Educational access should be about fairness, not identity

By Olga Medina
Summer Legal Intern

Tomorrow marks the 30th anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court decision, Plyler v. Doe, which declared that immigrant and citizen children alike should have equal access to public education.  The effect of the Court’s decision was especially pronounced in Texas.  The case followed passage of a state law that denied school districts funding for the education of undocumented students and authorized charging tuition based on a child’s immigration status.  Justice Brennan articulated the Court’s reasoning: “By denying these children a basic education, we deny them the ability to live within the structure of our civic institutions, and foreclose any realistic possibility that they will contribute in even the smallest way to the progress of our Nation.”  In effect, the Court reinforced the idea that principles of fairness, rather than one’s identity, should dictate educational access.

Thirty years after Plyler, immigrant students continue to confront obstacles that impede their full contribution to their communities and society.  Texas remains a battleground.  Although it was the first state in the nation to offer in-state tuition rates to undocumented students, efforts to repeal the law persist.  Even students who manage to obtain higher education often are unable to apply their skills and knowledge because of the roadblocks they face due to their immigration status.  These circumstances call for consideration of comprehensive immigration reform and enacting measures such as the DREAM Act, legislation that would establish a path to legal status for immigrant youth who pursue higher education or complete military service.  As of 2008, there were an estimated 258,000 potential DREAM Act beneficiaries in Texas.

While Plyler had a major impact on the ability of immigrant students to obtain an education, significant challenges continue to prevent them from becoming full members of society.  Addressing these challenges will be critical to ensuring that these youth can contribute to our nation’s progress, as envisioned by Justice Brennan, and ensuring that Plyler’s promise is fulfilled.

For more information, visit

Travis County Should End Compliance With ICE’s “Secure Communities” Program

By Daniel Collins
Summer Policy Intern

Last week, the Washington D.C. Council announced they would refuse to comply with the federal Immigration and Custom Enforcement’s (ICE) controversial “Secure Communities” deportation program (“S-Comm”).  The program, under which ICE requests local law enforcement agencies detain arrested individuals with questionable immigration status so they may be taken into custody by ICE, is an open invitation to racial profiling, undermines trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve, and has led to the deportation of more than a million people, many arrested for low-level, non-violent offenses.

The nation’s capital joins a growing list of jurisdictions declining to participate in the federal government’s deportation dragnet.  Unfortunately, that trend has yet to reach Texas.   In fact, Austin—thought by many to be the Lone Star State’s most progressive city—deports more persons for low-level offenses than almost any other U.S. city!

One important fact: The decision to honor an ICE detainer request is completely discretionary.  In fact, under federal law such detainers must be voluntary and local governments risk being sued if they detain someone mistakenly or for too long.  Furthermore, local police have no business acting as de facto ICE agents.  Ultimately, S-Comm drives a wedge between local police and their communities by making undocumented community members afraid to report a crime for fear of being deported. There simply is nothing “secure” about that.

The law that just passed in Washington D.C. will instruct local police to only comply with detention requests for those over 18 who have been convicted of a dangerous crime.  Other jurisdictions like Milwaukee have enacted similar laws.  Other counties have taken more aggressive measures to keep S-Comm out of their communities.  Some, for example, have required ICE to reimburse local government for any costs of complying with a detainer, while others have simply ignored all of ICE’s requests.

So why in Texas do Travis County Jail officials honor every detainer from ICE?  Why is it that twice as many of the more than 2,000 total people deported from Travis County were arrested for only a misdemeanor offense?  Sheriff Greg Hamilton still believes the detainer requests are mandatory, despite ICE guidance and legal interpretation to the contrary.  He also argues that ICE detainers should be complied with because released persons might possibly commit violent crimes.  This argument simply cannot justify denying arrestees due process rights, or holding them without proof of crime.

In Austin, a coalition of local civil and human rights groups have called on city and county government to end compliance with S-Comm detainers.  Only with community support may it be ensured that Austin truly is a secure community for all residents.

Sexually abused in detention: 360 more days of real-life nightmares?

By Kali Cohn
Summer Legal Intern

Two weeks ago, Attorney General Eric Holder signed the 2003 Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA)’s implementation regulations, which set forth detailed processes for sex abuse prevention, detection, and response to criminals in federal prison. These critical regulations come on the heels of the Department of Justice (DOJ)’s recent study surveying prison inmates about sexual violence, where 1 in 10 inmates identified themselves as victims of sex abuse while serving time. Albeit much overdue, the PREA regulations represent an important step in addressing sex abuse during confinement.

