Austin Sanctuary Network

May 1, 2017
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The Daily Texan

Protesters participate in sit-in demanding Gov. Greg Abbott to not sign 'sanctuary cities' bill

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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

May 1, 2017
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Austin Council Member greg

Austin City Council Member Greg Casar along with nearly two dozen other people were arrested and cited for criminal trespassing after they staged a sit-in to protest Senate Bill 4 at Gov. Greg Abbott’s office Monday afternoon.

Immigrant community members, faith leaders and other elected officials were at the Texas State Capitol to protest the so-called sanctuary cities bill, which is expected to head to Abbott’s desk in a few weeks. The protest was organized to urge Abbott to veto the legislation when it gets to his desk. But if he does sign the bill into law, the group says they will continue with protests in the streets.

Once the protesters were removed from the building, the group started chanting: “Down, down with deportation. Up, up with liberation.”

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Despite passionate pleas from Democrats to stop SB 4, Republicans had the votes to push the measure through last week. During the heated debate, supporters managed to beef up the bill from the original version. House members approved anamendment from Rep. Matt Schaefer, R-Tyler, that gives police more leeway to ask about a person’s legal status. It lets a police officer ask about a person’s immigration status while they’re being detained. Some departments currently limit officers to asking those questions only after a person has been arrested and charged with a crime. Read more about Austin Council Member greg

May 1, 2017
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KVUE

Council member Greg Casar, protesters arrested after sit-in at Governor's office

Austin City Council Member Greg Casar was among 18 protestors who were arrested Monday evening and issued citations for criminal trespassing after staging a sit-in at Governor Greg Abbott's business office.

The group staged a sit-in at the office after a morning protest at the south gate of the Capitol to speak against Senate Bill 4 (SB4).

The bill, which was passed by the Senate in February and the House of Representatives last week, will require all Texas law enforcement honor ICE detainers.

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Governor Abbott made banning "sanctuary cities" an emergency item during his State of the State address, indicating his plans to support legislation like SB4. But the protestors are asking him to instead veto the bill

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Troopers informed the group they would be cited for criminal trespassing and asked them to leave peacefully, saying they did not want to arrest them, but the protestors sat unmoved.

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Casar said he and the protestors were told because of the capacity of the jail, the magistrate had come to them. The group was processed, received citations, then released.  Read more about Council member Greg Casar, protesters arrested after sit-in at Governor's office

May 2, 2017
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San Antonio Express-News

Protesters blocking doors at Texas Gov. Abbott's office over 'sanctuary city' bill arrested

State troopers arrested about 20 protesters denouncing Senate Bill 4, the so-called “sanctuary cities” bill, who refused to leave a state office building after it closed at 5 p.m. Monday

Split into two groups, protesters, including immigrants, faith leaders and elected officials, locked arms and blocked both entrances of the State Insurance Building for several hours. They called on Gov. Greg Abbott to veto SB4, authored by Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock which would require local governments to cooperate with federal immigration officers and hold jail inmates, otherwise eligible for release, for possible federal detention and deportation.

The measure, authored by state Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, would require police to enforce federal immigration law by asking for the immigration status of people they detain. Opponents have called it the “show-me-your-papers” bill.

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Organized by advocacy groups ICE Out of Austin, Austin Sanctuary Network, Grassroots Leadership and RAICES, the protesters attempted to keep people from entering the building by sitting just inside the doorways for about eight hours before it closed at 5 p.m.

At one teach-in, Barbara Hines, an immigration rights attorney, questioned the constitutionality of SB 4. It could allow a person to be placed in custody for 48 hours “just because of being asked about their immigration status at a traffic stop,” Hines said.

San Antonio Police Chief William McManus is among those who have spoken out against the bill.

