Abbott Leads Pack in Taking ISIS Bait

Last Friday night, teams of armed suicide bombers took to the streets of Paris to wreak bloody and unimaginable havoc. In military parlance, their targets were “soft”—a soccer stadium, a concert hall, a sidewalk café—and their victims intentionally indiscriminate. In the end, 129 innocent souls were taken before their time, as the world watched in shock, and then in mourning.

But as the events of the attack unfolded, it told not a tale of fear and carnage, but of hope. We learned of the extraordinary acts of courage, selflessness, and solidarity of Parisians willing to open their homes and risk their lives to protect those fleeing abominable acts of terror. The now-infamous hashtag #porteouverte promised shelter and safe haven for those unable to make it to the safety of their homes. Taxi drivers turned off their meters and ferried people away from the butchery, then returned for more. And hundreds of those waiting out the attack at the Stade de France broke into an inspiring and impromptu rendition of La Marseillaise.

When we remember Paris, we should not be haunted by the specters of the bloodthirsty and maniacal men who wrought this unspeakable deed. What we should remember are the heroes, the ordinary Parisians who became their best selves in order to help their fellow men in a time of high crisis. We have lessons to learn from such brave men and women.

Sadly, these are lessons that appear to be lost on Texas Governor Greg Abbott, who announced in a letter Monday that his administration would refuse to accept any Syrian refugees “in the wake of the deadly terrorist attack in Paris.” Two dozen other governors swiftly followed suit—but not to be outdone, the following day Abbott doubled down: Not only would Texas turn away Syrian refugees, but it would also interrogate all the Syrian refugees who have already been resettled here to ensure they are not a security risk.

Such pronouncements run counter to our laws, our values, and our conscience. First, the federal government has uncontested authority over refugee resettlement, and refugee admissions are set by the President specifically, so Texas’s refusal to accept refugees is a dead letter. Second, you can’t expect to be taken seriously when you affirm your “Judeo-Christian principles” in the same breath that you vow not to live by them. And finally—and most importantly—the refugees we are talking about are risking their lives and their children’s lives to escape a fate far worse than drowning at sea. Even the 10,000 we have agreed to welcome—which constitutes about one quarter of one percent of the total number of Syrian refugees—isn’t enough.

However, what looks like state-sponsored cowardice on the part of the Abbott administration is merely more of the same thinly veiled xenophobia that he has exercised throughout Texas since he came into office. Governor Abbott has already secured $800 million from the Texas legislature to block passage to women and children fleeing terrible violence in Central America. He has cynically attempted to have private prisons holding those same women and children designated as “licensed child care facilities” in order to circumvent a federal court order. Any pretense of public safety is exactly that—a pretense.

In spite of all appearances, the goal of the Paris attacks was not to disseminate terror. It was to use the dissemination of terror to force Western countries to despise their own Muslim citizens and drive them into the arms of the enemy. ISIS is very explicit about this.

Governor Abbott’s reaction is exactly and precisely what they want.

Sadly, he’s taken the bait.

President Obama and Texas Are Colluding to Detain Refugee Children in Private Prisons

The State of Texas has issued an emergency rule that transforms private prisons into “licensed child care facilities.”
By Terri Burke

At a time when both left and right have begun to agree on the needless financial and human costs of mass incarceration, the State of Texas is conspiring with the Obama administration to undermine a federal court order so they can keep innocent children in prison. If they succeed, it will be the latest in a litany of miseries wrought upon desperate kids and their mothers fleeing Central and South American countries where many had been kidnapped, raped, beaten, and tortured.

Beginning in the summer of 2014, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement ramped up its incarceration of refugee families seeking asylum, contracting with private prison companies to build massive detention centers to contain them.

These tired, poor, and huddled masses yearned to breathe free and found that they could not. Instead, they were shepherded through freezing, overcrowded holding cells with inadequate facilities, nutrition, and medical care, then transferred to private prisons in Dilley and Karnes — towns south of San Antonio — where they are locked up in compounds that resemble internment camps.

