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
Protests have erupted across the US after the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency swept across several US cities, detaining undocumented migrants.
Early Friday's raids came quickly after President Donald Trump signed three executive orders on Thursday reportedly aimed at crime reduction.
Los Angeles, Austin and Phoenix have all seen demonstrations.
In Austin, at least five undocumented residents have been detained.
Cristina Parker, the immigration programmes director at Austin-based Grassroots Leadership, which organises against deportations and mass incarceration, informed Al Jazeera there may be more.
"Everyone is scrambling to get information. There are unconfirmed reports of detentions across the city. Those who are most affected by these actions are the hardest to get in contact with, currently," Parker said.
Austin has been the epicentre of the national battle over so-called sanctuary cities, an unofficial designation of cities that generally offer safety to undocumented migrants and often do not use municipal funds or resources to advance the enforcement of federal immigration laws.
According to local reports, the ICE detained each of the five in separate, targeted raids. Read more about Protests over detention of immigrants across US
Multiple accounts of immigration arrests have been reported in California, North Carolina, and Texas, among other states, according to numerous sources. Advocates working to confirm the identities of those detained say the suspected raids mark the beginning of President Trump’s mass deportation efforts.
As news of suspected raids travels on social media from around the country, attorneys and advocates are left wondering if such arrests will be the “new normal” under the Trump administration. In a press release, Grassroots Leadership, a Texas-based immigration advocacy organization, said that “Trump’s deportation force” has hit Austin, with multiple undocumented immigrants targeted in an ICE raid. Much is still unknown about the populations taken into ICE custody, but there are reports in Spanish media outlets that at least some of the immigrants targeted did not have criminal records.
Cristina Parker, Grassroots Leadership’s immigration programs director, told Rewire in an email that her organization is working to confirm the identities of those detained in Austin. She suspects ICE sought out immigrants with prior orders of removal during the mass arrests, a practice that was common under President Obama. Read more about Have Trump’s Mass Deportations Begun? Immigration Arrests Reported Around the Country
Immigration advocates are mobilizing following reports of a number of arrests by Immigration and Customs enforcement agents in Austin over the past 24 hours.
“These ICE actions are politically motivated and morally bankrupt attempts to punish our community for standing up for our collective civil rights,” City Council Member Greg Casar said at a press conference with Delia Garza outside Little Walnut Creek Branch Library. “They are attempts to silence us, and these are attempts to strike fear into our hearts. But we will not be silenced.”
Casar was referring, in part, to a policy change at the Travis County Jail, which will no longer honor detainer requests from ICE as of Feb. 1.
A hotline had been set up for community remembers to report ICE action in Austin. Grassroots Leadership, a national immigration advocacy group based in Texas, said it is rallying to let people affected by the actions know that "they will not be alone.” Read more about After ICE Actions, Advocates Mobilize in Support of Austin-Area Immigrants
WHEN: Thursday, February 9, 2017, 7:30 p.m.
WHERE: JJ Pickle Federal Building, 300 E 8th St, Austin, TX 78701
(AUSTIN, Texas) — Trump’s deportation force hit the Austin community today with reports coming from around the city of individuals being apprehended by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Below is a statement in Spanish and English from the ICE Out of Austin campaign: Read more about BREAKING: Vigil for Austin families separated by Trump’s deportation force
Immigrants rallied at the Texas Capitol Wednesday to oppose Gov. Abbott’s calls to make a ban on sanctuary cities an emergency item.
At the State Capitol close to 100 immigrants and activist rallied against so-called sanctuary city legislation. They’re worried about a bill filed by Sen Charles Perry a Lubbock Republican. It would withhold funding from local law enforcement departments if officers arrest immigrants –even for minor charges – then don’t hold them longer for possible deportation.
Maria Fructosa’s, 43, was one of dozens of legal immigrants who spoke at the rally. In 2015, Fructosa’s adult son was detained by federal immigration agents after police in Pearsall southwest of San Antonio stopped him for a traffic violation.
“So my son was detained because of a traffic stop because one of his lights was out and because of that he was then transferred and detained for three months," she says.
Fructosa says her son was finally released – 3 months later -after federal agents determined he was in the country legally. She says every morning since she has clutched her son a little tighter.
"Every morning I give him a blessing, I tell him to have a good day, to go with the blessing of God because sometimes we see each other in the morning and we don’t know if we are going to see each other that night," she says.
Fructosa fears that under Sen. Perry’s bill, detention and deportations will increase. She says Texas immigrants will be afraid of reporting crimes because they might end up being deported.
Bob Libal with Grassroots Leadership, a non-profit fighting for fewer deportations, believes Latinos would be targeted if Perry’s bill passes.
“There’s that old saying in Texas, you can beat the rap but you can’t beat the ride. And a ride downtown now means deportation. So this essentially opens up a license for individual officers to discriminate if they suspect someone is undocumented," he says.