There’s just one problem: PREA doesn’t cover immigrant detainees.

PREA only covers DOJ criminal facilities. Since immigrant detainees haven’t committed a criminal offense, they’re detained in DHS and other civil facilities exempt from PREA regulations. (The ACLU of Texas recently filed a federal class-action damages lawsuit on behalf of three immigrant women who came to the United States seeking a safe harbor from violence and persecution in their home countries – read about it here). To address the problem, the Obama administration issued a memo on May 17 asking all PREA-exempt federal confinement facilities to create procedures in line with PREA. The memo is a glimmer of hope in the face of continued sexual abuse against immigrant detainees in federal custody.

But there’s bad news: President Obama’s requirements are just that – Obama’s requirements. Since they’re not congressionally mandated, they aren’t law. That leaves no guarantee that the President’s requirements will be lasting or meaningfully enforced – especially after a change in administration.

Even worse: the federal agencies running the facilities, like DHS, have 360 days before they have to finalize any plans – a time-period that jeopardizes the provisions of the order, given the possibility that Obama may not be re-elected.

This bad news is especially troubling given the DHS’s own inability to implement meaningful internal practices to prevent sex abuse in ICE facilities.

All the while, sex abuse against detainees – including asylum seekers – continues to run rampant.

In fact, between 2007 and mid-2011, nearly 200 allegations of sexual abuse came from immigrant detainees in facilities across the US – a number that most consider just the tip of the iceberg, given the widespread underreporting of sex abuse, especially by detainees.

So yet again, we’re waiting another year to see if there will be actual government protection of immigrants in detention against sex abuse.

Meanwhile, men and women like Raquel Doe, Mayra Soto, and Christina Madrazo continue to endure real-life nightmares committed by officials of the country that promised them a safe harbor.

“I think I witnessed someone being murdered.”

By Dione Friends
Online Media Coordinator

The ACLU of Texas Immigrants’ Rights campaign and the Southern Border Communities Coalition has worked to shed light on Border Patrol brutality and rights abuses—including the eight men and boys agents have shot and killed over the past two years. On April 20, we shocked the nation with the exposé “Crossing the Line,” which aired on the PBS show Need to Know.

Watch Crossing the line at the border on PBS. See more from Need To Know. WARNING: Watching this video will take you to an outside website with a privacy policy that differs from ACLU of Texas. A copy of PBS’s privacy policy can be read here.

Take Action

Join the the ACLU of Texas community action network to help stop the abuse of power.

All You Missed at the Civil Rights Conference in Houston if you Weren’t There

By Dione Friends
Online Media Coordinator

Deaths of Trayvon Martin and a beaten Iraqi mother in San Diego are extreme examples of the need for civil rights dialogue in America. We started that much needed dialogue at our day long Civil Right Conference last month. A civil rights coalition made up of civil rights organizations from around the state came together to discuss Civil rights post 9/11, immigrants’ rights, and Criminal Law Reform. Hundreds of concerned Texans gathered for an entire day to listen. The day was topped off with a moving speech from Amy Goodman, host and executive producer of Democracy Now!

Check out our full recap:

Oscar Chacon, Executive Director of the National Alliance of Latin American and Caribbean Communities, kicked off the conference with a civil rights overview.

Understanding Civil Rights Post 9/11

Mustafaa Carroll of CAIR Texas Houston Chapter moderated the Understanding Civil Rights Post 9/11 track.

Corey Saylor from CAIR spoke about islamaphobia and civil rights post 9/11.

Rick Halperin of SMU said, “Free speech in this country stops at the sidewalk of the supreme court” during his presentation on the right to protest and free speech. One Twitter follower wrote: “Rick Halperin of SMU killer speech on US history of oppression and free speech.”

Matt Simpson [Pictured middle] from the ACLU of Texas followed with a great speech about national security and privacy issues post 9/11.

Immigrants’ Rights

Baldo Garza of LULAC moderated the immigrants rights panel.

Krystal Gomez [Pictured far left] from the ACLU of Texas presented on detention and deportation. Brent Wilkes [Pictured middle] from LULAC followed with a talk on immigration reform. Geoff Hoffman [Pictured far right] from the UH Law Center Immigration Clinic ended the discussion with a presentation about local, state, and federal enforcement.

Tribute to Cesar Chavez

Lunch was served during a tribute to César Chávez by Frank Curiel who was once Chávez’s bodyguard and close friend.

