Author Archives: Rebecca Larsen

Waco Immigrants Rally – May 6th!

25 Apr 17
Rebecca Larsen
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In solidarity with other immigrant marches and rallies happening across the country, join Waco Immigrants Alliance as we celebrate our immigrant community. It will be a gathering that honors Waco’s rich history of immigrant rights activism and unifies us to continue to fight for reform, justice, and making our community welcoming!

Hutto Detention Visitation Training

19 Apr 17
Rebecca Larsen
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Join us at our next monthly general meeting on May 2nd! Instead of our usual meeting, we will be training to visit women that are in immigrant detention. Even if you’re not sure if you can go on visits, we will be learning about our immigration system, the differences between refugee and asylee status, and much more! All are welcome.

Welcoming Communities

21 Jan 17
Rebecca Larsen
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January 29th 2017 at 4PM
Mission Waco Chapel
1226 Washington Ave. Waco, TX

How can we stand with our immigrant neighbors in Waco? Come on January 29th at 4pm to the Mission Waco Chapel (1226 Washington Avenue) to hear from Alejandro Caceres and Jake Crowther from Grassroots Leadership & the Austin Sanctuary Movement about their experience organizing alongside immigrants. They will share both policy and non-policy ideas for community members & churches. Come to learn more and get connected!

Nonprofit expands immigration services to Waco

14 Jan 17
Rebecca Larsen
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Waco Tribune 
By Shelly Conlon
Full Story here

A Waco resident is helping Austin- and San Antonio-based nonprofit group American Gateways expand services to protect immigrants in the Waco area.

American Gateways’ staff attorney, Anali Looper, opened an office Monday at Waco’s Good Neighbor House, 2301 Colcord Ave., to take on a variety of immigration cases. The Good Neighbor House serves as a safe space to connect community members with local resources.

“I was working at Habitat for Humanity and really decided I wanted to contribute something, anything, to the immigrant population, and I realized I thought my skill set would be best used as an immigration lawyer,” Looper said. “I’ve had several people encourage me in that direction, and so I’ve been working in Austin with American Gateways for the last two years and really, all along, hoping to bring them here.”

The decision to expand comes at a time of anxiety and worry across the country after President-elect Donald Trump campaigned on promises to build a border wall, strictly enforce immigration laws and detain people waiting on immigration hearings. Trump’s inauguration is Friday.

“While there are many illegal immigrants in our country who are good people, this doesn’t change the fact that most illegal immigrants are lower-skilled workers with less education who compete directly against vulnerable American workers, and that these illegal workers draw much more out from the system than they will ever pay in,” Trump said during an Aug. 31, 2016, rally in Arizona.

“But these facts are never reported. Instead, the media and my opponent discuss one thing and only this one thing: the needs of people living here illegally.

“The truth is, the central issue is not the needs of the 11 million illegal immigrants or however many there may be. That has never been the central issue. It will never be the central issue,” Trump said.

While she is waiting to see what the new president will do once he takes office, Looper said American Gateways has seen an increase in cases since Election Day.

“I spent that Wednesday just returning phone calls to people who were scared and wondering what was going to happen,” Looper said. “There’s just a huge need everywhere in the country for qualified immigration practitioners to help people. Unfortunately, what often happens when there’s not enough attorneys or accredited representatives who help with immigration cases is something called notario fraud: basically, notary publics who help people with their immigration cases.

‘We need more’

“It’s unauthorized and it’s illegal for them to do that, and often they severely mess up people’s cases and can really hurt people’s chances. . . . Yes, the election does mean more people need help, but I think all along there’s been a great need here in Waco, and there are some folks helping, but we need more to do that.”

Looper opened the office with the help of a grant from the Texas Bar Foundation, which allows her to spend part of the week in Waco and part of the week in Austin, working primarily on crime victims’ visas and family-based immigration cases, she said.

Barbara Bridgewater, a case manager with Compassion Ministries, said she couldn’t agree more with Looper’s assessment of Waco’s need for additional immigration services. She and Looper attended church together for 19 years, and Bridgewater serves as president of the board for the Good Neighbor House. At Compassion Ministries, which is a transitional housing facility, Bridgewater helps Spanish-speaking families and residents working toward their GED.

There are many qualified lawyers in Waco, but they tend to not know enough about immigration, Bridgewater said. Looper’s arrival has empowered Compassion to connect clients with services for a broader range of immigration issues.

