Immigration rights groups organize day before state legislature convenes

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Photo Credit: Caleb Kuntz | Daily Texan Staff

Activist groups and supporters crowded in the Grassroots Leadership headquarters in east Austin, vowing to protect undocumented immigrants amidst an incoming state legislative session and president-elect Monday morning.

“We’re here today because we know that the next president-elect [Donald] Trump has promised mass deportations and human rights violations,” Grassroots Leadership executive director Bob Libal said.

Grassroots Leadership, ICE Out of Austin and Austin Sanctuary Network members laid out plans and pledged to support undocumented immigrants in the community during a press conference.

The ICE Out of Austin campaign is overseen by civil and human rights organization Grassroots Leadership. The campaign aims to end local and state law enforcement’s practice of holding onto detained undocumented or suspected undocumented immigrants in local jails until Immigration and Customs Enforcement federal agents come to process arrests and deport them.

Carmen Zuvieta, one of the campaign’s immigrant organizers, spoke in Spanish with an English translator and presented folders she created for undocumented families and individuals containing power of attorney and recommendation letters to reference if they are detained by ICE agents.

“This evidence is to help people get out of detention,” Zuvieta said. “We want to get people ready, we want to help protect the families. We know that the politicians right now so far have not been able to help us.”

The now national campaign has branches in Los Angeles and Dallas as well.

Austin Sanctuary Network is a coalition of different religious congregations and organizations that provide sanctuary for undocumented immigrants within their place of worship’s walls.

Rev. Babs Miller of the St. Andrews Presbyterian Church said the network also gives “direct action nonviolent trainings” where members physically barricade ICE agents from raiding sanctuaries.

“There is always the possibility of being arrested,” Miller said. “It could lead to confrontation and the confrontation would be non-violent. We would not be breaking any major laws.”  

Sally Hernandez, Democrat and the new Travis County Sheriff who was sworn in Wednesday, has campaigned against holding onto undocumented immigrants until ICE agents arrive to arrest them. She replaced former Travis County Sheriff Greg Hamilton, who has cooperated with ICE, according to the Texas Tribune.

Libal said he and other activists are awaiting an announcement from Hernandez explicitly stating her policy to refuse Travis County jails from complying with ICE.

“She’s promised a really progressive immigration policy that we think will … reduce detainers or eliminate … detainers in the Travis County jail,” Libal said. “We’re very much looking forward to the announcement that could come at any time.”

Austin City Council has defied state government sentiment to crackdown on immigration through actions such as enacting emergency funding to cover immigration legal fees.

State lawmakers, however, are pushing for stricter immigration laws. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s filed Senate Bill 4 outlaws “sanctuary cities” in Texas that adopt policies protecting undocumented immigrants.

Cristina Parker, immigration programs director of Grassroots Leadership, said it is an uphill battle when it comes to challenging state and federal oversight.

“We call on all state representatives and state senators to represent Travis County and the Austin area to stand with us,” Parker said. “Ultimately, this is really about us versus Trump. He has promised a campaign of terror against the immigrant community and we believe that the only way to fight back is locally.”