Immigrants in America: Concerns, Resources, and Priorities

CG4TX Immigration Panel

On Saturday, February 4 Common Ground hosted a panel discussion on Immigrants in America: Concerns, Resources and Priorities. Our panelists were:

  • Megan Sheffield from Texas Here to Stay, who hold “Know Your Rights” clinics for  immigrants.
  • Sarah Woelk from Casa Marianella, a homeless shelter serving recently-arrived immigrants and asylum seekers.
  • Elaine Cohen from the Austin Sanctuary Network, a multi-faith coalition seeking justice and dignity for immigrants by providing sanctuary.  Elaine brought with her Hilda Ramirez who receives sanctuary at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Austin.  Hilda’s story was made public by the Washington Post.

Texas Here to Stay (THTS) is a coalition of immigrant legal services providers and advocacy groups dedicated to strengthening our diverse community by ensuring access to legal information and services for all immigrants. They host Know Your Rights free clinics given by immigrant attorneys with presentations and immigration consultations for any individual seeking immigration information and legal services.

Casa Marianella is a volunteer-driven emergency homeless shelter in east Austin, serving recently-arrived immigrants and asylum seekers from around the world.

Austin Sanctuary Network is a multi-faith coalition of congregations in and around Austin that have been invited to join the larger immigrant rights struggle. Together with those at risk of deportation and their families and allies, they seek justice and dignity by opening their doors to provide sanctuary as a tool to achieve those goals.

The panelists helped us understand the different ways folks can immigrate to the U.S., the relevant government agencies that are involved, and the terminology used by these agencies and by the media.

During the Q&A there were several questions regarding Sheriff Sally Hernandez’s position on ICE detainers.  What is an ICE detainer? Continue reading

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Our Op-ed on the National Popular Vote

Our drive to elect Presidents by popular vote continues with an op-ed written by Elaine Wiant (president, League of Women Voters of Texas) and myself. In it, we explain how the Electoral College makes most Americans’ votes less relevant in presidential elections, and how the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact would let the popular vote decide without requiring a constitutional amendment.

The op-ed was published online by the Austin American-Statesman on March 14, and in print on Saturday, March 18. It has also been published by the Galveston County Daily News and the Odessa American. Find it here:

If you agree, please share with your friends and family!


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Action Alert: Two Texas House Bills on the Electoral College and Campaign Finance

We’ve been closely following two bills that have been referred to the Select Committee on State and Federal Power and Responsibility:

  • HB 496 (Rep. I. Minjarez) calls on Texas to join the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact.
  • HCR 34 (Rep. R. Anchia) calls on Congress to overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision.

We’ve visited with all but one of the legislators who sit on this committee to advocate for these two bills. Now, we’d like your help to get a public hearing on both bills.

  • This week (March 14-17), take action to make every vote count equally by making the Electoral College irrelevant.
  • Next week (March 20-24), take action to overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision.

We are not alone. Several states have NPVIC bills in their legislatures.

  • Green — states where the NPVIC is already signed into law
  • Orange — states will bills under consideration

If you are a constituent of one of the following legislators, please email or call them. If you have friends in any of these districts, ask them to email or call. Legislators listen to their constituents.

This week’s (March 14-17) message might be something like this — but in your own words:

Congratulations on your appointment to the Select Committee on State & Federal Power & Responsibility. Thank you for representing my district on the important matters that come before you. As one of your constituents, I would like to urge you to call for a public hearing on HB 496 calling on Texas to join the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. Texas is not alone. Nineteen other states are considering legislation to join the NPVIC.

Next week’s (March 20-24) message might be something like this — in your own words:

Congratulations on your appointment to the Select Committee on State & Federal Power & Responsibility. Thank you for representing my district on the important matters that come before you. As one of your constituents, I would like to urge you to call for a public hearing on HCR 34 resolving that Congress should amend the US Constitution to overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. (Note: this is NOT a call for an Article V Convention of the States.)

Select Committee on State and Federal Power and Responsibility:



Thank you for taking ACTION to improve our democracy!