Police chiefs of Austin, Arlington, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston and San Antonio and the Texas Police Chiefs Association released a letter Friday predicting the bill will “lead to distrust of police, less cooperation from members of the community and will foster the belief that they cannot seek assistance from police for fear of being subjected to an immigration status investigation.” Read more about Protesters blocking doors at Texas Gov. Abbott's office over 'sanctuary city' bill arrested

May 1, 2017
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KUT 90.5 Austin's NPR Station

Demonstrators Arrested After Staging Sit-In At State Office to Protest 'Sanctuary' Bill

Officers arrested demonstrators who staged an all-day sit-in Monday to protest legislation banning so-called "sanctuary" jurisdictions.

Dozens of people staged the sit-in at the Texas State Insurance Building, calling for Gov. Greg Abbott to reject Senate Bill 4, which would require cooperation with warrantless detainer requests from Immigration and Customs Enforcement.  

After nearly nine hours, protesters were told to leave by Department of Public Safety officers. Those who did not were told they'd either be cited or booked on site by a judge. Roughly 20 people were either arrested or cited.

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Abbott made the issue an emergency item for the legislative session and has publicly criticized Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez's policy regarding the warrantless requests. Abbott also pulled $1.5 million in criminal justice grants from the county because of the policy, which honors requests only if someone has been charged with murder, human trafficking or aggravated sexual assault.

The sit-in was organized by the immigrant advocacy group Grassroots Leadership. Cristina Parker, a projects coordinator for the group, said early in the day, “We’ll do what we have to do to get our message across today. We’re not leaving until they hear it or they drag us out of here.”   Read more about Demonstrators Arrested After Staging Sit-In At State Office to Protest 'Sanctuary' Bill

Feb 14, 2017
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The Guardian

How immigration activists mobilized to thwart deportation raids last weekend

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While hundreds of people around the country have been arrested by federal immigration officers in recent days, the Kansas City suspicions proved unfounded.

But the rapid mobilisation there showed that with communities on edge as the Trump administration’s immigration crackdowns begin, grassroots groups are learning to act quickly to form information-sharing networks and raise awareness of legal rights.

In US cities, more than 680 people were arrested last week by Ice officers, including in and around Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta, San Antonio and New York City, according to a statement on Monday from John Kelly, the Department of Homeland Security secretary. Kelly said the operations “targeted public safety threats, such as convicted criminal aliens and gang members, as well as individuals who have violated our nation’s immigration laws, including those who illegally re-entered the country after being removed and immigration fugitives ordered removed by federal immigration judges”.

Immigration advocates have started to form plans to respond to these raids in various forms.

In Austin, an initiative called Sanctuary in the Streets has trained US citizens to form a literal physical barrier between undocumented immigrants and enforcement agents. When agents arrive at the door, undocumented immigrants can call for help and one or more US citizens will quickly arrive to stand in front of the door, watching, challenging and filming law enforcement with the goal of ensuring constitutional rights are respected and encouraging a media spotlight.

“Any time we heard of an action happening, folks responded, were ready to go, knew what to do,” Cristina Parker, of Grassroots Leadership.

But with last weekend’s immigration raids, she said: “We found, though, that a lot of the actions happened so quickly that a lot of times folks arrived there and it would already be gone, already be done, so that’s definitely something to think about.”

News of a surge in immigration enforcement activity in Austin began to spread on social media on Thursday. Ice said that 51 people were arrested in the San Antonio-Austin area; 23 of them had criminal convictions. Though the agency said it does not set up checkpoints or conduct indiscriminate sweeps, that the majority of those detained did not have convictions will add to anxiety among unauthorised immigrants that they are now at increased risk of deportation even if they are not viewed as dangerous.

Parker said that the number of detentions was “extremely beyond the norm” and led to a flood of calls to a hotline where callers can report Ice activity and seek advice. “We’ll usually have one or two calls every day or couple days, something like that. And we had hundreds of calls over the past three or four days,” she said.

Parker claimed that Austin was singled out because the liberal-leaning city has led the fightback in Texas against attempts by the state and federal governments to compel local authorities to co-operate with immigration enforcement. Texas’ Republican governor, Greg Abbott, this month cut off $1.5m in criminal justice grants to Travis County, which includes Austin, because the sheriff is limiting the circumstances in which her department will hold suspects for Ice agents.