Looper, who attended Waco High School, said she wants to get to a point when she can be in Waco full time and handle a couple hundred cases a year, instead of commuting back and forth to Austin. Until she can find permanent funding to support the Waco operation, she anticipates being in town Mondays and Fridays, but times could change from week to week, she said.

“Now there’s some hope, and we know Anali can’t solve all the immigration issues in Waco, Texas. I know that,” Bridgewater said. “But there are some she can work on, and what I find is that it offers some hope in this kind of big, vast sea of things that are both overwhelming and sometimes appear hopeless.”

For more information, call Looper at 512-806-6531 or email her at

Waco immigrants brace for unknowns with new Trump administration

14 Jan 17
Rebecca Larsen
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Waco Tribune 
By J.B. Smith
Full story here

President-elect Donald Trump has pledged to build a wall on the Mexican border, unravel protections for the children of unauthorized immigrants and quickly deport several million people.

But as politicians and experts debate the practicality of those plans as his Friday inauguration nears, local immigrants are making plans of their own to protect their families.

For Alma, a Waco catering worker from Monterrey, Mexico, that means arranging for her mother to drive down from Dallas if she is detained by immigration agents. Her mother would take care of her three children, two of whom are American citizens.

“My main concern is that if something like that happens, what am I going to do?” said Alma, who asked to withhold her surname for this story. “They’ve been living here their entire lives. They go to school here. They speak English better than Spanish. Taking them to Mexico is a big change for them that may not work for them. . . . I think most families are in the same situation of, what am going to do with my kids?”

Immigration attorneys and advocates say nothing is certain about the next four years under Trump, but they advise people without solid legal status to take precautions.

Susan Nelson, an immigration attorney, said she has seen since the election a wave of people trying to get green cards, citizenship or some other protections from deportation.

Nelson doubts the already overwhelmed immigration legal system could handle a program of mass deportation. But she said the complicated lives of unauthorized immigrants are about to get more complicated.

‘Pretty bad’

“I expect it to be pretty bad,” Nelson said.

For example, Trump has said he will immediately reverse Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the policy President Barack Obama established by executive order in 2012. DACA has allowed some 750,000 teenagers and young adults who arrived in the U.S. before their 16th birthday to work, travel and drive without fear of deportation.

“These people have come out of the shadows. They’re paying their taxes, and they’re a lot better able to support their families,” Nelson said. “I think one of the best things about DACA is that it’s taken fear out of their lives. There’s no longer the fear that going to college may be all for naught.

“The concern is that President-elect Trump said DACA would be gone on the first day. We don’t know if that means they have deferred action until 2018 or if they no longer have authorization to work.”

Alma’s son, Edgar, is among those waiting to find that out.

Alma and her then-husband brought Edgar here as a 10-month-old when they came on a tourist visa. They stayed here and built a life, and Edgar grew up only vaguely aware his citizenship status is different from his siblings, now 12 and 14.

“I was about 13 or 14 when I came to question it,” Edgar said.

He is a high school senior who has DACA and is applying for college, including to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“I knew I was born in Mexico and my siblings were not,” Edgar said. “Because of the place I was born, I couldn’t leave the country. I couldn’t do certain social things. I couldn’t get in trouble.”

McLennan Community College President Johnette McKown said she hopes DACA students, also known as “Dreamers,” won’t have go back into the shadows.

“We’re personally and professionally concerned,” McKown said. “It’s important, because what else will they be doing if they’re not able to follow their career? I think an educated society is a better society than one that has no education and no opportunity.”

A bipartisan group of U.S. senators proposed a new bill this month called the Bridge Act. It would allow young adults in Edgar’s situation the freedom to live and work in the U.S. for a three-year period.

In an interview last week, U.S. Rep. Bill Flores, R-Bryan, whose district includes McLennan County, called DACA unconstitutional as an executive action but said he would support similar aims if achieved through legislative means.

“If we have an offspring of somebody who came here illegally, and these folks are otherwise minding their business . . . then I don’t see a need to deport them if they’re not breaking the law, if they’re going to school or trying to get a job,” Flores said.

“I’m fine with a path to some sort of legal status and ultimately to citizenship, because they never broke the law. . . . When I talk to the constituents of this district, they’re generally fine with a path to citizenship for the Dreamers.”

Edgar said he doesn’t spend a lot of time worrying about his immigration status. His mind is mostly occupied with academics and the robotics club at his school.

But he said DACA has been a big help to him.

“Hopefully, that process will not be wasted in the coming term of the president-elect,” Edgar said. “If they can’t keep DACA, make something better than DACA. Scrap the whole thing and make something better.”

