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.

A Win for Texas: Proposed Limits on Investment by Judges in For-Profit Prisons

Matt Simpson
Policy Strategist

On Tuesday, the Senate Jurisprudence Committee will hear HB 62, a bill filed by Representative Ryan Guillen that proposes to limit investments by judges in private prison companies. The bill would prevent conflicts of interest similar to the dramatic incident in Pennsylvania in which a judge was found guilty for routing defendants through his court and into facilities in which he held a financial interest.

Clearly, Rep. Guillen wants to prevent judges from being unduly influenced by their investment in a private prison.  The bill will also demand greater accountability and transparency among private prisons in  general.

But this is just one small step toward what should be much larger scale reforms. Rep Guillen is familiar with the host of issues surrounding private prisons: He represents a district in South Texas that includes the privately-run, federal immigration detention facility Willacy Detention Center, located in Raymondville, TX.

Those issues include the following:

First, private prisons do not have the same obligations under the state’s Public Information Act as other state-run entities. Texas should clarify in law that private prisons (and really any entity that contracts with the state) have the same obligations to provide public access to records related to the expenditure of state money. Presently, private prisons can avoid full transparency.

Second, the process by which a private company is brought into a community should involve greater public input. The local community should have a say when a private prison comes to town—or when a company takes over a publicly run facility. Too often, decisions to privatize jails and prisons are made quickly and without public input. Requiring a public hearing is one way to fix this. In 2009, the ACLU of Texas and other advocacy organizations suggested as much in HB 3903; unfortunately, that bill didn’t pass, and the proposal has not progressed since.

Finally, HB 62 almost implicitly begs the question: Who else is receiving money from private prisons? HB 3903 (from 2009) and many other proposals have encouraged the state legislature to limit investments in and direct income from private prisons by and to individuals with potential conflicts of interest, e.g., county officials, sheriffs, and other community leaders, as well as policymakers who could similarly benefit from the privatization of prisons or jails.

Rep. Guillen has taken the lead, pushing this issue to the forefront in the Texas legislature. But we should view this bill as the first step—not the final reform—toward improving transparency and accountability for privately run prisons.

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.

U.S. wins the wrong kind of “gold”: US incarceration rate leads the world

By Alex Wagner
ACLU of Texas Legal Intern

Test your knowledge about over-incarceration in Texas

The University of San Francisco Law School and the Center for Law and Global Justice recently published a report comparing the American criminal justice system with that of other countries. The results were not flattering.

Compared to the rest of the world, the United States incarcerates for longer periods of time for less serious offenses. That’s why the U.S. has the highest incarceration rate in the world, despite the fact that several European countries actually exceed the United States in prison admissions per capita per year. According to the report, the sentencing practices of the United States are not only out-of-step with the rest of the world and fail to address rehabilitation.

Drug offenders in America are incarcerated for much longer than their international counterparts. Possession of one kilogram of cocaine could earn an American offender a decade in prison, while an offender in Britain would only receive a six-month sentence for the same offense.

And America has many more prisoners serving life sentences without the possibility of parole than any other country in the world. There are about 42,000 prisoners in the US serving life sentences, compared to 59 prisoners serving life in Australia and 41 in England. In most countries life sentences are reserved for extremely heinous crimes such as multiple homicide, whereas in America life sentences can be meted out for much less. Thanks to habitual offender statutes (California’s “three strikes law” being an infamous example), Americans can receive decades in prison for stealing a pair of shoes if the infraction is the third strike.

The report also blames our high incarceration rates on lack of judicial discretion and mandatory minimum sentencing, the frequent use of consecutive sentencing, and the rise in prison privatization. Private prisons hold about 6 percent of state prisoners and 16 percent of federal prisoners. Private prisons benefit financially from laws that require longer sentences, and the industry therefore lobbies against shorter sentences.

The report makes several recommendations to shorten prison terms and bring our sentencing practices more in-line with the rest of the world:
• Abolishing mandatory minimum sentences in favor of more flexible sentencing guidelines;
• Reserve life without parole sentences for only the most extreme cases;
• Retroactively applying new sentencing laws when the new law would reduce the sentence of an offender; and
• Consider international legal standards when codifying sentencing laws.

The ACLU has worked to address over-incarceration nationwide by promoting the passage of the National Criminal Justice Commission Act. Several states, including Texas, are also starting to address the issue and have passed bipartisan reforms to reduce incarceration rates.

Purchase tickets to see Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness in Houston October 2nd.