“There’s been a lot of progress here locally in the immigrant community being able to fight for and win some good policies at the local level, some people call us a sanctuary city because of that,” Parker said. “From the governor to apparently now the federal government, folks want to make an example out of Austin for having the audacity to disagree.”

... Read more about How immigration activists mobilized to thwart deportation raids last weekend

Feb 10, 2017
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The Austin Chronicle

Sanctuary Cities and the Ways We Fight for Human Rights

On the Sunday morning after Donald Trump won the presidential election, Austin Mayor Steve Adler stood in blue jeans and a white button-down shirt before a crowd outside of City Hall. "I understand that you're angry and scared, hurt and confused," he said, pausing so an interpreter could translate his words from English to Spanish. "Many of us are. And that includes me."

Immigrants and allies, also wearing white, had gathered to protest one of then-President-elect Trump's most alarming cam­paign promises: plans to deport 11 million undocumented immigrants. Austin welcomes immigrants and will stand with them, Adler said, before offering his reassurance in Spanish himself. "Quiero que sepan que sus líderes, en este edificio que se encuentra a nuestras espaldas, nos comprometemos a la seguridad de ustedes y de sus familias," he said. "You need to know that your leaders, in the building behind us, are committed to your safety and your family's."

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But throughout his speech, Adler did something interesting. The mayor never referred to Austin as a sanctuary city.

The term "sanctuary city" is a controversial, evocative, and vague one. It bears no legal standard or definition. It's wholly interpretable. For some, the phrase conjures images of the early Christian church offering refuge to the desperate. For others, it alludes to a set of concrete policies that limit a city's cooperation with U.S. Immi­gra­tion and Customs Enforcement (ICE). In recent years, "sanctuary city" has become a bogeyman for GOP lawmakers, who use it in statements and stump speeches to typify a threat to local safety – or, worse, a symbol of defiance that they will punish. While cities like San Francisco have proudly declared themselves sanctuaries, Austin lawmakers have shied from its use since at least 1985, avoiding the lightning-rod term in favor of more neutral phrasing like "welcoming city."

"Sanctuary city" routinely pits cities against states, as evidenced here in Travis County. On Feb. 1, the Travis County jail stopped releasing inmates to federal immigration authorities – a so-called "sanctuary policy" introduced by the county's new sheriff, Sally Hernandez. That same morning, Gov. Greg Abbott cut $1.5 million in criminal justice grants to Travis County in response to Hernandez's policy. Members of both the state's Senate and House of Representatives have filed anti-sanctuary bills this session – bills that would dramatically affect public safety operations in every Texas city. President Trump has put forth an executive order that would force local law enforcement to cooperate with federal authorities, and even take on the role of immigration agents.

The groundswell raises an important question: Moving forward, what will "sanctuary city" mean to Austin?

"Is Austin a sanctuary city?" Sulma Franco considers the question from a booth at a noisy Waffle House, pausing over a plate of eggs. The Guatemalan activist raises her eyebrows: "No," she says, jabbing her fork in the air to punctuate. "No, no, no, no."

Ironically, it is Franco who brought sanctuary to Austin's religious communities. Facing deportation orders, in 2015 she walked through the doors of the First Uni­ver­salist Unitarian Church and stayed there for 10 weeks until her legal case was temporarily resolved, thus becoming the first person in Texas to claim church sanctuary since the Eighties (see "New Name, Same Game," July 10, 2015). But Franco persists: "The Latino community does not feel that Austin is a sanctuary city – por nada. Not at all."

Fearing deportation, Austin's undocumented immigrants do not feel safe in their daily lives, says Franco. She explains a term widely used in the city's Latino community: polimigra. It's a blend of the Spanish words for "police" and "immigration," reflecting the notion that the two law enforcement entities – one local, one federal – are, in fact, one and the same.

