in lockstep with federal immigration policy.) The clandestine move assured no major citizen-led protests or demonstrations – like the all day sit-in at his offices last week – would prevent the governor from ushering the “Show Me Your Papers” bill into law.
"It seems fitting that Greg Abbott would sign this disgraceful bill on the internet on a Sunday night, far from the press and the public,” said Bob Libal, executive director of Grassroots Leadership. “But we will not be bullied by this law. Communities across the state are vowing that the resistance to SB 4 is only just beginning."
SB 4 imposes civil and criminal penalties on law enforcement leaders who fail to cooperate with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainer requests and allows police to inquire about immigration status of those that they detain. The law also allows the removal of any elected or appointed official who does not comply with the law. Two weeks ago the Texas House held a 16-hour debate on SB 4, where Democrats sought unsuccessfully to soften the extreme piece of legislation, before sending it to the Senate for final approval. The bill is often cited as racist and unconstitutional, and stood as one of Abbott’s major legislative priorities this session. Barring a court challenge, SB 4 will become law Sept. 1. Read more about Abbott Signs "Sanctuary Cities" Bill into Law
About 100 people gathered in protest outside the Governor’s Mansion Sunday night after Gov. Greg Abbott on Facebook Live signed into law a controversial bill that will ban so-called “sanctuary cities,” where officials decline to enforce federal immigration policies.
Protestors carried banners and balloons and lit candles, vowing to defeat the law, which will impose penalties on law enforcement officials who do not comply with Immigration and Customs Enforcement policies.
Representatives from the United We Dream national nonprofit, the University Leadership Initiative, Grassroots Leadership and the Workers Defense Project are all in attendance at protests Sunday night.
Abbott’s office gave little advance warning of the highly anticipated signing, which ensured that protesters could not disrupt it.
The five-minute Facebook Live video had been viewed tens of thousands of times as of Sunday evening. Read more about Dozens protest law banning sanctuary cities at Governor's Mansion
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed a "sanctuary cities" ban into law on Facebook Live Sunday night.
Abbott designated the ban as an emergency item in January and signed the bill four days after both chambers of the state legislature gave their final approval.
The passage is a big win for Abbott and Republicans, who advocate for stricter immigration laws. They have tried to pass a limit on immigration every session since 2011.
It will ban cities, counties and universities from prohibiting their local law enforcement officers from asking about immigration status and enforcing immigration law.
It will create a criminal charge for police chiefs, county sheriffs and constables who violate the ban, and will charge local jurisdictions up to $25,000 for each day they violate the law.
The law will also allow police officers to ask about a person's immigration status during any legal detention, which includes traffic stops.
Those who support the ban say it is necessary to keep criminal immigrants off Texas streets. They argue that if officers do not turn over unauthorized immigrants they could go on to commit more serious crimes.
Critics, however, view the matter differently.
"It seems fitting that Greg Abbott would sign this disgraceful bill on the internet on a Sunday night, far from the press and the public," Bob Libal, executive director of Grassroots Leadership, said. Read more about Gov. Abbott Signs 'Sanctuary City' Ban: 'Texans Expect Us to Keep Them Safe'
Texas Department of Public Safety officers handcuffed then released at least 18 activists, including CM Greg Casar and Austin Pastor Jim Rigby, after they refused to leave the governor’s offices today. Following an all-day sit-in and protest against anti-immigrant bill SB 4, DPS officers forced journalists to exit the building when it closed at 5pm or face arrest, and blocked the entrance.
Inside, officers gave the protestors a verbal warning then began issuing Class B misdemeanor citations for criminal trespassing. Those that did not leave after being cited were tied with plastic cuffs and processed by Judge Nicholas Chu. Event organizers said DPS officers “lied” by telling protesters their attorneys were not allowed in, a rule contradicted by Chu. Just before 7pm, the protestors were released from cuffs by DPS and addressed a growing crowd outside.
Early Monday morning, during a brief press conference organized by Grassroots Leadership at the south gates of the Capitol, Rigby delivered a message to his undocumented neighbors: “We love you and want you here. We would rather suffer by your side than be guilty bystanders to the cruel and undemocratic tyranny of this administration.”
Afterward, protestors marched with handmade signs to the steps of the governor’s office. They entered and took a defiant seat in the middle of the lobby, announcing they would not budge until Abbott kills the bill. The group chanted: “SB 4 is hate! SB 4 is racist!” and “The people united will never be divided!” in between songs and speeches that castigated the legislation as “unconstitutional” and “unjust.” The sit-in, organized by Grassroots Leadership, RAICES, ICE Out of Austin, Sanctuary in the Streets, and Austin Sanctuary Network, began at roughly 10am.
After roughly one hour, protestors linked arm-in-arm and blocked both entrances of the building. Immigration attorneys started leading teach-ins about the impact of SB 4 around 1pm. Texas Department of Public Safety officers, while watching the event, have yet to threaten arrest. Read more about Protesters Stage Sit-in at Governor's Office to Oppose Sanctuary Cities Bill
Roughly 100 people occupied the lobby of the state office building that houses the governor's office Monday demanding Gov. Greg Abbott veto a bill that would allow law enforcement officers across the state to inquire about individuals' citizenship.
With many wearing t-shirts calling for the rejection of the controversial Senate Bill 4 -- the "sanctuary cities" measure -- that passed the Texas House last week, the crowd sang and chanted in Spanish and English phrases like "You shall not pass" and "this entrance is closed" as they locked arms to block people from entering the building.
"SB4 is racist," they chanted as a woman shook a set of green maracas.
They said they planned to stay in the lobby of the building until the governor acquiesces to their request, he rejects the bill or until they forcibly are removed.
"They're going to have to drag us out of here or lock us in the building at the end of the day. We're not leaving," said Cristina Parker, an organizer with Grassroots Leadership, a group focused on detention and deportation.
The sit-in was put on by Grassroots Leadership and RAICES, a refugee and immigration education and legal advocacy group. Read more about Protesters stage sit-in at governor's office over 'sanctuary cities' bill
About 50 people blocked the entrance to the State Insurance Building on Monday and demanded Gov. Greg Abbott veto the bill he has vowed to sign once it reaches his desk. During the sit-in, about 20 protesters — including Austin city council man Greg Casar — were given citations for trespassing, according to The Dallas Morning News.
The sit-in was organized by advocacy groups including Workers Defense Project and Grassroots Leadership. A few streets away, chants of “How do we build sanctuary? Student workers’ solidarity” resonated during an International Workers’ Day rally and walk-out at the UT Tower.
Members of the UT community demanded the UT administration declare and establish UT as a “sanctuary campus” protecting its undocumented students. Read more about Protesters participate in sit-in demanding Gov. Greg Abbott to not sign 'sanctuary cities' bill