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.


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.


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 http://civilrightscoalition.wordpress.com/.


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.



Do you want to see an end to the death penalty? Join us!

March 28th, 2012 No Comments   Posted in Community Activism, Death penalty

By Kirsten Bokenkamp
Senior Communications Strategist

While death penalty supporters’ argument that the death penalty deters crime was long ago debunked, the reasons to stop using it are only getting stronger.  Here are just a few:

-          A non-perfect and irreversible system, it has taken innocent lives

-          People of color are disproportionally sentenced to death

-          The use of the death penalty does not make our communities safer, nor does it reduce murder rates

-          It is exorbitantly expensive

-          It is uncivilized and inhumane

-          141 countries no longer use the death penalty

-          In 2011, the US was the only member of the G-8 group of developed nations to use the death penalty (Texas was responsible for 30% of US executions in 2011)

The use of the death penalty in Texas, and the US, is on the decline. But, to finally rid our state and our nation of this practice, we need to come together as a community and raise our voices.  Join the ACLU of Texas and numerous other civil rights organizations at a community conference this Saturday, March 31, in Houston titled Civil Rights in the 21st Century: Uniting Communities for Justice. The death penalty will be just one of multiple civil rights issues that will be discussed.  We’d love to have you join us.

To learn more about the conference and find out how to register please visit www.civilrightscoalition.net.


Over-incarceration – Help us End this Texas Tradition

By Frank Knaack
Associate Director of Public Policy and Advocacy

Lock ‘em up and throw away the key!  While this “tough on crime” rhetoric may sound good on the campaign trail, in reality it undermines public safety, wastes valuable tax dollars, and violates the basic human rights of countless Texans.  Here are just a few of the real world implications of our failed criminal justice system:

  • Between 1980 and 2004, Texas’ prison population increased by 566%; during the same time corrections spending increased by 1,600%.
  • In Texas, African Americans make up just 12% of the population, but account for 44% of the total prison and jail population.
  • Texas spends seven times more on incarceration than on higher education.
  • Non-violent and drug offenses account for 81% of all new inmates.
  • Texas’ imprisonment rate (691 per 100,000 residents) is three times higher than that of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
  • Of the roughly 170,000 people in Texas prisons, about 90,000, more than half, are classified as non-violent.
  • Cost to keep one person in prison per day in Texas: between $40-50.  Cost to keep one person on probation per day in Texas: $2
  • Incarceration doesn’t stop drug use. States with higher rates of incarceration for drug violations actually show higher, not lower, rates of drug use. That’s because incarceration without rehabilitation results in a revolving prison door. By contrast, rehabilitation returns a person to society able to function better than before and less likely to re-offend.
  • Texas spends $300 million a year to incarcerate non-violent drug users.
  • Evidence shows that all races use drugs at about the same rate, but Texas arrests and incarcerates a disproportionate number of people of color for drug possession. In Texas, African Americans are imprisoned five times more than whites, and Latinos at almost twice the rate of whites.

Tough on crime has failed, it is time for us to be smart on crime.  As we have discussed on this blog before, Texas has made great strides toward a smarter criminal justice system – but there is still a long way to go.

Join us, and numerous other human rights organizations and activists on March 31st for a community conference titled Civil Rights in the 21st Century: Uniting Communities for Justice.  We’ll discuss over-incarceration, and, more importantly, come together as a community to strategize and implement a plan to end this expensive, abusive, and dangerous practice.

To learn more about the conference and find out how to register please visit www.civilrightscoalition.net.


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 www.civilrightscoalition.net.


We All Know the School-to-Prison Pipeline is a Problem – How Can We Seal It?

March 19th, 2012 No Comments   Posted in Community Activism, Youth rights

By Frank Knaack
Associate Director of Public Policy and Advocacy

We have all heard the stories.  Children given criminal tickets for throwing a paper airplane in class, using profanity in school, talking back to a teacher … the list goes on.  While this behavior must not be condoned, I hope we can all agree that sending children into the juvenile and criminal justice systems for minor disciplinary transgressions is extreme (and counterproductive).

In addition to the use of these extreme tactics for controlling childish misbehavior, we also know that students of color and special education students are disproportionately impacted.  Just last week, the U.S. Department of Education released new data showing that African American students were 3 ½ times more likely than their white peers to be expelled.  Sadly, appalling data like this is nothing new.

Well … what can we do about it?  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 the school-to-prison pipeline and, more importantly, will unite our community.  Our goal is to use this conference to as an opportunity to form a broad and diverse coalition of organizations and concerned community members dedicated to sealing, once and for all, the school-to-prison pipeline.  Join us!

To learn more about the conference and find out how to register please visit www.civilrightscoalition.net.


Anti-Muslim Bigotry in Post 9/11 America: What Does It Look Like and How Can We Stop It?

By Frank Knaack
Associate Director of Public Policy and Advocacy

In the post-9/11 era, Muslims in America, regardless of their citizenship status, have become the new targets of intolerance.  From efforts by Texas Legislators to ban state courts from considering Sharia in their decisions, to the FBI’s use of training materials “that falsely and inappropriately portray Arab and Muslim communities as monolithic, alien, backward, violent and supporters of terrorism,” to the recent reports “that the NYPD spied on mosques and Muslim college students far outside New York City, without evidence or allegations of criminal activity,” Muslims in America face discrimination, harassment, and other human rights violations simply because of their faith.  While people have the right to express their opinions, our government must respect and ensure the right of all people to practice their faith.  Unfortunately, when it comes to these new targets of intolerance, our government often fails to uphold its obligations.  This is unacceptable, and un-American.

Want to do something to stop these abuses?  Join the ACLU of Texas and numerous other civil rights organizations at a community conference titled Civil Rights in the 21st Century: Uniting Communities for Justice.  At this conference, we will join together to expose Islamophobia and to learn how we can ensure that all Texans are able to exercise their faith, or no faith at all, freely and without government intrusion.

Want to learn more about the conference and find out how to register?  Please visit www.civilrightscoalition.net.


Help Unite Communities and Ensure Civil Rights!

March 13th, 2012 No Comments   Posted in Community Activism

By Frank Knaack
Associate Director of Public Policy and Advocacy

On March 31, the ACLU of Texas is co-sponsoring Civil Rights in the 21st Century: Uniting Communities for Justice, a conference and community engagement event.  This is a historic gathering of a broad range of groups coming together in the name of civil rights and justice,  and we are excited to announce that Amy Goodman, host and executive producer of Democracy Now!, will be the conference’s keynote speaker.

We hope this conference will serve as a public education event, but our main goal is to use this gathering as an opportunity to connect community activists and look for ways to coordinate our work to better ensure that all Texans’ realize their fundamental human rights.

Over the next three weeks, this blog will cover the topics that will be highlighted at the event.  Want to learn more about the conference and find out how to register?  Please visit www.civilrightscoalition.net. We hope to see you there!


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