That perception has roots in reality, says Franco. Greg Hamilton, Hernandez's predecessor, who served as sheriff from 2005 through 2016, made no bones about his willingness to work with ICE, the deportation arm of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Under its Priority Enforcement Program (PEP), which in 2015 expanded the Bush-era program known as Secure Communities (S-Comm), immigration authorities ask local jails – which are usually run by the county sheriff's department – to hold people after they've been ordered released. These "detainers," as they're called, give ICE time to investigate inmates' immigration statuses and transfer them to a detention center, possibly deporting them.

Federal courts have ruled that ICE detainer requests are just that – requests. During Hamilton's tenure, Travis County honored every such request, resulting in some of the highest deportation rates in the country, according to a 2014 resolution from City Council. Until 2009, the Travis County jail fielded less than 10 detainer requests each year, according to records held by the sheriff's department. That number has since skyrocketed: In the two years between 2012 and 2014, said Council's resolution, Hamilton complied with roughly 5,500 detainers, nearly three-fourths of which were for people whose criminal charges were eventually dropped. In the four years between June 2009 and June 2014, an average of 19 people were deported from the county each week. The Austin American-Statesman reported that nearly 10,000 ICE detainers have been issued in the last decade – more than half for people charged with one misdemeanor. ICE rarely sends warrants with detainers, says professor Elissa Steglich at UT School of Law's immigration clinic. That, in and of itself, is a violation of residents' Fourth Amendment rights to proper search and seizure.

That all changed with Hernandez's election, and, in turn, her Jan. 20 announcement. "Our jail cannot be perceived as a holding tank for ICE," the sheriff, previously a county constable in Precinct 3, said in her filmed statement. She later told the Chronicle: "We in law enforcement have had a difficult time with trust in our community and especially in our communities of color. And so the ability to have these communities feel like it's safe to call and cooperate with us – I feel like it's going to have a huge impact."

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Offering shelter and support can prove complicated when authorities are involved, said Rev. Babs Miller, a minister at St. Andrew's Presby­terian Church, part of the Austin Sanctuary Network. Since early 2016, St. Andrew's has housed Hilda Ramirez and her son Ivan, a Guatemalan family fleeing death threats and domestic violence. Both held deportation orders that have recently been paused. "We said we wanted to support them and that we were willing to offer sanctuary," Miller recalled. "We said that having no idea what it really meant."

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Though many faith communities have offered support to undocumented immigrants, not every house of worship has the resolve or resources to house those fighting their deportation orders in court. St. Andrew's congregants asked themselves what a family in hiding might need. The ministers called for donations; clothing and furniture poured in. Volunteer tutors arrived for both mother and son. When the church threw Ivan a birthday party, residents from the nearby apartment complex brought cakes. The boy's eyes were big, Miller recalled: He'd never had a party, let alone a bouncy castle.

There was also the day-to-day of sanctuary, full of unexpected hang-ups. The sink installed in the converted Sunday school classroom was too high for the tiny woman and boy to reach. The church began to lock its doors. As time passed, Miller said, "the church community gained a great deal more understanding of the immigration system." She spread her hands across the table where she sits, her fingers stretching wide. "You start doing justice work in one area, and it just grows."

As Trump's crackdown on immigration unfolds, the Austin Sanctuary Network has seen requests for sanctuary increase. There may come a day, Miller said, when there is "no room at the inn." Besides, no city or even state can restrict federal authorities from arresting noncitizens – regardless of local law enforcement's cooperation. So they have begun to expand their tactics: Sanctuary in the Streets, a newly formed group modeled after one of the same name in Philadelphia, stands ready to erect its own kind of wall in Austin: a barrier of people willing to stand between immigrants and ICE.

The network of immigrant advocates, attorneys and faith groups is now 150 people strong and growing. New volunteers assembled for a training session in early January at St. Andrew's. "Policy has never saved us," said Alejandro Caceres, an organizer with Grassroots Leadership, who spoke before a large group of Sanctuary in the Streets trainees. Behind him stood an easel marked up with promises from Trump's campaign: Build a wall. Muslim registry. Deport 11 million. Punish sanctuary cities. "We have to rely on ourselves," said Caceres.

