AUSTIN, TX – Organizations at the front of the fight for immigrants’ rights
AUSTIN, TX — In the summer of 2019, members of the Tribuno del Pueblo traveled to Austin, Texas to interview local organizations about their work regarding immigrant rights. El Tribuno spoke to leaders of Jolt, Grassroots Leadership, Workers Defense Project and the Austin Sanctuary Network.
We found that Austin is often regarded as a “blue dot in a sea of red” because of its effort to be a progressive city in the midst of conservative Texas counties. Despite being labeled as one of Texas’s most progressive cities, members of the community spoke of the obstacles that immigrants face in Austin.
Local organizations are constantly fighting back against anti-immigrant legislation while also aiming to create a community where immigrants can feel safe.
After the 2016 election, Austin became empowered to protect their immigrant community in every form. Whether it is through electing better officials, fighting SB4 and other discriminatory legislation, or through creating a defense system to prepare immigrants against ICE sightings, Austin organizations have made it their mission to stop any further attacks on the immigrant community.
Workers Defense Project: ‘Building power for working families’
By Workers Defense Project, Ana Gonzalez
Workers Defense Project was established in 2000. We’re a membership base organization. We have offices in Austin, Dallas and Houston. We empower low wage-workers through direct services, organizing policy, research and strategic partnerships. For over the last 10 years we’ve been building power for working families in Texas.
We have a strategic focus in construction. Approximately 50% of the workforce and new construction is undocumented workers. Texas is the deadliest state when it comes to construction. One worker dies every three days in Texas.
Workers’ status makes them vulnerable. We see, in different instances where workers are afraid to come forward because of their status.
We’ve done research and found out one in five construction workers are victims of wage theft. And one in those three will be victims of retaliation if they were to file their wage claim.
We help workers that are victims of injuries at work. Only 40% of workers have access to Workers’ Compensation. Texas is the only state that does not require Workers’ Compensation in the country. So all of these different things help make construction a $1 billion industry. This money doesn’t go down to the workers, the people that are building our state. Texas wages are just so low.
We’ve been doing work around immigration since 2016 when Trump was elected. When this happened Texas was emboldened and empowered by this president.
In 2017 the legislative session pushed SB-4, a bill that became law that allows law enforcement to enquire about your immigration status among many other things. It’s a racist profiling law that is directly attacking our community. We organized with other organizations in Texas, in different cities and filed a lawsuit against the state of Texas. The case it’s still ongoing.
Since then, we’ve been focusing on knowing your rights around immigration and making sure the community knows what to do if ICE comes to the door, if ICE comes to your work site. To have everything in place if that’s the case.
We’ve also worked with many organizations including United We Dream, Grassroots Leadership here in Austin to pass a policy at the city level called Freedom Cities. This will allow several things. The first one is accountability and transparency for the Austin police department, to know when and how they’re asking about immigration status and have access to that information if someone is arrested.
It also allows for low-level offenses to not become an arrestable offense. For example, not having a driver’s license. In certain places that can get you arrested. This is just one example of a low level offense because we know that an arrest can takes people through the deportation pipeline.
We need to make sure that we’re fighting in however way we can and really engage in the work that we do and making sure that they bring othes into our fight and, and really just stand up against this rhetoric and this hate for our community.
‘Do what you believe’
By Red de Santuario de Austin, Betsy Landaker
Austin Sanctuary Network is an organization, affiliated with St. Andrews Presbyterian Church, dedicated to helping the community in Austin, Texas. Members of the Tribuno del Pueblo spoke to a member of the mission committee, Betsy Landaker. St. Andrews is volunteer-run and primarily serves communities who speak English, Spanish, and Vietnamese. As more people find out about the charitable work of the organization, the need for more resources and space continues to grow.
As firm believers in the motto “Do What You Believe,” Ms. Landaker spoke to us about multiple resources they provide for their community. St. Andrews not only provides sanctuary to immigrants, but also runs a garden and food pantry in collaboration with the Central Texas Food Bank.
While speaking to Ms. Landaker, volunteers were preparing for their annual school supplies drive as well as their food pantry that serves about 100 to 350 people. Ms. Landaker also spoke to us about a previous drive they did for four women who lost everything in a fire. The church organized a drive and provided them with clothes, food, and anything else they might need within a week.
St. Andrews also assists homeless individuals by providing the church address as their mailing address. Additionally, the church helps members organize their tax information and registers them to vote. The goal of St. Andrews Presbyterian Church is to provide a welcoming space for community members to come together and help one another.
Along with their mission to provide resources for their community, St. Andrews provides sanctuary to Hilda Ramirez and her son, Ivan. Hilda and Ivan have been in sanctuary for about three years and have been fined more than $300,000 for not self-deporting themselves.