But even with protections for Dreamers, an immigration crackdown could make life difficult for families with mixed immigration status.

The biggest wave of illegal immigration was between the late 1980s and the early 2000s, and many of those immigrants settled down and had children who have birthright citizenship.

Alma, who was part of that wave, has two citizen children, but that doesn’t give her any immediate path to permanent status herself.

Alma’s attorney, Anali Looper of the nonprofit group American Gateways, has advised her to drive as little as possible and make sure she doesn’t give authorities any reason to detain her. Alma said she tries to be cautious but not anxious.

“I’m somewhat tranquil,” she said in an interview at Looper’s office last week at the Good Neighbor House on Colcord Avenue. “My children are good students, and none of us have problems with the law.”

“I do think you’re not bearing in mind how serious it is,” Looper responded. “But I do understand that, for your children and for your life, you have to continue without living in constant fear.”

“I can’t live that way,” Alma said.

Nelson, the immigration attorney, said a mass deportation effort would be logistically difficult, because the immigration courts are already backed up. Many of her clients facing immigration charges are out on bond and won’t have a hearing until November 2019, she said.

“It’s just hard to see how that’s going to work,” Nelson said of Trump’s plans to step up deportations. “Right now, the courts are moving as fast as they can, but enforcement has far outpaced immigration courts.”

Still, even a slight risk of being deported or placed in an immigrant detention center is a cause for anxiety when the stakes involve family separation.

That’s the nightmare Eloisa Haynes worries about.

She is married to an American citizen, Nick Haynes, and has a green card designating her as a “legal permanent resident.” Eloisa and her husband both work in higher education, and they have a 1-year-old son, Bellamy.

But having been denied full citizenship, she still feels vulnerable.

“If you had asked me 18 months ago, no one would have thought Donald Trump could be president after everything he’s said about women, immigrants and Muslims,” she said. “Now everything is possible. I don’t want to live in denial and say, ‘Surely, it wouldn’t happen to me.’ ”

A painful story

Eloisa, now 34, said it is painful to talk about her immigration story, but she considers it her duty.

She waded the Rio Grande with her family when she was 13 and has lived in Waco ever since.

“My family and I had good lives in Mexico,” she said. “We enjoyed the community and the culture, and we never dreamed of immigration. But my dad lost his job, and it was a very difficult season.”

She said her parents tried to get a visa to come here but found a waiting list of 20 years. Her father came to the U.S. by himself to work, and the family found that separation was too difficult.

“My parents made the most difficult choice they could,” Eloisa said. “We were smuggled in. In my mind, all I knew is I wanted to see my dad. I hadn’t seen him in a year. As a child, I did not understand the ramifications. We could have been trafficked, assaulted or killed.”

She got to know Nick through Antioch Community Church and through Baylor University, where he was a student and she was a Starbucks barista.

A native of Muskogee, Oklahama, Nick wasn’t particularly sympathetic to the plight of unauthorized immigrants as a young man. But as the couple made plans to marry, he found himself frustrated by the obstacles immigration officials put between them.

“I’m ashamed to say it took that direct impact on me to really get it,” Nick said.

Eloisa had to go back to Mexico for three months and apply for a green card. Four years ago, her quest for citizenship ended because of a decision she made when she was 19.

Back then, she had checked a box on an I-9 employment form saying she was an American citizen, a move that, once discovered, caused her to be barred from citizenship for life.

“That’s what many undocumented people do, never knowing the ramifications,” Eloisa said. “The only way for me ever to become a citizen is a change in the law.

“My lawyer says, do not travel. My green card is valid. But just because an immigration official chose to exercise discretion and did not revoke the green card, it doesn’t mean another office won’t revoke my file. Permanent resident is the most misleading term. There’s nothing permanent about being a permanent legal resident.”

The election of Donald Trump only darkens the picture for her and for the friends and family members who don’t even have a green card. She said she cried all day Nov. 9.

“Already, his rhetoric has changed the way people view immigrants,” Eloisa said. “He has stirred up a lot of anger and animosity from people who don’t understand how broken the immigration system is. In their mind, it’s just, ‘What part of illegal don’t you understand?’ ”

The Hayneses are part of the Waco Immigration Alliance, which seeks to advocate for immigrants through education and political activism. The group spoke to Waco City Council in December about policing issues and is hosting a public educational event Jan. 29.

The event, called “Welcoming Communities,” starts at 4 p.m. at the Mission Waco chapel, 1226 Washington Ave.