"Sanctuary is not passive," he said during a later interview. "Sanctuary is active. We're struggling, we're fighting alongside you. We're saying, 'This person's life matters more to me than the law.' ... It's an act of resistance."

Sanctuary in the Streets does not intend to wait for people to come asking for sanctuary. Rather, the organization aims to disrupt future raids. Rev. Miller told the Chronicle the group practices this scenario: An undocumented immigrant refuses to let an ICE agent into her home without a warrant; she calls a hotline (512/270-1515) that sends a small group of volunteers to the scene. Politely and silently, three or four people edge between the agent and the door, standing shoulder to shoulder. Only one speaks. "We are trained and certified immigration observers," the volunteer will say, as another stands nearby and films. "We have been notified that there is a situation to be observed. May I see your warrant please?"

In training sessions, Miller often plays the role of immigration officer. Sometimes she plays good cop; sometimes she is less lenient. "Does your husband know that you're doing this?" she'll ask one of the role-players, trying to rattle them. She wants to prepare volunteers – mostly white U.S. citizens – for an experience many have never had. "They don't live in a world where cops and immigration officers are confrontational and abusive toward them," said Miller. "I'm trying to help them understand it won't be like, 'Did you realize your blinkers are out, sir?'"

The volunteers must decide what to do if the agent threatens to arrest them, said Miller. Do they stand aside? Or do they stay put, and force the immigration official, who lacks the authority to arrest U.S. citizens, to call for police assistance? "We are using our white privilege to slow down the process," Miller said, noting that it doubles as an effort to buy time for reporters to arrive.

"Enforcement officers do not like media coverage," said Miller.

The reverend stressed that Sanctuary in the Streets' methods are nonviolent, though they are confrontational. "You can play nice and still go after the abuse of power," she said.

Sanctuary in the Streets may be the closest Austin has come to the spirit of the Eighties' Sanctuary Movement, which embraced civil disobedience. Then, the network of churches, synagogues, and safe houses stretched from Mexico to Arizona to Canada, sheltering and transporting roughly 1 million refugees. In Texas, sanctuary workers drove to the border to pick up Central Americans fleeing civil wars and genocides that activists accused the United States of fomenting. Informants infiltrated their network, stoking division and paranoia. Eighteen people – including nuns, priests, and a minister – were jailed and indicted for smuggling aliens.

Miller is hopeful that today's circumstances won't reach that point. Immigrants in 2017 have more grassroots support, she said. The Eighties movement came before the internet and was more isolated. The shift toward a more resistant strand of sanctuary is a result of that effort. "We're standing on their shoulders," Miller said.

When Sulma Franco declared sanctuary in the Unitarian church, she was not well-versed in this history. She calls her stay a mistake-filled learning process. But while the declaration was a cry for help, it was also a show of strength. With the help of her girlfriend and UT students, Franco built the chain-link fence that surrounded her church living quarters. "I wanted to show other women that we don't have to be scared all the time, that we can do something to defend ourselves."

Hilda Ramirez and her son followed Franco's lead. Though 28, Ramirez appears younger, with round cheeks and a quiet, measured way of speaking Spanish. Mam, an indigenous language, is her native tongue.

Ramirez was fearful when she first came to St. Andrew's. She jumped at small noises and anxiously watched the sheriff's patrol cars that were camped outside, knowing their presence was routine but still unable to shake the feeling that sheriff's deputies were watching her. Having spent 11 months in a family detention center with her son just seven months before that, she felt terribly sad to be confined again – even in a kind place like St. Andrew's. During her first week, Ramirez recalled, pastors asked if she wanted to meet the congregation. Ramirez said no. "I stayed in my room," she said, pulling her arms close as if clutching a blanket. The second Sunday, she was ready to meet the church.