Our twitter followers wrote: “Things I didn’t know about Cesar Chavez: he was an environmentalist and vegetarian.”

And “Great perspective on Cesar Chavez life & struggle of farm workers by Frank Curiel.”

Criminal Justice Reform

Watch the Criminal Justice panel. Tarsha Jackson from Texas Families of Incarcerated Youth moderated. Ana Yanez-Correa [Pictured far right] from TCJC presented on over-incarceration. Gislaine Williams [Pictured middle right] from the ACLU of Texas discussed the school-to-prison pipeline and bullying in public schools. Gislaine said, “talking in class shouldn’t be a class c misdemeanor!”

Bob Libal [Pictured middle left] from Grassroots Leadership talked private prisons.

Dave Atwood [Pictured far left] from HPJC and TCADP closed the discussion with a speech about the death penalty in Texas. Dave stated, “The death penalty on its way out. Except in Ohio and Southern states.”

Amy Goodman

The room filled up for the keynote address by Amy Goodman, host and executive producer of Democracy Now!

Amy urged listeners to actively fight for civil rights by quoting Barack Obama, “I don’t disagree with anything you say but you’ll have to make me do it.” If you missed her speech watch it here now.

We addressed the important issues facing our community today. Check out the Houston Chronicle’s article about the civil rights conference.

Special thanks to all the coalition members that made the conference a success:

American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Texas
Black Heritage Society
Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) Texas – Houston Chapter
Central American Resource Center (CARECEN)
Houston Interfaith Workers Justice Center
Houston Peace and Justice Center (HPJC)
Houston United – Houston Unido
League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC)
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)
Shades of White
Texas Criminal Justice Coalition (TCJP)
Texas Families of Incarcerated Youth
Think Peace International Inc.
Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (TCADP)
KPFT Radio

For more information visit

From undermining democracy to increasing mass incarceration, ALEC has got it covered

By Kirsten Bokenkamp
Senior Communications Strategist

Reacting to backlash against voter suppression efforts promulgated by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), two of the organization’s giant corporate members – Coca Cola and PepsiCo – have succumbed to pressure from public interest groups and severed their ties to the group.

According to a National Public Radio report, ALEC promotes business-friendly legislation in state capitols and drafts model bills for state legislatures to adopt.  They range from little-noticed pro-business bills to more controversial measures, including photo voter identification laws.  These laws directly benefit the corporations’ bottom line regardless of the societal cost.

Thankfully, the truth is starting to come out about how ALEC is an affront to our democracy.  A few days ago the Huffington Post published an article titled How Are ALEC Laws Undermining Our Democracy?

So what kind of bills does ALEC draft and spread state to state? According to the article:

–       Democracy-undermining Voter ID legislation that has been passed in at least 14 states – under the guise of preventing election fraud (which no one can actually find).

–       Voucher programs that privatize public education.

–       Anti-immigrant laws like Arizona’s SB 1070.

–       Anti-worker legislation.

–       Laws that undermine smart-on-crime reforms, such as “three strikes,” mandatory minimum sentencing, and “truth in sentencing.”

As the list above shows, ALEC’s model legislation has a real world negative impact on the civil liberties of all Americans, puts more people needlessly behind bars, undermines our democracy, and makes communities across the country less safe.

The ACLU of Texas works to protect the civil liberties of all Texans, but we need your help.  Follow our work and join our Community Action Network – together we can ensure that civil liberties, not corporate profits, prevail at the Texas Capitol.

Another reason why the Dream Act is good for Texas and the United States

By Dotty Griffith
Public Education Director

A recent article about the graying population boom, made the point well: the economic demands of boomers may trump political divisiveness over immigration policy.

Aging baby boomers should support the Dream Act and a path to citizenship – not just because it is the right thing to do – but because the country needs this educated workforce.  The article quoted a professor at the UCLA Center for Policy Research on Aging, It will be on the backs, so to speak, of immigrant Hispanic minorities upon whose productivity, labor and taxes we will depend for whatever public benefits, such as Social Security and Medicaid, that <Boomers> may need.

Without these numbers, the looming shortfall in entitlement programs will inflict hardships on boomers that will rival those faced by their parents and grandparents in the Great Depression and World War II.