And despite their very credible fear that deportation was tantamount to a death sentence, many of these mothers and children were denied access to attorneys. Some of the women went on a hunger strike to protest their inhumane treatment — and the children continue to suffer from poor health, weight loss, diarrhea, bed-wetting, and nightmares as a result of their incarceration.

It appalls me that such injustices can happen in America.

It also appalled Dolly M. Gee, the federal district court judge who ruled last July that the Obama administration’s incarceration of children and their mothers violated a long-standing settlement agreement from a case known as Flores. Judge Gee decried the Department of Homeland Security’s “dubious” attempts to circumvent Flores and found that DHS “wholly failed” to ensure that detention facilities were “safe and sanitary.”

Most importantly, Gee noted that Flores requires that minors be released either to (or with) family members, or that they be remanded to “licensed, non-secure child care facilities.”

Let’s be clear: Prisons are not licensed child care facilities.

But come October 23, the State of Texas and the Obama administration plan to argue that they are.

In Texas, the responsibility for licensing child care facilities falls to the Department of Family and Protective Services, which publishes and updates 350-page manual of minimum standards for such facilities. It’s pretty thorough.

However, recently the DFPS issued emergency rule 748.7, which specifically exempts these private prisons — referred to with a certain Orwellian flair as “family residential centers”— from having to comply with the minimum standards it requires of everyone else.

In other words, with the stroke of a pen the DFPS can officially turn prisons into licensed child care facilities, though they do not meet the standards to which every other such facility is required to adhere.

This may seem insane and cruel and cynical because it absolutely is, but it’s also unnecessary.

The U.S. spends $2 billion a year on immigration detention solely to ensure people show up to their court hearings. Setting aside the needless financial waste — and it’s hard to believe I have to say this — imprisoning innocent children is wrong.

These are families fleeing unspeakable circumstances, and there isn’t a mother alive who wouldn’t make the sacrifice to protect her children from danger and try to give them a better life. It’s heartbreaking that our own federal and state governments won’t respect their suffering and their bravery. Instead they engage in these craven bureaucratic antics just so they can keep kids behind bars.

DHS must comply with Judge Gee’s order by this Friday. We fully expect them to argue that DFPS’s sham licenses keep them from having to set these families free. We can only hope that the court will demonstrate the wisdom it has in the past and reject this inhumane and brazen deception.

The Best and Worst of the 84th

Governor Abbott spent the weekend clearing his desk of all pending legislation, and thus we can finally close the book on Texas’s 84th legislative session. This year’s session wasn’t especially unusual, in that it saw its fair share of “chubbing,” glad-handing, horse-trading, and fist fights. Also typical was the sheer volume of threats leveled against Texans’ civil liberties. Thankfully, most of the worst proposals failed to make it onto the books—while some of the better ones did.

Here’s a rundown of some of the issues that mattered for civil liberties:

LGBT Rights:  The Texas legislature faced a serious quandary this year. On the one hand, some of our politicians really, really despise the idea of LGBT equality—more now than ever, with the Supreme Court’s marriage equality decision due any day—and are terrified of the possibility that it will become a reality. On the other, Indiana’s “religious refusal” debacle demonstrated just how catastrophic state-sponsored discrimination is for business.

Against that backdrop, LGBT rights fared well this session. Our LGBT Equality Coalition rose to the challenge, and Texas business leaders spoke out against discriminatory laws. Legislators introduced more than 20 bills and two constitutional amendments designed to enshrine discrimination into state law, but in the end none of them passed.  The only LGBT-related bill to become law (signed by Abbott with great fanfare) merely reaffirms that clergy can refuse to perform marriages that violate their religious beliefs, a right already guaranteed by the First Amendment.

Reproductive Rights: Not satisfied with passing the infamous HB 2 in 2013 (now before the Supreme Court) and the closure of more than half the states abortion clinics, extremist legislators tried to double down.  They introduced measures to eliminate an exception to the state’s 20-week abortion ban for severe fetal abnormalities and to block insurance from being used to pay for the termination of a pregnancy. While both of those measures failed, others did not.

