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.

How’d This Conversation Get So Crazy?

Elizabeth, native born, was subjected to the kind of racial profiling – discrimination based on skin color or accent — that civil rights leaders predict will be widespread when law officers enforce the “show me your papers” law.

Watch the ugly situation that never should have gone beyond a difference in taste for regional cuisine.

Please note that by playing this clip YouTube and Google will place a long-term cookie on your computer. Please see YouTube’s privacy statement on their website and Google’s privacy statement on theirs to learn more. To view the ACLU of Texas’ privacy statement, click here.

Stand with the ACLU of Texas: Racial profiling is un-American. It violates the Constitution and the principles America stands for. We will fight to prevent laws like Arizona’s from being passed in Texas. And we will respond when towns like Farmers Branch pass ordinances that discriminate. Celebrate freedom this Fourth of July by joining the ACLU of Texas Community Action Network (CAN) to help us hold the line against these bad laws in Texas.

A good day for immigrant youth

By Olga Medina
Summer Legal Intern

Today, in a memorandum, the Department of Homeland Security announced that it would halt the deportation of immigrant youth.  In effect, young immigrants who would otherwise qualify for the DREAM Act will receive deferred action for two years (subject to renewal) and become eligible for work authorization upon the satisfaction of certain requirements.  The memo authorizes the exercise of prosecutorial discretion in cases involving immigrant youth, regardless of whether or not an individual is in removal proceedings.

The announcement comes on the 30th anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court case, Plyler v. Doe, which declared that immigrant and citizen children alike should have equal access to public education. Today’s announcement is a significant step forward for immigrants who were brought to the country at a very young age, have grown up in American society, and have obtained a public education under Plyler.  The announcement is a testament to the work of young activists and their allies who have advanced their cause and builds momentum for necessary policy changes in our immigration policies.

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