The Constitution Prevails in Farmers Branch

By Frank Knaack
Associate Director of Public Policy and Advocacy

Last week, the 5th Circuit ruled that the city of Farmers Branch, outside of Dallas, violated the Constitution by passing a housing ordinance aimed at driving out Latinos.  The 5th Circuit concluded:

This country has a large Latino population and millions of Latinos live here without legal permission.  However, the great majority live quietly, raise families, obey the law daily, and do work for our country.  For all that they contribute to our welfare, they live in constant dread of being apprehended as illegal aliens and being evicted, perhaps having their families disrupted.  As unsatisfactory as this situation is it is the immigration scheme we have today. Any verbal and legal discrimination against these people, as Farmers Branch exemplifies by this ordinance, exacerbate the difficulty of that immigration scheme.  This is a national problem, needing a national solution.  And it impacts the nation’s relations with Mexico and other nations.  The Supreme Court long ago pointed out in Chy Lung the problem for this country of treating Chinese people poorly.   And as the Court said in Harisiades v. Shaughnessy, “any policy toward aliens is vitally and intricately interwoven with contemporaneous policies in regard to the conduct of foreign relations, the war power, and the maintenance of a republican form of government.”

Because the sole purpose and effect of this ordinance is to target the presence of illegal aliens within the City of Farmers Branch and to cause their removal, it contravenes the federal government’s exclusive authority over the regulation of immigration and the conditions of residence in this country, and it constitutes an obstacle to federal authority over immigration and the conduct of foreign affairs.  The ordinance is unconstitutional … .

Local governments throughout Texas should take note of this decision.  Not only did the Farmers Branch government spend millions of taxpayer dollars in a failed attempt to defend this ordinance, it also sought to undermine the founding document of our nation … the Constitution.

Documented or Undocumented – Nobody Wins by Separating Families

By Kirsten Bokenkamp
Senior Communications Strategist

Felipe Montes, the father of three US citizen children, was deported to Mexico in 2010 (his crime, by the way, was driving with an expired license).  Upon his deportation, his children, all under the age of seven, were put into different foster families. Worse, he can’t claim them.

While Mr. Montes was in custody, ICE officials said they didn’t communicate with North Carolina’s Child Protective Services about Montes because it’s not their job to call child welfare officials every time a parent is detained. Because he was locked up and waiting to be deported, it wasn’t in Mr. Montes’ power to comply with the procedures of Child Protective Services.  The result?  Poof, he lost contact with his children. How is that for humanity?  It is also worth noting that it costs the state $20,000-30,000 annually to keep one child in foster care (times three in this case).

We recently wrote about this happening to families (5,100 US born children are likely to get lost in the system when their foreign born parents are detained and deported) and this story makes it all too real. This policy (or lack of one, really) harms our society on multiple levels.  How does separating children from their loving and supportive parents do anybody any good?  Once in their home country, some parents literally have no way of finding out where their children are. And, in some cases, when parents are back in their native countries, (child welfare agencies) are denying parents custody by arguing that, even parentless, children are better off in the US.  So much for parents’ rights.

How do we allow this to go on in our country?

ICE says that for parents who are ordered removed, it is their decision whether or not to relocate their children with them,” reiterating long-standing legal precedent on the rights of parents, regardless of their immigration status, but clearly that isn’t always the case.

So, when we talk about the urgent need for comprehensive immigration reform, let’s all remember that it not just about undocumented versus documented … it is also about putting a stop to a system that separates children from their parents.

Civil Rights Conference: The Constitution Protects All Texans

By Dotty Griffith
Public Education Director

The fight for immigrants’ rights is one of this century’s great civil rights challenges.

The Supreme Court has consistently ruled that the authority to regulate immigration rests exclusively with the federal government and has prohibited state and local enforcement of federal immigration law without federal authorization. Moreover, local enforcement of immigration law often leads to racial profiling and drives a wedge between police and the communities they serve, making everyone less safe.

The United States should not be a country that arrests people without cause and detains them without access to counsel or family. Unfortunately, this is exactly what happens to thousands of immigrants caught up in raids, transferred into detention centers, and pressured into signing removal orders without being able to consult attorneys or family. Locking up people for years without hearings is illegal. The constitutional guarantee of due process applies to all people in this country, not just to U.S. citizens.

Join the ACLU of Texas and numerous other civil rights organizations at a community conference in Houston titled Civil Rights in the 21st Century: Uniting Communities for Justice.  This conference will provide an overview of issues relating to immigrants’ right and, more importantly, will unite our community.  Our goal is to use this conference as an opportunity to form a broad and diverse coalition of organizations and concerned community members dedicated to ensuring Constitutional protections for all Texans.  Join us!

To learn more about the conference and to find out how to register please visit