Is patient care – or profits – the priority at privatized Montgomery County Mental Health Treatment Facility in Conroe?

By Ryan Meltzer
ACLU of Texas Intern

Last week, we ran a post that mentioned the grand jury investigation into the construction of the Montgomery County Mental Health Treatment Facility in Conroe. Apparently, the County didn’t publish any legal notices requesting bids from construction companies, as required by law, nor was there any evidence that the commissioners chose the “winning” company from a list of recommended, qualified developers. As it turns out, the facility’s problems didn’t end with the whiffs of corruption surrounding its construction.

Now, the Austin American-Statesman and the Houston Chronicle are reporting that the Texas Department of Health Services has recommended levying over $100,000 in fines against the facility, stemming from severe shortcomings in the patient care provided by—you guessed it—GEO Care, a subsidiary of private prison operator GEO Group. The Department has tentatively reduced the fine to $53,000, but its decision is not final—and when you read the laundry list of violations, you’ll understand why. Since March 2011, the Department has inspected the facility three times, and each visit has turned up serious problems, ranging from unauthorized restraint and seclusion of patients to inadequate recordkeeping and failure to report grave patient injuries to the state. Some lowlights:

  • Half of 50 incidents of patient restraint or seclusion were not supported by an “appropriate” physician’s order. The Department determined that there was a “significant lack of compliance with physician orders for initiating restraint.”
  • The director of psychiatric nursing had only an associate’s degree, rather than the required master’s degree in psychiatric mental health.
  • Classes designed to help patients recover were described as “bedlam,” leading patients to refuse attendance. (Echoes of the New York Times’ story on the halfway houses operated by Community Education Centers. For our previous coverage on CEC, see here and here)
  • The hospital kept patients for months after they had been found competent to stand trial, and maintained excessively restrictive policies on phone use and personal property.
  • While being held in seclusion for four hours, one patient threatened staff and repeatedly banged his head against his room’s walls, causing lacerations to both eyes and a bruise to his head. Staff did not attempt to help the patient—for instance, by employing mechanical restraints—out of fear.
  • One patient seriously injured himself and then consumed fecal matter, but the incident was not reported to the state or addressed through the patient’s treatment plan.

The most disturbing part: Despite these deeply troubling findings, the Department is moving forward with its plans to privatize one of the 10 public psychiatric hospitals it oversees. Admittedly, the Department’s hands appear to be tied—the Chronicle reports that state lawmakers attached a rider to last year’s budget bill, ordering officials to privatize one state psychiatric hospital and generate at least 10 percent cost savings to the state. Laws like this elevate fiscal savings over human welfare, and evince a callous indifference to the care of the most vulnerable members of our society.

Actually, no. Scratch that. The most disturbing part: As of last Thursday, the only company to bid for the contract was—that’s right—GEO Care.

Tell your lawmakers that there are better ways to cut state costs than farming out prison and mental health care operations to profit-driven companies. Join our Community Action Network today!

Private Prisons Pose Problems for Taxpayers

News Reports Document Bad Management and Financial Concerns; States Like Texas Lead the Way in Finding Alternatives to Incarceration

By Ryan Meltzer
ACLU of Texas Intern

Back in June, we published a post detailing the Christian Broadcasting Network’s critical coverage of the private prison industry. A little over a week ago, CBN rebroadcast its investigative report, titled Selling Prisons “for Profit,” exploring the miserable conditions in private prisons as well as the ethical implications of treating prisoners as dollar signs.

Although our previous post quoted at length from the accompanying CBN print story, the television broadcast (available for streaming here) includes some compelling footage:

  • Prison security cameras capture a brutal inmate-on-inmate fight while a guard watches from the security of an enclosed room.
  • An investor presentation by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) boasts of corrections as a “recession resistant” industry, with high recidivism rates making for a good investment.
  • Jesus Cardenas, a former inmate at Texas’s own Mineral Wells Pre-Parole Transfer Facility, recounts a handful of the horrors he witnessed while in custody.

Texas Prison Bid’ness, Grits for Breakfast, and the Private Corrections Working Group have extensive coverage of the problems that have plagued Mineral Wells over the years, but suffice it to say that CCA, the private company that operates the facility, has been ineffective at preventing escapes, disturbances, and contraband smuggling. Cardenas’s testimony certainly doesn’t help CCA’s image: Describing the stark difference in security between Mineral Wells and the public prison where he was first held, Cardenas recalls “at least one or three [inmate fights] a day” and reports that known gang members routinely stored cell phones, drugs, and weapons in their cells.