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Texas Redistricting Commission bill submitted

Craig Tounget

Craig Tounget

Common Ground for Texans hosted a community conversation on Sept 6, 2014 titled “Should Austin’s redistricting plan be duplicated in other Texas cities?”  Craig Tounget, the former Executive Director of the Austin Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission, participated on our panel.  After the 2020 census, districts will be redrawn.  Who should be in charge, citizens or politicians?  Now, Mr. Tounget is moving forward with his state-wide initiative, Texas Citizens Redistricting Initiative, to make sure that voters choose their elected officials rather than politicians choosing their voters. 

Rep. Donna Howard, D–Austin

Rep. Donna Howard, D–Austin

Rep. Donna Howard (D-Austin) continues to submit legislation calling for a Texas (bipartisan) Redistricting Commission (HJR 32) consisting of seven members:

  1. one member appointed by the member of the Texas Senate with the most seniority
  2. one member appointed by the member of the Texas Senate with the most seniority who is of a different political party than the member described under (1)
  3. one member appointed by the member of the Texas House with the most seniority
  4. one member appointed by the member of the Texas House with the most seniority who is of a different political party than the member described under (3)
  5. one member appointed by an affirmative vote of note fewer than three of the commissioners selected under (1-4) above.
  6. two members appointed by the member appointed under (5), who must be retired federal judges appointed to the federal bench by presidents of different political parties.

Although this joint resolution (HJR 32) does not call for a citizens’ independent redistricting commission, it is one step closer to reaching that goal.

Wikipedia, the modern day encyclopedia, has a listing of the 13 states that use either bi-partisan or non-partisan redistricting commissions to exclusively draw electoral district lines.  Questions have been asked whether a redistricting commission process independent of the state legislature is constitutional.  In 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court in Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission decided that in the affirmative.

Texas is conspicuously absent from this table.  Shouldn’t we help make this a reality?

Posted in Electoral reform, Legislation, Redistricting | 5 Comments

National Popular Vote Update — We Have a Bill Number!

We have some good news! Rep. Ina Minjarez (D-San Antonio) has submitted a bill for Texas to join the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact.

The bill number is HB 496.

Please email, call, or write to your state rep to ask him or her to support this important bill! If you are not sure who your representative is, click here and look for “Who Represents Me?” in the lower right column. And please, help us spread the word — pass this news on to your friends and family, and ask if they’ll demand change from their state rep.

We need a massive surge of support for this bill, so that we finally have a fair process for presidential elections. Every vote should count equally.

We’ve heard positive noises from the following reps. Two of them (marked with *) are poised to co-author the bill.

  • Rep. Richard Peña Raymond * (D-Laredo) — email or call 512-463-0558
  • Rep. Celia Israel * (D-Austin) — email or call 512-463-0821
  • Rep. Raphael Anchia (D-Dallas) — email or call 512-463-0746
  • Rep. Gina Hinojosa (D-Austin) — email or call 512-463-0668
  • Rep. Donna Howard (D-Austin) — email or call 512-463-0631
  • Rep. Eddie Rodriguez (D-Austin) — email or call 512-463-0674

If one of these represents your district, thank them for their support of a fairer democracy where every vote is counted equally, and encourage them to become a co-author or co-sponsor of the bill.

We’ve also talked with the following legislators who haven’t committed YET. If they heard from you maybe they would co-sponsor the bill.

  • Rep. Cindy Burkett (R-Garland) — email or call 512-463-0464
  • Rep. Sarah Davis (R-Houston) — email or call 512-463-0389
  • Rep. Drew Darby (R-San Angelo) — email or call 512-463-0331
  • Rep. Charlie Geren (R-River Oaks) — email or call 512-463-0610
  • Rep. Joe Moody (D-El Paso) — email or call 512-463-0728
  • Rep. Andrew Murr (R-Kerrville) — email or call 512-463-0536
  • Rep. Paul Workman (R-Austin) — email or call 512-463-0652

If one of these represents your House district, please encourage them to co-sponsor the bill.