Recently, however, ICE notified Hilda and six other women in sanctuary that it will no longer fine them. Hilda is a vital member of the Austin Sanctuary Network and without her courage to speak her story, this would not have been possible. St. Andrews Presbyterian Church and Austin Sanctuary Network not only provides very needed resources to people, but they empower communities nationwide.
By Jolt Texas, Antonio Arellano
Jolt Texas is an organization that aims to empower the Latinx community in Austin, Texas. Immigrants are often portrayed as a minority but in fact, one out of three Texans are immigrants or children of immigrants. The Latinx population deeply intertwines with the immigrant community which is why Jolt Texas encourages its community members to not focus on the negative rhetoric but rather work to change it.
The Tribuno del Pueblo spoke with Antonio Arellano, Jolt Texas’s interim executive director, to discuss their iconic Quinceañera protest. Jolt made national headlines in 2017 when they organized a protest against SB4; a discriminatory legislation that allows local government and law enforcement to do the work of federal immigration agents. SB4 prohibits Austin from becoming a true sanctuary city and to combat this, Jolt organized a protest at the Texas state capitol with young Latinas protesting in Quinceañera dresses. After the 2016 election, Jolt Texas mobilized like never before and decided to approach things through a cultural lens.
Not only did Jolt’s Quinceañera protest create awareness but it was the start of a new initiative. “Poder XV” is a campaign organized by Jolt that harnesses the voices of young Latinas. The goal of the campaign is to register more Latinx voters in Texas. As a gift to the Quinceañera, guests are encouraged to register to vote at the ceremony. During the celebration, the Quinceañera gives a speech to motivate her guests and emphasizes the power of the Latinx vote.
In the upcoming 2020 elections, Jolt Texas seeks a leader who is ready to hit the ground running to protect marginalized communities. A comprehensive immigration reform should be a priority and asylum seekers should be validated. According to Antonio, past presidents have failed to protect the immigrant community and the current administration has only heightened the fear and anxiety that immigrants deal with daily.
Particularly in Texas, the government has failed the immigrant community through discriminatory laws, through failure to protect against racial attacks, and through failing to provide resources for victims of domestic and sexual violence. The collaboration of the Austin Police Department and ICE is further evidence of government betrayal of the residents of Austin. Jolt Texas seeks to empower the Latinx and immigrant communities by reminding them of their own political power and encouraging them to fight back.
Grassroots Leadership: ‘People keep fighting to stay, they don’t give up’
By Grassroots Leadership, Claudia Muñoz
Due to the work Grassroots Leadership does in terms of mass incarceration and immigration the Tribuno del Pueblo interviewed Claudia Munoz, interim executive co-director of the Grassroots Leadership immigration program. We particularly focused on the work they are doing on deportations.
SB-4 is a law that forces the police to work with immigration. We have not really seen much resistance from the police or the Sherrif, they have accepted this law and they follow it.
We work with Freedom Cities and a requirement is that the police have to tell us how many times they collaborated with immigration. We found out through police reports that they had given immigration information more than 300 times i. e 300 times immigration requested information from the police and the police gave it.
We have also been working for a while to close the Hutto Detention Center. This is because of the conditions there, but also because there have been many cases of sexual abuse reported.
We hold events several times a year to call attention to what is happening there.
Last year when many mothers were detained and separated from their children, we started a visiting program and through that program one can visit the detainees there.
There is a source of resistance in the community. The community is organized in different areas, there are several groups like us where people organize, where people do not leave.
Even with the SB-4 there were many people who left the city and the state. But there were many people who stayed. They stayed to fight and even under the political regime we live in, they continue to fight to stay. They do not give up.
When Trump announced the raids (July 2019), we made a call to the community. We did Rapid Response actions, this is when it’s noticed that the number of ICE agents have increased their presence in the streets, we sound the an alarm that there will be ICE operations.
When we sounded the alarm and asked people come to and help us, mostly allies of the city, about 300 answered the call. We put flyers in at least in 1000 homes.
People from the community told us that they can see the difference, the community is now more united. Now people know that they shouldn’t open the door to ICE. They know that if ICE comes and they lock themselves in their cars and people surround the car, ICE will leave.
We have a program, ‘La migra en la mira’ (ICE on sight). There are many people ready to take action if someone is being arrested. We have people in strategic places in the city where ICE usually patrols.
The point of these raids (July 2019) was not the raids it was to instill panic. It was said that they were going to detain about two thousand people and in the end they only detained 44.
For us it was important that people did not panic. We wanted people to know, one, we are going to tell you in real time what is happening and two, you are not alone.
When you go out, you get in your car, maybe you are alone in your car, but around you there are hundreds of people ready to do something.
What we wanted to do is to counter this panic narrative and I think we did it.