If it wasn’t bad enough for the image of the private prison industry for CBN anchor Pat Robertson to lead the story with a comparison of the U.S. to jail-happy China and Russia, CBN’s rebroadcast coincided with a raft of bad news for private prisons and their investors.

First, the Conroe Courier reported that a federal grand jury is investigating the construction of two privately run facilities, the Joe Corley Detention Center and the Montgomery County Mental Health Treatment Facility, based on allegations of corruption. The article explains that Montgomery County is at risk of losing its tax-exempt status on the $45 million in bonds it issued to finance the Joe Corley Detention Center, as the facility is currently housing only federal prisoners. If the county loses its tax-exempt status, County Judge Alan Sadler is quoted as remarking, “the tax implications would be huge.”

Next, the Brownsville Herald covered the dispute between Willacy County District Attorney Bernard Ammerman and Willacy County Judge John Gonzales over the county’s debt from the Willacy County Regional Detention Center. While Judge Gonzales maintains that the county has insulated itself from creditors by financing the prison through a public facility corporation, Ammerman counters that Willacy County will be liable to bondholders if the center fails. By any estimate, the county’s debt is between $75 and $189 million, so in the event of a default, the county could potentially see a sharp drop in its bond status—a catastrophic economic turn of events for the County’s 22,000 residents.

Most recently, the New York Times continued its investigation of Community Education Centers (CEC), the New Jersey-based corrections company that operates a number of penal institutions in Texas. Having exposed chronic problems with violence, escapes, contraband, and poor rehabilitative services at CEC facilities, the Times has turned its attention to CEC’s tumultuous finances. According to records filed in a lawsuit against CEC by its former chief financial officer, the corporation has faced such severe financial turmoil over the last four years that it considered filing for bankruptcy in 2010. What, you might wonder, could have so shaken a supposedly “recession resistant” industry that a company like CEC is at risk of bankruptcy? Simple: When your business is dependent on high incarceration rates, sensible policies that reduce prison populations are going to hurt your bottom line. Indeed, CEC’s financial problems didn’t come from their New Jersey contracts, which have grown over the past decade; rather, the Times writes, “Community Education has . . . run into trouble after an aggressive expansion foundered in states like Alabama and Texas.”

Arguably more troubling than the possibility that CEC has been on the brink of financial ruin for years, though, is the fact that in Texas, government entities are expected to scrutinize the qualifications of corporate bidders before awarding a private prison contract. (For a sample jail-related Request for Proposal issued by Harris County, see here.) Because CEC has apparently received new and renewed contracts in Texas during the time frame examined by the Times, this suggests one of two things: Either CEC was less than honest in its financial accounting, or Texas officials enamored of corrections privatization chose to ignore the grim truth behind the numbers. In light of such reports, it’s clear that the CBN story has only just scratched the surface of prison privatization.

Stand with the ACLU against prison privatization and join our Community Action Network today!

“The system is a mess”: The Not-So-Hidden Costs of Prison Privatization

By Ryan Meltzer
Summer Legal Intern

The truth about for-profit prison companies is once again in the limelight. Last weekend, the New York Times published an investigative piece about privately operated halfway houses in New Jersey. The three-part series, published under the main heading “Unlocked,” is the product of a 10-month investigation encompassing state and corporate financial records, reports of oversight and criminal investigations, and interviews with a wide range of actors in the system of private corrections, including corporate officers, lawmakers, former inmates, and guards.

Part 1 examines the connections between Community Education Centers (CEC), the company that runs many of the state’s halfway houses, and New Jersey lawmakers including Gov. Chris Christie. Part 2 focuses on a single troubled CEC facility where “one or two low-wage workers typically oversee each unit of 170 inmates” and robbery, sexual assault, and gang activity are so rampant that “inmates regularly ask to be returned to prison, where they feel safer.” Finally, Part 3 details a gruesome murder at another CEC facility made possible by largely unchecked gang activity, overwhelmed and inadequately trained staff, and a culture of fear and compliance among non-gang-affiliated inmates.

A common theme in all three articles is frustration of expectations: The reports reveal weak security in individual facilities (approximately 5,100 inmates have escaped since 2005) and lax oversight of the entire system, and challenge the oft-repeated assertion that prison privatization saves money for states and municipalities.