In a particularly mean-spirited attack, the legislature revamped the “judicial bypass” process, making it even more difficult for young women who are victims of neglect, abuse, or sex trafficking to access abortion services. To add insult to injury, politicians also blocked access to breast and cervical cancer screenings for patients of Planned Parenthood, and diverted more state funding to discredited “crisis pregnancy centers,” whose literature has been described by the Texas Medical Association as “needlessly graphic” and “factually inaccurate.”

Criminal Justice:  Groups from every segment of the political spectrum united to reform the state’s criminal justice system. The Smart-on-Crime coalition helped enact a series of measures designed to streamline the penal code, reduce recidivism, improve the reintegration process, and give former convicts a better chance for success in life after prison. Disadvantaged school children need no longer fear a fast track to the prison system, now that truancy is no longer a crime. School police officers will receive specialized training to help them better meet the needs of the students they serve and protect. Prisoners destined for solitary will now undergo mental health screenings.

Immigration: The rights of the undocumented fared better than one might have expected in the current political climate.  For one, the fact that Texas DREAMers will continue to have access to in-state university tuition was welcome news. Additionally, two attempts to wrest immigration enforcement from the federal government were thwarted: the Interstate Border Enforcement Compact, designed to allow member states to coordinate border control efforts independent of the federal government, and the Sanctuary Cities bill, which would have required local law enforcement entities to enforce immigration law at the expense of their own local priorities.

However, one immigration measure that enjoyed broad support in the legislature was passed into law. A sweeping border protection bill that costs hundreds of millions of dollars, HB 11 shows that our legislature only embraces small government and fiscal conservatism when it concerns tax rates and deregulation, but not so much when civil rights, police overreach, mission creep, and government surveillance are on the table. The law sets up a centralized surveillance center, allows for southbound checkpoints of American citizens still in the U.S., and implements a hiring surge of officers, which has proven a reliable method for fomenting corruption and abuse in law enforcement.

The bottom line: In spite of some victories for civil liberties this legislative session, lesbian, gay and transgender Texans can still be fired, evicted, or denied services in much of the state, regardless of whether the Supreme Court rules in favor of marriage equality. Texas women seeking abortion access find ever more obstacles in their path, with many more clinics forced to close if the Supreme Court refuse to step in. We still have one of the highest rates of solitary confinement in the country. Private prisons continue to clamor for more inmates, and the state still has heavy incentives to provide them. And legislators continue to push for proposals that would punish immigrants for seeking a better life.

The legislature reconvenes in 2017, and until then there is much work to do.




Recap: Compilation of #HOUequality tweets

At a special City Council hearing on Houston’s Equal Rights Ordinance that took place Wed., April 29, most residents who testified voiced their unequivocal support for the ordinance. Just 19 people spoke against.

Attend the public meetings on the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance. To sign up to speak at the Public Session on Tuesday, May 6, you must do so before 1 p.m. the day of the meeting by:

  • Calling the City Secretary’s office at 832.393.1100
  • Sending an email to
  • Coming by the office on the public level of the City Hall Annex, 900 Bagby, Houston 77002 by 1:30 p.m. that

Before you testify please download our guide (PDF), which is full of helpful tips for giving public testimony. If you can’t make it in person, tell your story online. You can submit text or a video link.

Show your support on social media!

Highlights from 2013 the Symposium

On Feb 10, 2013, we held a Symposium in Austin to find a cure to our state’s addiction to mass-incarceration. We learned from the best and most experienced: folks at the grassroots level, from the ACLU of Texas professionals who deal with the Texas Legislature every day and from an ACLU professional who has won victories in Florida, a state not unlike ours. Listen to what they think needs to happen in Texas.

Hope and Naz Mustakim | One Couple’s Battle Within a Broken Immigration System

Howard Simon | Using Electronic Communications to Enact Social Change

Panel Discussion| Key Policies to Focus on in 2013

ACLU of Texas | 75 years of protecting your liberty

Mass-incarceration is not the answer to all of our social problems like drug addiction or undocumented immigration, yet our country spends billions to lock people up instead of investing in real solutions. Want to help us end mass-incarceration in Texas? Be our eyes and ears in your part of the state when you join the Community Action Network. We need people like you to stand with us. Together we can make a difference.