Meanwhile, Looper is raising money to expand her nonprofit group’s immigration law services in Waco. She said she hopes to be part of educating immigrants on how to protect themselves while educating the community on the human potential of immigrants.

“Those with legal status need to sit up and learn and hear the real facts about how this affects real people and how it affects our economy,” Looper said. “On Nov. 9, I had clients coming into my office with kids, elementary-aged children, who were terrified. Do we really want to have our children grow up afraid? Let’s talk about immigration policy, but let’s not make threats that can’t be completed.”

Waco City Council Testimony

20 Dec 16
Rebecca Larsen
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At the Dec. 20, 2016 Waco City Council Business Meeting, members of the Waco Immigration Alliance shared personal stories, professional experience, and research that articulates and supports our priorities as a community group, which we are calling on the city of Waco, the DA’s office, and Waco PD to support as well.

  1. In order for our city to thrive and grow from a foundation of trust-based relationships and healthy attachment, our schools, churches, nursing homes, medical facilities, etc. must be designated a “safe space” for immigrants.
  2. Immigrants who have survived sexual assault and domestic violence must no longer be denied a simple signature verification of their police report by the McLennan County DA’s office and Waco PD, strictly based on political pressure. These offices must work harder to communicate to those who are skeptics, what and why these UVisa’s exist. They must be proactive in communicating how it erodes safety and security of ALL our neighborhoods and the prosperity and development of Waco, when a predator is able to leverage undocumented immigrants’ fear of deportation and prey on women and children simply due to their, or their parents’, immigration status.
  3. We ask that the city officials, leaders, etc become vocal supporters of comprehensive reform that fixes the gaping holes in this antiquated, draconian system. A non-negotiable must be a pathway to earned citizenship for those who have no reasonable pathway (or none at all).
  4. We challenge the city to be intentional about creating spaces for immigrant voices to be heard and valued, where trust is built, and where stakeholders from every sector can come together to think collaboratively on the issues that affect our immigrant population, and Waco as a whole.

Big THANK YOU to the organizers and those who came to show support, and everyone who shared last night.

Our 3-minute testimonials begin at 27:25, 44:35, 48:40, and 52:35

Join Us Tuesday 12/6 for Our Monthly Meeting!

05 Dec 16
Rebecca Larsen
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Join us for our meeting this Tuesday on December 6th at 6:30pm at 1721 Sanger Avenue. We will be planning for the next year and reflecting on where we are headed as an organization. As we move forward into a new year of “making Waco into a welcoming place for all immigrants,” please consider joining us if you are looking for a safe community, wanting to get involved, or are looking to learn more!


How to Prepare for Changes in the Presidential Administration

11 Nov 16
Rebecca Larsen
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First of all, we want to express that we will fight for you. If you are feeling afraid, targeted (and we know these are not new feelings for many of you in this country) we have your back. If you are visiting this page because you are looking for answers, email us at We are here to talk, to offer information, referrals, resources, and sanctuary.

Below is a first step list of preparation to make before January from Catholic Legal Immigration Network (CLINIC).

The new administration is expected to make significant changes to current immigration policy. The details of
what President-elect Trump will actually do on immigration are unknown. Until Jan. 19, 2017, current Obama
administration immigration policies will remain in place.

What can you do to prepare?

• Beware of immigration scams and notarios! Get information and assistance from a qualified immigration
legal service provider. Visit to locate an organization near you. More
information about avoiding notarios can be found at:
• Apply for citizenship! If you are a lawful permanent resident and currently eligible for naturalization, we
encourage you to apply. If you have pending relative petitions, check with a legal adviser first. Note: the fees
for naturalization will increase on Dec. 23, 2016.
• Get screened! You may be eligible for relief from deportation. Call your local CLINIC affiliate to find out
about screening.

What if you have DACA?

If you or a family member currently holds Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, known as DACA, here’s
what you should know:
• During his campaign, Trump said he would end DACA. Right now, we are not sure if and when that would
happen. We do know that DACA is in place at least until Jan. 19.
• You should immediately seek guidance from a qualified legal services provider if:
› You are considering an initial DACA application
› You want to renew DACA
› You are planning travel outside of the U.S. with an Advance Parole approval

Do you know your rights?

Know your rights about interacting with immigration agents.
• Do not open the door to immigration agents or police unless they have a legal document with your name on
it. Ask them to slip it under the door before you admit them. Tell your children not to open the door.
• Remain silent. You do not have to answer their questions.
• Do not sign anything and ask to speak with an attorney or legal representative.
• Find more detailed explanations of your rights here:
› English:
› Spanish:



En Español