Although we have spoken with several Senators, none has filed an NPVIC bill on the Senate side yet. When we receive notice of a Senate bill number, we will let you know.

Thanks for helping us ensure that every vote counts equally in our presidential elections!



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January Event – Restoring Civil Discourse After the 2016 Presidential Campaign

The Common Ground for Texans January 2017 event took place in the form of a moderated panel discussion with Mike Ignatowski as moderator. The panel was titled “Restoring Civil Discourse After the 2016 Presidential Campaign”. The three-member panel consisted of executive editor and co-founder of The Texas Tribune, Ross Ramsey, Shivers Chair in Communication at The Moody College of Communication, Dr. Roderick Hart, and the chief political writer at the Austin American Statesman, Jonathan Tilove. Many thanks to our panel members and moderator.

There was a very large group at the event and many of them had questions for the panel. I counted eighty nine people early on but more came later. Thanks to everyone who was there, and to everyone who offered a statement and/or question. We appreciate your patience. There was a vigorous but civil back-and-forth between the crowd and the panel. To clarify, in my summary and commentary, I have combined information from the panelist’s opening statements and what was provided in the form of responses to the questions of the audience members.

The panel was initiated with the following quote:

“The great promise of the internet was that it would bring democracies together, giving more people more access to more information, all beyond the control of any single authority. Curious citizens could develop a more nuanced understanding of what was going on; voters would be better informed; we would ferret out the truth from the bottom up and greater freedom would be the inevitable result.

“But somewhere along the way, the democratization of the flow of information became the democratization of the flow of disinformation. The distinction between fact and fiction was erased, creating a sprawling universe of competing claims.”

— “The Problem with ‘Self-Investigation’ in a Post-Truth Era” by Jonathan Mahler in the Dec 27, 2016 issue of the New York Times Magazine

Ross Ramsey started things off with a description of a news day timeline. As Mr. Ramsey put it, “You may have one hundred topics, stories or the more interesting but less likely to be true unbelievable tips” to dig through in a typical newsroom on a single day. Editors worked with journalists to distinguish fact from fiction. “A good editor can always spot the hole in a story” separating fully formed ideas backed by quality information from uninformed ideas that have not been shaped into fact based, newsworthy material. Ten stories made print and three of those ended up on the front page. In an internet world without editors or central authorities ensuring the factuality of posts, tweets, blogs, and other data, our best recourse against the deluge of information at everyone’s finger tips may likely be in pursuing and teaching skepticism, listening and patience in our communities. The journalistic adage Mr. Ramsey offered was, “If your mother says she loves you, check it out.” He compared a healthy intake of information to the healthy intake of food. Someone makes a personal choice about what to consume, and if it’s all junk food then their health declines. This analogy leads us to organizations like Sleeping Giants who alert advertisers that their products are showing up on Breitbart. They’ve since convinced hundreds of advertisers to quit paying for ads on the racist and misogynistic fake news site. There used to be a time when you couldn’t get milk and fruit with your happy meal at McDonald’s, but their customers viewed it as too unhealthy and marketing changed the menu. Can that happen here? How difficult is it to ask the public to practice journalistic integrities? Some present at the panel argued that it might be too much to ask. It was clear that engaging others in a conversation about a “healthy news diet” and journalistic best practices was a good way to start restoring civil discourse in 2017.

Dr. Roderick Hart stressed that “Fact is something you pay for; opinion is what comes free.” There was a lot of discussion as to what that meant. Mr. Ramsey pointed out that his employer, The Texas Tribune, is a free publication. Most effectively, Dr. Hart meant that this was how you should start your deductive process when deciding what you’re looking at online or in a piece of printed material…Ask yourself, “Do the people producing this product have a background in journalism or a field applicable to the topic? Are they held to the integrity of their work by a paycheck that only comes when they print facts that can’t be refuted or at the very least well founded possibilities that require public attention because of their extreme likelihood?” Dr. Hart pointed out that Mr. Ramsey does in fact receive a paycheck in this way. He also recommended subscribing to a news source that charges for its services. He backed this as the most likely way to get the good stuff.