Libal claims when similar laws passed in other states deportations that began with minor traffic stop increased. Read more about Immigrants rally against Governor's call to ban sanctuary cities
Ahead of a hearing on the measure that is expected to draw hundreds, Senate Republicans have updated their bill that would ban sanctuary cities in Texas to cover college campuses and expand potential punishments for local entities that choose to not enforce immigration laws.
The modified version of Senate Bill 4, by state Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, was given to members of the Senate State Affairs Committee Tuesday, and a public hearing on the proposal is scheduled for Thursday morning.
On Tuesday, Gov. Greg Abbott declared the issue one of four emergency items of the session. That designation means lawmakers could debate and pass the bill within weeks rather than adhering to the traditional 60-day waiting period to hear bills on the floor of either chamber.
Sanctuary policies refer to entities — such as cities, counties or colleges — that do not comply with federal immigration law. Perry’s bill would allow local police to enforce immigration laws but only if the officer is working with a federal immigration officer or under an agreement between the local and federal agency. It would also punish local governments if their law enforcement agencies — specifically county jails — fail to honor requests, known as detainers, from federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers to hand over immigrants in custody for possible deportation. The punishment would be a denial of state grant funds.
Bob Libal, the executive director of watchdog group Grassroots Leadership, said Perry's bill opens the door to local leaders being bullied by the state's leadership.
"Threats to localities that are trying to do right by their residents is a big problem," Libal said. "It threatens to make our communities less safe."
Libal also said that demanding local entities comply with ICE will lead to mass deportation that would also sweep up nonviolent offenders.
"We can safely assume that we [will be] back to the peak numbers because of this program," he said.
The UT-Austin chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) also plans to protest Perry's bill during Thursday's public hearing, according to a chapter spokesman. Read more about Ahead of Thursday hearing, Texas Senate adds muscle to anti-sanctuary city bill
Local immigration attorneys and activists are bracing for possible raids in Central Texas, after President Donald Trump recently signed an executive order that makes substantial changes to America’s immigration system. This federal order, combined with the current immigration policy back-and-forth battle between Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez and Gov. Greg Abbott, has immigration advocates concerned.
“Right now there’s a lot of rumors that Immigration and Customs Enforcement is beefing up their officers here in Austin because they plan to do a raid sometime in the weekend or sometime in the next few days,” said Alejandro Caceres, an immigration organizer for Grassroots Leadership. “I think that people should be on alert. I think that folks should be on the lookout.”
The activist group is going so far as to train volunteers on how to interact with law enforcement officials, local and federal, if an immigration raid breaks out in the area. The training is provided through a new program the organization started called “Sanctuary in the Streets,” which the organization said they’re borrowing from movements in Philadelphia.
“We’ve trained up to 130 people, but the plan is to train 500 people to get ready if a raid does happen,” said Caceres. The trained volunteers are already on-call and will be in the next few days.
Caceres says it comes as no surprise that members of the local immigrant community are fearful of possible raids.
“I think that they’re seeing what the state is doing. I think they’re seeing what the federal government is doing. I think it’s a really scary time,” he added.
Austin-area Grassroots Leadership is echoing the need for what they’re calling “Know Your Rights Education.”
“Don’t open your door if there isn’t a warrant. Make sure that your kids don’t open the door as soon as the door is knocked. If there is a warrant, make sure that it’s signed by a judge. Make sure that everyone’s information is correct,” said Caceres. “Don’t open your door. Don’t talk to officers if you don’t need to, and don’t sign anything.”
Last spring, Jim Rigby opened the doors of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church to Hilda Ramirez and her 10-year-old son, undocumented immigrants fleeing civil strife in Guatemala. He borrowed some furniture, set up bunk beds in the Sunday school teacher’s office — and trained church members to lock the doors and form a human shield if immigration officers come knocking.
“Do we stand up for human rights now? Or do we act like zebras on the Serengeti, hoping the lion eats us last?” said Rigby, 66, the longtime minister of one of Austin’s most liberal houses of worship. “People of good conscience,” he said, must put themselves between asylum seekers and “harm’s way.”
Rigby is part of a growing movement determined to oppose President Trump’s policies for cracking down on immigration. While thousands of protesters gather nationwide to decry Trump’s temporary travel ban on refugees and on citizens of seven majority-Muslim nations, Rigby and other activists in cities with large immigrant populations are bracing for what they fear will come next: a wave of raids and deportations.
Trump has called for the deportation of as many as 3 million undocumented immigrants who have committed crimes on U.S. soil. In one of his first acts as president, Trump ordered the Department of Homeland Security to look at withholding federal funding from cities that refuse to assist immigration officials, a loose collection of municipalities known as “sanctuary cities.”
Austin has become the first battleground in that conflict, where the governor and a local sheriff are now locked in a standoff over the issue. A liberal enclave in the heart of conservative Texas, the capital city lies a little more than three hours from the Mexican border. About 35 percent of its 931,000 residents are Hispanic, according to U.S. Census estimates, and the city is home to a vibrant sanctuary movement that sprang to life during President Barack Obama’s first term, when his administration carried out a record number of deportations.