Geoffrey A. Hoffman, Using the Deportation Power to Threaten Free Speech

Geoffrey A. Hoffman
Clinical Associate Professor, Director, University of Houston Immigration Clinic

Recently, CNN commentator and British citizen Piers Morgan has been the subject of a White House petition to deport him. The cascade of petitioners, now numbering more than 100,000, is troubling. A person’s exercise of free speech is not something that should lead to a threat of deportation. More than that, a non-citizen may not be deported based merely upon the desires of 10,000, 100,000, or even a million angry petitioners. Deportation may only be based on some valid, legal basis.

As a non-citizen lawfully present in the U.S., Mr. Morgan is entitled to due process, a point which may surprise many. Due process means he has to be served with notice in a particular way and be advised of the ground of removal. He is entitled to present evidence, witnesses in his defense, and argue for relief from removal if any exist.

What does calling for someone’s “deportation” – even a deportation with no valid basis- say about us as a nation? The First Amendment protects even probing foreign journalists and especially dissenters. Calling for one’s expulsion at a time of tragedy is one way to discipline those who profess unpopular ideas. Focusing on a non-citizen’s opinions in especially pernicious because it does two things: it seeks to expel the offending person’s views from the marketplace of ideas, but also, more importantly, shifts discussion away from the truly important issues underlying the tragedy in Connecticut: gun control. There is no valid ground for deportation which exists against Mr. Morgan. It is interesting that the voices which have now coalesced in support of his deportation have succumbed to a false assumption: that the federal government can be persuaded to exercise its extraordinary power to rid the polity of someone who has said something controversial or at odds with a special-interest group. This assumption is unsound.

The exercise of the federal deportation power which is the exclusive province of Congress and the executive branch in such a manner would be tantamount to unlawful and discriminatory “selective prosecution.” In a famous case, Reno v. AADC, 525 U.S. 471 (1999), the Supreme Court has stated that although there may be no Constitutional right to bring a selective prosecution case in the immigration context, the door was left open to such a claim where the basis for the alleged discrimination is “outrageous.” In this case, to enforce the immigration laws against Mr. Morgan for the exercise of his free speech rights would be “outrageous” in the way conceived of by Justice Scalia in his opinion in Reno v. AADC.

It concerns me deeply that as a polity we can envision the use of deportation in such a way with little analysis about the misuse of such power and no appreciation of the effects that such a proposed use would have on other parts of our Constitution and the Bill of Rights. The First Amendment should not be trampled upon because the federal government has been imbued with other equally important powers, such as those over immigration and foreign affairs. To go down this road is dangerous and corrosive. While Mr. Morgan, a journalist and CNN celebrity, may not be fazed, all our rights are diminished if free speech can be subjected to the chilling effects of threatened deportation against those among us who espouse controversial or dissenting views.

UPDATE (Jan. 11): The White House responded to the petition to deport Piers Morgan by emphasizing his First Amendment rights to speak on gun control.

Orginally posted on ImmigrationProf Blog.

You have the right to make a difference

By Gislaine Williams, ACLU of Texas Outreach Coordinator

We are fast approaching the start of the 2013 Texas legislative session. Starting January 8 through the end of May, Texas lawmakers will meet in Austin for the 83rd Legislature. They will be proposing, debating, and passing laws that will impact all of us.

As Texans, we have the right and responsibility to be a part of this political process. You can make a difference by raising your voice to demand policies that will make a positive change in our communities. Learn how to become a grassroots activist at Community Watchdog TX.