He also explained what he called a dangerous digital morality:

  • I can be by myself … online
  • I can “follow” others without their knowing it
  • I can think things I shouldn’t be thinking
  • I can say things I shouldn’t be saying
  • I need not worry about the consequences of my actions

By exercising these beliefs people all over the world have become part of a vast network of trolls. Some of these individuals are behaving badly for monetary and political gain. Many of them turned out to be “addicted to the chemical stimulation” of emotionally charged materials that became part of a larger social-network-based disinformation hub fueling a sort of distributed denial of service attack targeting the truth. Instead of a botnet crashing a major website this was a symbiotic rhythm drummed by the clickers, sharers and the creators of “fake news” overloading the public with dis-information in such a way that it fed bias and arrogance fueling the solipsism and hatred of the “dangerous digital morality”. Many of us segregated voluntarily into the private chat rooms that accommodated our point of view. Dr. Hart suggested the remedy is engaging in conversation with individuals who have dissimilar points of view in order to practice and encourage civil discourse. He explained that in 2016 many Americans were introduced to the black lives in America that are constantly at risk and in danger. We learned about white rural Americans that voted for Trump because they felt defeated and forgotten. He explained this as a positive step towards Americans getting to know what their fellow citizens experience differently from themselves and opening their minds to one other. He emphasized the art of listening empathetically when restoring civil discourse.

Jonathan Tilove spoke around multiple aspects of the present-day political environment involving tweets, news, and the use of language. He revisited Dan Patrick’s tweets from June 12, 2016 and discussed how difficult it was for people to accept his findings that one tweet was in fact NOT a heartless comment on the shootings in Orlando on the same day. What became evident was that there was a fringe of non-believers in every political spectrum that were joining the mainstream. “Nobody believes a liar…even when he is telling the truth!” as Aesop’s morals go. Perhaps we have a reached a point where no one believes an honest man either? Is it so difficult now to identify the truth that an investigative journalist with real evidence is hard to believe? Donald Trump has said he has “the world’s greatest memory” and then denies saying what he has said no matter how much proof there is he said it. Sometimes Mr. Trump says he doesn’t remember saying what he has said even though he has “the world’s greatest memory”. In Aesop’s fable, the villagers responded three times to the shepherd boy’s alarm before they stopped trusting his cries for help. In 2017, maybe they only come once. When the President Elect of the United States is a compulsive liar, who do you trust? The answer is no one. Trust evidence. Trust facts. Trust research. Trust the journalistic process of skeptical, unbiased, patient deduction.

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Update on NPVIC

We’re working hard to get Texas to join the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact (NPVIC), and wanted to give you a quick update.

Over the past few weeks, we’ve met with ten Representatives and Senators at the state capitol, and have gotten mostly positive responses. Rep. Richard Peña Raymond (D-Laredo), who submitted an NPVIC bill in 2011, has submitted it again for the upcoming session, which begins on Jan. 10.

The bill has been given a draft bill number. The next step is for it to be filed and assigned its official bill number. We will let you know when we have the official bill number, to ask you to contact your reps about supporting it.

We also understand from Rep. Celia Israel’s (D-Austin) office that she plans to submit an NPVIC bill as well and that Rep. Eddie Rodriguez (D-Austin) is very interested in supporting one. Because making the Electoral College irrelevant is a nonpartisan effort, we are actively seeking Republicans to co-sponsor.

So stay tuned for more NPVIC news in the coming weeks! We’ve also set up a new email list for NPVIC updates — click on “NPVIC Texas Campaign” in the right column of this page. And you can follow us on Facebook.

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Pushing for the National Popular Vote

At our November 13 board meeting, the Common Ground for Texans board of directors voted to advocate for the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact (NPVIC), a state-level statutory measure to make sure that the presidency goes to the candidate with the most votes nationwide. We will build a coalition with other civic groups to pressure the Texas legislature, which convenes next month, to join the compact which already has 10 states signed up, plus the District of Columbia.