In November, voters in Travis County, which includes Austin, elected a new sheriff, who campaigned on a promise not to detain people based solely on their immigration status. Hours after Trump took office, Sheriff Sally Hernandez (D) posted an eight-minute video on her official website explaining the new policy, which took effect Wednesday.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R), a Trump supporter and immigration hard-liner, quickly fought back, accusing Hernandez of playing “a dangerous game of political Russian roulette — with the lives of Texans at stake.”
This week, Abbott made good on a threat to withhold $1.5 million in state criminal justice grants, money that funds services for veterans, parents struggling with drug addiction and victims of family violence. He also asked state agencies by Friday to prepare a full list of all state funding provided to Travis County, suggesting that additional punishment may be forthcoming.
Abbott called on lawmakers to act urgently to ban sanctuary cities. A measure drafted by state Sen. Charles Perry (R-Lubbock), an Abbott ally, would withhold state funding from cities, counties and colleges that do not comply with immigration detainers. It also would require county jailers to determine and record the immigration status of every arrestee. Supporters and protesters of the legislation crammed into the Texas statehouse Thursday for a hearing of the bill, which, as Perry acknowledged under questioning, does not actually define “sanctuary city.”
Last week, Abbott threatened to oust Hernandez, who was elected with 60 percent of the vote. Legislation to permit him to do so has yet to be filed, but a spokesman for Abbott noted that the threat to cut off state funding was sufficient to persuade the Dallas County sheriff to abandon sanctuary policies last year.
In Austin, sanctuary activists applaud the new sheriff’s stance. But they say that keeping ICE out of the county jail will not be enough to thwart the crackdown. So they’re planning mass acts of civil disobedience, soliciting churches to shelter undocumented immigrants, developing neighborhood warning systems so people know to hide when ICE comes through and training volunteers to act as human shields.
“Our plan is to prepare 500 people to do sanctuary in the streets,” said Alejandro Caceres, 29, a legal resident from Honduras who leads the ICE Out of Austin campaign for the civil rights group Grassroots Leadership.
Rigby, the church minister, acknowledges that sheltering an undocumented immigrant is risky. “When you’re aiding someone who is being called a criminal, you’re protecting them in your church, you can be charged with violating federal law,” he said.
But Rigby insists that Americans have a humanitarian obligation to provide shelter to innocent people fleeing violence and lawlessness — even if it means defying the government in Washington and the Texas statehouse.
“You got a president and a governor who are rattling swords,” Rigby said. “Would you protect people being hunted? Well, now we get to find out the answer.” Read more about The 'sanctuary city' on the front line of the fight over Trump's immigration policy
A coalition of more than 100 immigrants, activists and former inmates marched through downtown Austin on Wednesday, urging lawmakers to give them a break as they consider legislation aimed at punishing so-called sanctuary cities and rolling back “fair chance” hiring policies.
The experiences of former jail and prison inmates are not always the same as those of immigrants who entered the United States illegally, but Sofia Casini, immigration programs coordinator for Grassroots Leadership, said there are many parallels to the challenges they face.
“There is a (cross section) between the same communities who are being exploited and oppressed for profit and for gain from these private prison corporations, and from those who would wish to push us down through these bills in the legislature,” Casini said.
Lewis Conway Jr., a towering man who spent eight years in prison and another 12 on probation shouted into a megaphone as the crowd rumbled through downtown behind a booming drum line.
“Make Some noise for no more prisons, no more deportations, no more ICE, no more police brutality, no more drug wars in our community,” he said.
Conway now serves as a criminal justice program associate for Grassroots Leadership, a group that seeks an end to mass incarceration, deportation and privately run prisons. He called the prison system a social control mechanism.
“Many of the members of our community are locked in that jail, and they keep making excuses for keeping them locked up. But we’re not going to accept any more excuses,” Conway said. “The same excuses they made for those jails they made for slavery. The same excuses they made for why black lives don’t matter (are) why that jail exists.”
Melvin Halsey, a Navy veteran with the Texas Advocates for Justice said he wants to promote unity between the LBGT community, immigrants and the formerly incarcerated, and band together against the challenges the groups face.
Halsey, who said he suffers from mental health issues and has been incarcerated four times for offenses related to drugs and alcohol, said he is looking for a chance to be a good father and grandfather.
“There are so many of us who are formerly incarcerated who need a job, who need housing, who need to take care of our children and grandchildren,” Halsey said. “To kill that would just be devastating to a lot of us.” Read more about Immigrants, former inmates team up against prisons, deportations
WHAT: Statewide #kNOwMORE2017 Advocacy Day
WHEN: February 1st, series of events takes place between 9:30 a.m. and 1:00 p.m.
VISUALS: 200 marchers lift off, speakers in front of the jail, rally speakers and art installation at the Capitol
WHO: Led by Texas Advocates for Justice, participating organizations will include: Read more about 200+ individuals from across Texas impacted by incarceration and deportation to march and rally at Capitol