The first step is to educate yourself. Become familiar with the major issues in Texas. Learn about the legislative process and get to know your representatives. Our toolkits provide you an overview of the critical issues facing our state:

  • Criminal Justice TX: Learn about mass incarceration, the rise of for-profit prisons, and the death penalty.
  • Educate, Don’t Incarcerate:  An overview of school discipline policies pushing students out of school.
  • Religious Freedom: A look at how our religious freedoms are threatened in Texas.
  • Immigrants’ Rights:  Find out how we’re working to reclaim the civil rights of all Texans, regardless of immigration status.
  • Find out who your representatives are here.
  • Learn how a bill becomes a law here.

Contact your legislator. There are a number of ways you can contact your representative about an issue. You can write a letter, telephone, or set-up a meeting in  the local district office. Use our lobbying guides to learn how.

Ready to meet with your legislator? We can help you schedule and prepare for your local meeting. Just email to get started.

Lobby with us in Austin! The ACLU of Texas will host our first ever Symposium & Lobby Day in Austin Feb.  10-11. On Feb.  10, you will hear from advocates and policy experts working on criminal justice and immigrants’ rights issues.  The following day we will go to the state capitol to meet with representatives to talk to them about the major civil liberties issues in our state. Sign-up today to receive more information.

Stay involved. Join the Community Action Network to get updates on ways you can advocate for change this legislative session.

Does the punishment fit the crime?

By Adriana Pinon
Staff Attorney

The October 25th shooting of two Guatemalan immigrants by a DPS sharpshooter triggered a firestorm of criticism from various organizations and public officials.  For the past month, the public has been trying to understand the details of this tragedy and whether the policy that allowed it should be revised.  This piece, written by Geoffrey A. Hoffman, an Associate Professor at the University of Houston  Law Center, analyzes the legality of the shooting astutely and accessibly.

Investigate Border Agency, Stop Abuse at Ports of Entry

By Vicki B. Gaubeca, ACLU of New Mexico and Krystal Gómez, ACLU of Texas

A year ago this week , a young woman working with the ACLU of New Mexico arrived at the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) offices at the Ysleta-Zaragoza port of entry in El Paso/Ciudad Juárez. She was there to meet with a New Mexico State Police sergeant investigating her allegations of sexual assault by a Border Patrol agent that occurred while she was detained at a fixed checkpoint in NM. The meeting had been arranged in advance with CBP officials at the port of entry by the NM State Police, and CBP was made aware of the nature of the meeting.

What happened next frightened the young woman  so much that she dropped the investigation. This story, along with other stories of CBP abuse, will be featured tonight in a PBS special report on the program Need to Know. (Please see local listings for air times.)

This case is only one of many stories of abuse and impunity at the hands of CBP officers. The ACLU recently documented eleven cases of abuse at official ports of entry in a letter to the Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The cases come from ports of entry along the U.S.-Mexico border, and most involve U.S. citizens. The letter calls for an investigation into the cases and increased oversight of DHS Customs and Border Protection, an agency that has swelled in size to become the largest federal law enforcement agency in the country.

This PBS Need to Know documentary is the second installment in the series, “Crossing the Line,” that aired April 20 and focused on deaths and serious injuries caused by CBP officials.  The April 20th segment told the story of Anastasio Hernandez-Rojas, a 42-year-old father of five who, in May 2010, died after a group of CBP officers beat him and shocked him with tasers at the San Ysidro port of entry near San Diego.  Live videotape of the beating shows bystanders calling on the officers to stop beating Hernandez-Rojas, hogtied and lying prostrate on the ground, as he screamed in pain and pled for his life.

On July 24-26, 2012, a delegation that includes members from ACLU-San Diego and Imperial Counties, ACLU-New Mexico and ACLU-Texas will travel to Washington, D.C., to meet with White House staff members, top officials at DHS and CBP, and congressional members to demand more accountability and oversight of Border Patrol agents.

Congress should create an external, independent oversight commission with investigatory, auditing, and subpoena power to respond to complaints from whistleblowers and the general public about CBP abuses, while protecting the identity and status of complainants. The oversight commission, which should include non-governmental organizations among its members, should be required to issue public reports on its activity and have the authority to make legislative, regulatory, or policy recommendations.

The time has come to create a mechanism for holding CBP accountable and to check the rising trend of abuse and deaths.