by: Carrie Feibel
A civil rights organization has opened a permanent office in Houston. This will be the fifth location for the nonprofit known as the Texas Civil Rights Project.
The new director of the group’s Houston office will be Amin Alehashem.
He says the growing poverty rate in Houston means there are a lot of people here who need pro-bono legal help fighting for social and economic justice.
“You hear on TV all the time how you have a right to an attorney. What they don’t tell you is you only have a right to an attorney in criminal matters when you’re facing punishments of a year or more in jail. You don’t have a right to an attorney in civil matters.”
Opening the Houston Office. Back row (from left): TCRP Board members Roxann Thomas Chargois, Kyle Wright, and Tom Gutting. Brandon Dudley (shown far right) represents state Sen. Rodney Ellis’ office. At front table (from left): Maria Palacios from the Houston Center for Independent Living; James C. Harrington, Director of TCRP; Amin Alehashem, Director and Attorney, TCRP Houston; and Oralia Diaz, plaintiff
The Texas Civil Rights Project opened the Houston office on the 22nd anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Houston State Senator Rodney Ellis also issued a statement welcoming TCRP to Houston. “We’ve worked closely together in the past on legislative issues, and I look forward to future collaboration in strengthening civil rights in Houston and the Harris County area,” said Sen. Ellis. — See TCRP press release at our Blog
The organization also filed 35 disability-related lawsuits across the state.
One of them is on behalf of Oralia Diaz. She’s a polio survivor who uses a wheelchair. Last year she tried to meet a date at a restaurant, but couldn’t get inside.
A staffer tried to help at first.
“But once we get to the front he’s like, ‘Oh, we don’t have a ramp; there’s no access.’ I said ‘Well, you know, maybe near the kitchen, delivery people?’ He said, ‘No, there’s nowhere where there’s access and there’s not a step.’ He says, ‘Well, we’ll just get some people to carry you in.’ And I felt that was a little – to carry me in would have been embarrassing and humiliating, especially because I’m there to meet a date.”
Alehashem says when he drives around Houston he sees all sorts of curbs, bumps and barriers to wheelchair users.
He says fighting for better access won’t just benefit people in wheelchairs, but also anyone who uses a cane, a stroller, or a delivery cart.
“What we do is advocate on behalf of those people who would otherwise be voiceless. It’s great work but there’s a lot of it and I’m happy to be here doing it.”
Some of the other suits filed involved prisoners with disabilities.
TCRP’s Long History of Civil Rights Cases in the Houston Area
These are some of the civil rights cases in which TCRP has been involved over the years in the Houston area, indicating why TCRP has decided to open a Houston office:
– Assisted domestic violence survivor obtain Spanish interpreter for her pro se family court hearings, resulting in a comprehensive interpreter policy for Harris County courts, and a model for other counties.
– Settled a case with the City of Tomball where officials rented the civil center to KKK, which in turn excluded African Americans from its meeting. The settlement precludes future renting if attendance will be exclusionary based on illegal class discrimination.
– Won a federal case, severely restricting privacy-intrusive pre-employment polygraphing of potential Houston police officers, firefighters, and airport security.
– Helped a woman in a wheel chair have access to her church and protected her from retaliation.
– Settled a federal suit for a Houston family against the Texas Department of Health that was secretly collecting and storing babies’ blood at birth for research and sale. Texas passed protective legislation as a result. TDH had illegally collected 7 million specimens.
– Co-counseling cases against Houston and Stafford police officers for wrongful shooting deaths of juveniles.
– Sued jail officers who tasered a jail prisoner more than 20 times while he was physically strapped to a backboard in the jail.
– Filed suit for a teenager who was sexually assaulted in Texas juvenile detention facilities.
– Settled a federal suit to make balloting in county-wide elections accessible to blind voters.
– Co-counseling federal case for two young fathers rendered disabled by crash while stopped at police roadblock across interstate. TCRP successfully defended an interlocutory appeal to the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.
– Forced the City of Houston to fix unusable and dangerous sidewalks for people in wheelchairs.
– Sued a state prison on behalf of a young girl whose father died in custody during an asthma attack while guards watched and did nothing.
– Assisted a mother in a wheelchair who could not watch her son play football in Aldine School District’s stadium. The case resulted in repairs to the stadium for disability access.
– Created wheelchair accessible routes to/from public transportation stops and on public sidewalks at Sharpstown Mall.
– Represented a Houston veteran housed in a minimum-security prison where indoor heat index exceeded 130 degrees.