Although the focus of the Times series is on the New Jersey system, many of the issues it identifies are endemic to the private prison industry as a whole—an industry with deep roots in Texas. Moreover, CEC operates 17 facilities in Texas, many of which have been in the news for non-compliance with Texas Commission on Jail Standards (TCJS) regulations, as well as reports of guard corruption and the provision of subpar basic services to inmates. For instance, in March 2011, CEC’s Liberty County Jail failed its TCJS inspection based on violations including non-functional toilets, sinks, and lights in cells and common areas, and, critically, the failure of then-Warden Tim New to obtain a Texas Commission on Law Enforcement Officer Standards and Education (TCLEOSE) Jailer’s License—the basic state certification required for jailers. Several of CEC’s facilities have also been plagued by reports of contraband smuggling and bribery involving guards, and in December 2011, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) pulled its immigration detainees from CEC’s Jack Harwell Detention Center, citing inadequate medical care, food, and access to legal assistance and worship services.

Private correctional facilities, as the Times article suggests, represent a false promise. Despite the private prison companies’ rhetoric about cost savings for municipalities and successful rehabilitation of offenders, corporations like CEC are nevertheless profit-driven enterprises. They lower costs by paying employees less than public prisons, and by cutting rehabilitative services for inmates. Worse, any revenue that private prisons purportedly save by charging lower per diem rates for prisoners is often outweighed by the myriad collateral costs highlighted by the Times—for instance, the costs of enlisting local law enforcement to track down escapees, investigate crimes, and suppress disturbances (ones organized in protest of subhuman conditions, no less). Most importantly, though, no dollar figure can be assigned to the social cost of contracting with corporations that profit from keeping ever-larger numbers of people behind bars, and maintaining the conditions under which a father incarcerated for traffic violations could be murdered in his bunk.

The Times article is a reminder of why for profit companies should not be tasked with ensuring our public safety.  Sign up for the ACLU of Texas Community Action Network to learn how you can help end prison privatization in Texas.

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.

Christian Broadcasting Network highlights problems with the for-profit prison model

By Frank Knaack – Originally posted on Texas Prison Bid’ness
Associate Director of Public Policy and Advocacy

Last month, the Christian Broadcasting Network published an article that covered serious concerns with the for-profit prison industry.  While the issues CBN raises are nothing new to regular Texas Prison Bid’ness readers, we are excited to see that the diversity of groups raising these concerns continues to grow.  Here’s an excerpt:

Critics complain that private prisons cut corners on salaries, guard training, inmate medical care, and facility maintenance to add to their bottom lines. “The model as a whole has not had a happy history,” Dr. Fran Buntman, a criminologist at George Washington University, said.

In her opinion, for-profit companies should not be in the business of locking up criminals.

“Ethically we need to deal with the fact that when we have chosen to put people in prison, we’ve taken away from their liberty rights to control their own lives,” Buntman said. “We as a society and the government as the institution looking after them have a responsibility to their welfare,” she continued. “We cannot subcontract out that responsibility to a private agency.”

For critics of the industry, their fears materialized a few months ago when CCA proposed a $250 million deal to 48 states. The company would buy state prisons and manage them if the states would guarantee a 90 percent occupancy rate.  [For TPB’s coverage of this offer click here.]

“What’s more important? People or money?” John Whitehead, founder of the Rutherford Institute, asked.  “I’m not saying corporations are evil, but corporations exist for one reason, to make money, maximum profit,” he continued. “That’s okay if you’re making widgets or toothpaste, but when you’re dealing with people and you’re making money off of people — you’re starting to treat people like they’re toothpaste and you’re making money off of them and I think that’s way we’re headed.

“We’re de-personalizing people in this country and I think that we’re heading to a country where people are going to be treated like they’re products,” he said.

To make matters worse for the for-profit prison industry, this is not the first time this year that CBN affiliated individuals raised issues that could negatively impact the industry’s profits.  In March, CBN founder Pat Robertson came out in favor of legalizing marijuana.  How could this harm the for-profit prison industry?  Well, approximately 46% of drug prosecutions (858,408 in 2009) are for marijuana – and that adds up to a lot of prison beds!  And, the for-profit prison industry has lobbied for draconian drug laws that rely on incarceration rather than evidence-based solutions such as treatment programs.

How can the for-profit prison industry both maximize shareholder profit and ensure public safety, human rights, and fiscal responsibility?  As the industry’s actions indicate, the answer is – they can’t!  We hope that CBN continues to highlight this clear conflict of interest.

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