Author Archives: Rebecca Larsen

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. Your name and address must be spelled correctly, and it the warrant must be signed by a JUDGE, not an agent,
• 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:




16 May 16
Rebecca Larsen
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Demian Bichir: What To Do If Immigration Agents Are At Your Door
Courtesy of the ACLU

If officers are at your door, keep the door closed and ask if they are Immigration agents, or from ICE.

Ask the agents what they are there for.

Opening the door does not give the agents permission to come inside, but it is safer to speak to ICE through the door.

If the agents don’t speak your language, ask for an interpreter.

If the agents want to enter, ask them if they have a warrant signed by a judge. If ICE agents do not have a warrant signed by  a Judge, you may refuse to open the door or let them in. An administrative warrant of removal from immigration authorities is not enough.

If they say they have a warrant, ask them to slip the warrant under the door.

 Look at the top and at the signature line to see if it was issued by a court and signed by a judge. Only a court/judge warrant is enough for entry into your premises. One issued by DHS or ICE and signed by a DHS or ICE employee is not.An example of an order by a judge

An example of an order by ICE 

Do not open your door unless ICE shows you a judicial search or arrest warrant naming a person in your residence and/or areas to be searched at your address.

In all other cases, keep the door closed. State: “I do not consent to your entry.”

If agents force their way in anyway, do not attempt to resist. If you wish to exercise your rights, state: “I do not consent to your entry or to your search of these premises. I am exercising my right to remain silent. I wish to speak with a lawyer as soon as possible.” 

Everyone in the residence may also exercise the right to remain silent.

Do not lie or show false documents. Do not sign any papers without speaking to a lawyer. If you need more information, contact your local ACLU affiliate at

Know Your Rights! — Saturday!

14 May 16
Rebecca Larsen
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Location- “Tierra de Bendicion” church
Address- 3404 Speight Ave
Time: 7pm

Are you an immigrant or person of color? Does your job position serve someone that is? Want to know what your rights are, even for a non-citizen? Do you know what to do when approached by law enforcement on the road, in your home, in public, etc to protect yourself?

Please attend the Know Your Rights presentation Saturday and bring a friend. Feel free to forward this info to your church, campus club, etc. There will be FREE know-your-rights cards for attendees to take with them for quick info and to share with others.

The presentation will last approximately one hour or so there will be time for questions and answers.

See you there!

Judge Blocks State From Licensing Family Detention Center

06 May 16
Rebecca Larsen
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The Texas Tribune 

An Austin judge temporarily blocked the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services from issuing a childcare license to an immigration detention center in Dilley on Wednesday.

Grassroots Leadership, a nonprofit organization opposed to for-profit prisons, sued the department on Tuesday challenging its authority to issue childcare licenses to privately run immigration detention centers in Dilley and Karnes City. The Karnes City facility has already received a temporary license.

“Today, we are glad a judge has agreed to halt, at least temporarily, the appalling practice of labeling family prisons as childcare facilities,” said Bob Libal, executive director of Grassroots Leadership in a statement. “Family detention camps are prisons. They are not childcare facilities. DFPS has for a decade refused to regulate these facilities because they do not have authority to do so.”

The ruling by state District Judge Karen Crump said the temporary restraining order “is necessary to preserve the status quo while the validity of the agency’s regulation” is disputed. The restraining order will expire in two weeks unless the court takes further action. It is scheduled to hear the organization’s request for a temporary injunction on May 13.

READ MORE State Sued for Licensing Detention Center

Last year, a federal district judge ruled the women and children at the Karnes center and a similar facility in Dilley were being held in poor conditions that violated a 1997 settlement requiring undocumented children to be held in places that protect their overall well-being. The judge called for families being held in such prisons to be released. The federal government has appealed to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Libal told the Tribune on Tuesday that the department’s decision to license the Karnes center served only to make the detention of the children at these centers permissible under the settlement.

Patrick Crimmins, a spokesman for the department, said issuing broad childcare licenses to these centers grants the state more oversight and the ability to conduct regulate inspections. Crimmins declined to comment on the judge’s ruling.

End Family Detention: “No Sanctuary” Movie Screening & Panel Discussion

25 Apr 16
Rebecca Larsen

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Tuesday, April 26th at Brooks Flats Classroom at Baylor University – 6:30PM
RSVP here.
Sunday, May 1st at Calvary Baptist Church – 4pm,
RSVP here.

This new documentary chronicles the return of immigrant family detention in the United States. The Texas-made film follows our government’s response to refugees and migrants in the creation and expansion of new private prisons for these families in remote and isolated areas of the Southwest. Reversing the progress of the immigrant rights movement and his own previous decisions, President Obama has surpassed the Bush administration in expanding the use of detention centers for refugee families. This history is portrayed and told by the people who live it and shines light on the growing grassroots movement fighting to close these family prisons and welcoming our neighbors with compassion.

Come learn more about immigrant family detention and what we can do to help end this injustice! After the 30 minute documentary, we will hear from Wacoans who have been detained and from our immigrant neighbors.

Here is a link to the trailer!

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Hope to see you there! Bring friends!

Public Deliberation Forum on Immigration

25 Apr 16
Rebecca Larsen

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Open to the public!
April 25 @ 5 pm, Bobo Spiritual Life Center (500 Speight Ave)
Light refreshments will be served.

In partnership with the Waco Immigration Alliance
-Think you know what you believe on immigration?
-Unsure what to believe?
-Want more than sound bites and easy solutions?

Come join us for a deliberative forum as we consider three perspectives on how to fix a system in crisis. We’ll examine the following options together:

· Welcome New Arrivals
· Protect Our Borders
· Promote Economic Prosperity

Please join us for an important conversation and help us spread the word!

En Español