Tell the President to Stop Targeting Families

Our government is going after mothers and children trying to escape bloody violence.

You read that right. The Obama administration is coming down hard on Central American families who have sought asylum in this country. They have fled some of the world’s deadliest countries – escaping brutal drug, gang, and domestic violence. They came here to live safe and free lives. And now, after failing to give them a fair shake in presenting their asylum claims, we’re forcing them from their homes in terrifying pre-dawn raids and sending them back without due process.

Stand strong with these families. Tell President Obama to stop targeting Central American mothers and children.

My heart breaks for them – for the sleeping children torn from their beds in the middle of the night, for the parents who watched helplessly as agents with guns were bearing down on them.

My heart breaks for millions of other families who weren’t raided and yet still suffer enormously. These raids are sending shockwaves of fear around the country. Parents are afraid to send their children to school, and children fear that their parents will disappear. People are canceling their appointments at health clinics. They’re terrified that they will be arrested by immigration agents.

Mothers and children targeted in these raids are people risking everything to live safe and free lives. They are not our enemies. Demand that President Obama stop targeting Central American families.

Thanks for taking action,

Anthony Romero of the ACLU Action Team

Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor, Your Huddled Masses… No More?

Our Government Continues to Blatantly Ignore Horrors of Families’ Plight

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security rang in the New Year by casting a nationwide dragnet targeting Central American asylum seekers for deportation to their home countries. In addition to the raids, DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson likewise announced an “expanded messaging campaign” that would “educate those considering the journey north… about the dangerous realities of that journey.”

He makes it sound as though they have a choice.

The truth is that asylum seekers hailing from the Northern Triangle of Central America are fleeing circumstances far more atrocious–and more hopeless–than a perilous north-bound journey to the U.S.

As the poet Warsan Shire said of another group of refugees, “no one puts their children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land.”

According to the State Department’s own assessments, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras have a crime rating of “critical,” which their hapless, corrupt, under-resourced, and underfunded police forces are helpless to remedy. Transnational criminal gang violence is epidemic. Indeed, Honduras and El Salvador are in a macabre competition to see which is the most murderous nation in the world.

But the data don’t portray the true horror of these families’ plight.

Many of the women fleeing Central America aren’t trying to save their children. They are trying to save their remaining children.

Women like July Perez, for example, whose 14 year-old son Anthony was beaten, burned, tortured, and suffocated to death for refusing to join a Honduran gang. (Perez had already lost a brother, whose dismembered body had been left to rot in a ditch.)

The “unaccompanied minors” are fleeing a similar fate. Remaining in their home countries means facing circumstances in which they are quite literally required to kill or be killed. Those who refuse to join a gang risk sharing the fate of eleven year-old David, a promising student who was stabbed to death, dismembered, and buried in a shallow grave in an abandoned field.

And while gang violence is Central America’s worst problem, it is far from its only problem. The women of the Northern Triangle suffer from an epidemic of extreme domestic violence that goes unpunished, if not unnoticed, by local authorities. Araceli Bonilla, for example, still bears the burn scars of a cast-iron grill on her arm and the knife scars on the finger her husband attempted to sever.

To think that people living in such circumstances might be swayed to remain by an “expanded messaging campaign” is naïve and unrealistic–in fact, it’s absurd.

These are abused mothers and frightened children who are knocking at our door and need our help. Forcing them to return to their countries is in many cases tantamount to a death sentence.

It was clear to the judge in the ACLU’s case RILR v. Johnson that these families have “escaped violence and persecution in these countries to seek asylum in the United States.” That’s why they deserve competent appointed counsel to help defend their asylum claims.

Instead: Coercion and scare tactics as a propagandist weapon against people who are simply trying to survive.

The federal government should cease its use of raids as tactics to deter mothers and children fleeing violence in Central America from coming to the United States–and stop depriving families who are already here from fair immigration hearings.

As the likes of both President Obama and former Vice President Dick Cheney laud the hit Broadway show Hamilton–which celebrates the life of an orphan born in the West Indies who came to the United States as a teenager and grew up to be one of our founding fathers and chief architects of our Constitution–we should take a moment to remember where we came from and reflect on who we are:

A nation born of immigrants who took risky journeys to start new lives.

A nation that values liberty, equality, and democracy.

Or so we thought.

Prepárese para las Redadas!

Originally posted on

Hay pasos a tomar para prepararse en caso de una redada.

1. Memorice el numero de 2 personas de confianza que sepan que son sus contactos y que le puedan contestar el teléfono en cualquier momento.

2. Tenga un plan de emergencia para el cuidado de los niños o de personas que requieran atención especial.

3. Haz contacto con un grupo comunitario ahora. Mejor organizar antes que llega la migra que después.

4. Si ICE va a su casa, no abra la puerta, aunque le enseñen una foto de la persona a la que busca, los conozca o no.

5. ICE no puede entrar a su casa sin una orden (orden de cateo) firmada por un juez. No tiene que abrir su puerta ni dejarlos entrar.

 – Si llevan orden, pídales que se la pasen por debajo de la puerta

– Si ICE lleva una orden firmada por un juez, revise que tenga su dirección o el nombre especifico de la persona a la que buscan.

6. Permanezca callada/o. Cualquier cosa que diga puede ser usada en su contra por ICE.

7. No de información ni firme ningún papel sin primero consultar con su abogada/o.

8. Documente la redada Tome fotos, pregunte nombres, el numero de su identificación, cuente los agentes que estén presentes y escriba o documente lo que paso.

9. Puede pelear su caso Obtenga consejos o representación de un abogado de confianza y busque recursos con organizaciones comunitarias locales. Solo por qué tiene una deportación final no significa que no tenga opciones. Aunque es difícil, a veces hay oportunidad de poner presión a inmigración para que use su discreción, especialmente con el apoyo de organizaciones comunitarias con experiencia.

Para obtener una evaluación inicial sobre su caso visite:

10. Reporte la redada Para reportar la redada,llenar el reporte aquí:  u Llame a la línea de ayude del consulado de El Salvador : 202.553.1545


Texas Can’t Ban Syrian Refugees

Texas officials want to violate the Constitution by closing our doors on refugees fleeing our enemies.

In the courts, in Congress, and in the legislature, Texas officials are in a full-court press to ban Syrian refugees from the state. They’ve even targeted non-profit humanitarian organizations in order to try and force them to stop resettling these desperate victims of war and terror. Our leaders need to hear your voice as well.

Write your local paper: Tell Texas officials that Syrian refugees are welcome in Texas.

It’s unconstitutional for Texas to bar an entire group of refugees from coming into the state because of their nationality. And it’s un-American to condemn groups solely based on their skin color, ethnicity, national origin, or religion.

These refugees are not terrorists; they are fleeing terrorists. They are families, widows, and children escaping unspeakable violence wrought by our own enemies. Many of their homes have been destroyed, and their country lies in ruins. Those lucky enough to have escaped the war zone live in refugee camps in abysmal conditions that only worsen in winter.

Join us in telling our leaders that closing the door on refugees is unconstitutional and un-American.

Texans are a warm and welcoming people. We have a long history of helping those in need, and our generosity is needed now more than ever.

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

Update Feb. 5, 2016: At a hearing on Thursday, Feb. 4th, the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) has decided to push ahead with the rule change. The proposal has now gone to the Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) for consideration.

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.