Rev. Miller believes Ramirez's arrival made it clear to the congregants what was at stake with sanctuary. "What will you do if Immigration comes?" Caceres asked the churchgoers. He pretended to be an ICE officer. "We're here for Hilda Ramirez," he called out into the church.

The members began to move. Ramirez suddenly found herself in a circle deep with people. Some blocked the doorway. Others formed an outer ring. More pushed closer, she recalled, linking elbows together, saying to her, "We're not going to let them take you. You're safe."

"I'd felt so alone," Ramirez said, her slow-moving Spanish suddenly picking up pace, animating. "And now there was everyone, who'd come to protect me without even knowing me. All, all of the church! I'm so small – all I could see was their backs. I felt so much joy. I was crying. There I was made invincible." Read more about Sanctuary Cities and the Ways We Fight for Human Rights

Feb 2, 2017
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The Washington Post

The 'sanctuary city' on the front line of the fight over Trump's immigration policy

 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.

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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.

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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.

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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

Feb 1, 2017
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Austin American-Statesman

Immigrants, former inmates team up against prisons, deportations

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.

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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

Jan 15, 2017
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The Guardian

How immigration activists prepare to fight deportations under Donald Trump

If and when Donald Trump’s administration executes on his deportation strategy, immigration advocates are starting to formulate a plan.

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When agents arrive at the door, undocumented immigrants can call for help and one or more US citizens will quickly arrive to stand in front of the door, watching, challenging and filming law enforcement with the goal of ensuring constitutional rights are respected and encouraging a media spotlight.

“We have kind of a canned spiel that one person just keeps repeating,” said Babs Miller, a minister at St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Austin: “‘I am a trained and certified immigration observer, notice has been given that there’s an incident to be observed, do you have a search warrant, may I see it please?’”

Miller is part of the Sanctuary in the Streets initiative, which aims to frustrate immigration raids – an enforcement strategy that was used to target Central American families by the Obama administration last year and is expected to be a feature of the next president’s term.

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“We’re trying to respond now to the threat of the Trump administration and the possibility that it will get even more severe than it has been,” said Sofia Casini, immigration programmes coordinator for Grassroots Leadership, an anti-mass incarceration group that announced its upcoming plans at a press conference in Austin on Monday.

Trump has pledged to remove up to 3 million undocumented immigrants quickly. “I think that we should take him at face value; everything that he says we should believe,” Carmen Zuvieta, of the ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] Out of Austin group, said through a translator. A mother of three, her husband was deported to Mexico four years ago.

Unless they have a warrant signed by a judge, ICE employees are not allowed to enter homes without permission.

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On average, according to Grassroots Leadership, 19 Austin-based immigrants are deported per week. With an estimated 1.5 million undocumented immigrants, Texas has the second-largest such population in the country, behind California, according to the Migration Policy Institute. Most have lived in the state for more than a decade.

Miller’s interest in the cause grew when her church gave sanctuary last February to two Guatemalans, Hilda Ramirez and her son, Ivan. They are still living there but gained relief from deportation in October, which allows them to leave the building without fear of being detained. A growing number of US churches are expected to open their doors to undocumented immigrants in the coming months in the knowledge that ICE policy discourages enforcement operations in “sensitive locations” such as places of worship.

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Families in Austin are also being encouraged to prepare binders with personal information such as forms of identification, marriage certificates, power of attorney letters and character references. If someone is detained, family members can then quickly provide attorneys with details that could speed a release on bond and may help gain quicker access to financial assets if the main breadwinner is in custody.

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And the new sheriff of Travis County (which includes Austin), Sally Hernandez, is a Democrat who ran on a platform of ending compliance with ICE requests to hold people who have been detained by local law enforcement for an extra 48 hours so they can be picked up by federal immigration authorities.

But politicians in Texas’s Republican-dominated legislature are set to debate a bill that would eliminate “sanctuary cities” that do not cooperate with federal immigration enforcement. The proposal has the support of the governor, Greg Abbott. Read more about How immigration activists prepare to fight deportations under Donald Trump

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