Poorer, Not Safer

By Terri Burke, ACLU of Texas Executive Director

Using more state money on expensive, high-tech equipment to fight crime near the Texas-Mexico border is a waste of money, unless you consider $153,800 per arrest a bargain.

So far 29 border cameras installed at a cost of $4 million have been used to set up the Virtual Border Watch program that mostly catches the movements of desert wildlife. Internet viewers have helped police make a total of 26 arrests over four years of the program, according to a recent report in the Texas Tribune.

Our 2009 report on Operation Border Star (PDF: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3) a state funding program for local law enforcement, showed just how wasteful and ineffective it is to divert state resources and manpower for enforcement of federal immigration law. State grants to local law enforcement should be focused on drug-related violent crime, not apprehending undocumented persons.

I reiterated our position in written testimony delivered to the state House of Representatives Border & Intergovernmental Affairs Committee chaired by Rep.Veronica Gonzales. The committee met Thursday in McAllen. The purpose of the hearing (held jointly with the Committee on Public Safety) was to take testimony on the effectiveness of state operations at controlling drug-related crimes and other violence along the Texas-Mexico border.

So far, state funds have been used to buy low-yield but high-priced technology and to pay for ineffective policing that relies on racial profiling or intrusive road stops that do little to stop violence along the border. More often, inconvenience or harassment is the main result, not the apprehension of violent criminals.

Here’s a classic example: From May 2008 through October 209, Operation Border Star patrols in one county paid for 4,725 traffic stops. The result? Two drug arrests — resulting in the seizure of one ounce of marijuana and trace amounts of cocaine — and not even one arrest of known gang members.

The State of Texas is facing an $11 billion shortfall for the next biennium. We cannot afford to spend another $112 on inefficient programs that make us poorer, not safer.

Texas Lawmakers Shouldn’t Waste Time On Law Similar to Arizona’s

ArizonaBy Jose Medina
ACLU of Texas Media Coordinator

By now we’ve all heard about the misguided step Arizona lawmakers took in approving a racial profiling law disguised as an immigration law.

Well, it didn’t take long before some in Texas expressed a desire to ignore the Constitution and throw their support behind something similar for the Lone Star State. Thus far two legislators have said they plan to introduce legislation similar to Arizona’s when the Texas Legislature convenes in January.

ACLU of Texas Executive Director Terri Burke issued the following statement Tuesday in response to the news that State Rep. Leo Berman of Tyler wants this state to follow in Arizona’s footsteps:

“At a time when the State of Texas is facing an $11 billion shortfall, it is preposterous that an elected official would even consider throwing an unconstitutional racial profiling law into the legislative mix. Last session, we wasted months on Voter ID, another proposal disguised as a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist – polling place fraud. We can’t afford nonsense like that in the coming session.”

And today the San Antonio Express News reports that State Rep. Debbie Riddle of Tomball also thinks Arizona’s law is a good idea for Texas.

“Arizona’s law is unconstitutional. It doesn’t make Arizonans safer. It is leading to national protests and perhaps an economic boycott of the state. Over time, enforcement will erode community confidence in police and reduce community cooperation in fighting crime. Texas doesn’t need any of these bad results from a bad law,” added Burke.

The Texas SBOE

SBOEThis is one in an occasional series outlining events in our state which demonstrate why the ACLU matters

By Anna L. Russo

The Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) has garnered a plethora of national and local news lately.

The SBOE voted two weeks ago on new curriculum standards for Texas public schools. Considering that Texas has a heavy hand in the textbook business, changes in the social studies curriculum could not only affect Texas public schools, but schools across the nation.
With the vote on March 11th, the board moved to put a political bend on history and economics curriculum. The new curriculum for textbooks will limit discussion of economic systems to only discussing American capitalism, and de-emphasize the Founding Fathers’ commitment to a purely secular government. The standards would also de-emphasize various civil rights leaders and add the Moral Majority and the Heritage Foundation.

In recent years, the ideologically split board has debated teaching evolution and Darwinism and the separation of church and state.
The Board continues to skew the curriculum by throwing out parts of history that recognize the separation of church and state, the freedom of religion in the United States, and the struggle of minorities and women for civil rights.

The Board has gone so far as to cut Thomas Jefferson out of the curriculum as a figure whose writings inspired revolutions in the late 18th century and 19th century, replacing him with St. Thomas Aquinas, John Calvin, and William Blackstone. This is most likely due to conservatives dislike for Jefferson because he coined the term “separation between church and state.”

Mavis B. Knight, attempted to amend the curriculum and require students to study the reasons “the founding fathers protected religious freedom in America by barring the government from promoting or disfavoring any particular religion above all others,” but the amendment was struck down. Another sign of the ideological rather than educational nature of the curriculum change.

The ACLU of Texas along with several other organizations such as Anti-Defamation League, Texas Association of Chicanos in Higher Education, and the Texas Legislative Black Caucus, sent a letter to the SBOE before the vote urging them not to pass a curriculum that departs “from historical record.”

The organizations warned that the curriculum minimizes efforts by ethnic minorities and women to win equal economic opportunities and political rights. The proposed curriculum minimizes the impact of the civil rights movement in America and minimizes the role of civil rights advocates to achieve passage of the Civil Rights Acts and Equal Rights for Women.

Although the curriculum has passed the preliminary vote (there will be a final vote in May), the ACLU of Texas refuses to stand down in the midst of this unnecessary ideological conflict. The future of Texas hangs in the balance and the ACLU of Texas will continue to fight to protect the integrity of education in the State of Texas.

A (Traffic) Ticket to Debtor’s Prison

drpRead our letter (PDF) to the Texas Department of Public Safety regarding the DRP.

The Driver’s Responsibility Program (DRP) established by the legislature in 2003 was designed, in part, to fund trauma care. Under this program, fees (in addition to fines) imposed for driving-related offenses are supposed to go to trauma centers, emergency medical centers and the state’s general revenue fund. Instead, the DRP has become a virtual debtor’s prison. Two-thirds of all fees remain uncollected because, for example, many traffic offenders can’t work since their driver’s licenses were suspended for failure to pay. In other cases, fees are simply too costly for low income Texans to pay.

The DRP causes unlicensed and uninsured drivers, while a huge percentage of the trauma care dollars remain uncollected.

The system isn’t supposed to work this way
It is time for reform that makes it possible for even indigent traffic offenders to pay their fees and fines and keep their licenses so they can continue to work and pay their fees and fines, assuming their offenses are not serious enough for suspension of driver’s licenses. Public transportation is an option in some cities but in much of small town and rural Texas, driving to work is a necessity for employment.

A waiver for indigence (scheduled for next year) should be implemented immediately. The ongoing recession has contributed to loss of jobs all the while diminishing and exhausting some drivers’ already greatly reduced ability to pay. They are caught in a hopeless situation. To keep people employed so they can pay their fines, the program should offer greater reduction in fees scaled to income as well as payment plans.

Traffic tickets shouldn’t lead to debtor’s prison.