How does it work? Well, every state exercises full control over how its own electors are selected. Of the 51 jurisdictions that contribute electors to the electoral college, all but two use the “winner-take-all” system, in which the candidate with the most votes in the state get all of its electors. By joining the NPVIC, each state agrees to appoint electors who will vote for whoever wins the national popular vote — even if they didn’t win in that state.

But this agreement doesn’t necessarily take effect as soon as a state signs up. It only takes effect when the states in the compact control 270 or more electoral votes. Because that’s a majority of the 538 total electors, when the compact reaches this level of acceptance it means that the national popular vote winner will also win the electoral college.

So far, the compact includes states representing 165 electoral votes, or 61% of what’s needed to activate the agreement. If Texas joins, our 38 electors would be added for a total of 203, or 75% of the number needed. That’s not counting the contribution of other states which may soon join.

This election year has added to a substantial list of occasions in which the presidential candidate with the most popular votes did not win the election. We know that there’s a lot of partisan energy surrounding this issue right now. But we firmly believe this is a non-partisan issue: such a “malfunction” can happen to either side. If you’ve followed our work, you know that we’ve been interested in the electoral college for quite a while. So we are very well-positioned to make a non-partisan case for reforming it.

We are very selective about choosing issues for our advocacy; we only do it when it’s clearly aligned with our mission to promote voter participation, or clearly in the interests of fairness. In this case, it’s clear that the workings of the electoral college are inconsistent with a fundamental democratic principle: that every vote should count equally. The principle of “one person, one vote” has been recognized as essential in almost every area of constitutional law other than the electoral college. We believe it’s time for the same principle to apply to how we choose our President.

We’re currently working hard to identify like-minded groups and Texas legislators who will support this effort. We’ve created some literature to help with this:

If you happen to know a state legislator who’d like to sponsor a bill for Texas to join the NPVIC, please let us know.

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Fake news? Real news?

Melissa Zimdars

Melissa Zimdars

Have you wondered whether the news you and your friends and family are reading on-line is real or fake? Melissa Zimdars, an assistant professor of communication and media at Merrimack College, has compiled a list of Misleading, Clickbait-y, and/or Satirical “News” Sources, along with tips for analyzing sources.  It can be found here.

Posted in Media | 3 Comments

Bob Jensen critiques “The Coddling of the American Mind”

photo of Prof. Robert Jensen

Robert Jensen

Bob Jensen, a professor in the School of Journalism at the University of Texas, a founding board member of the Third Coast Activist Resource Center, and a member of the board of Culture Reframed, spoke at the March 5, 2016 meeting of Common Ground for Texans.  He was asked to respond to a recent article, “The Coddling of the American Mind,” published in the September 2015 issue of The Atlantic.  According to the article:

A movement is arising, undirected and driven largely by students, to scrub campuses clean of words, ideas, and subjects that might cause discomfort or give offense.  Two terms have risen quickly from obscurity into common campus parlance.  Micro-aggressions are small actions or word choices that seem on their face to have no malicious intent but that are thought of as a kind of violence nonetheless.  Trigger warnings are alerts that professors are expected to issue if something in a course might cause a strong emotional response.

Dr. Jensen challenged the framing and ideology of the Atlantic article, and of the dominant culture, by suggesting a better title: “The Coddling of the Capitalist, White-Supremacist, Patriarchal American Mind.”  He agrees that educators are right to be concerned about non-rational or anti-intellectual factors that can shut down the conversation in a classroom; emotion and politics can impede open inquiry.  He prefers to define political correctness as “a narrowing of the scope of inquiry, especially to avoid certain controversial ideas out of a fear of offending someone, falling out of step with peers, or being disciplined by authorities.”  He postulates that there are two academic units on most campuses where political correctness severely limits students and undermines the quality of intellectual work: business schools and economics departments, where he finds little or no outright challenges to or critiques of capitalism.

Continue reading

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