In just 100 days, the Trump administration has been shockingly successful at rolling-back protections on civil rights — and Texas communities are on the front lines of these attacks.
Fortunately, the response from Texans has been broad and unequivocal. We have come together across the state to defend against new threats to democracy, justice, and other cherished values. Here are some of the threats Texans already faced and how the Texas Civil Rights Project responded.
Shortly after the election, Trump and a myriad of White House staffers repeatedly made the false claim that millions of votes were cast illegally in the election. The President even directed the newly inaugurated Vice President to conduct a “major investigation” into voter fraud as one of his first actions.
While the administration’s actions fizzled out nationally (mostly because there was zero proof for these claims), the witch-hunt did not die out in Texas. State officials sentenced Rosa Marie Ortega, a permanent resident and mother of four American-citizen children, to eight years in jail (and certain deportation) for mistakenly voting in 2012 and 2014. The harsh sentence sent a message: the attacks on voting rights in Texas, from our archaic voter registration system to the barriers voters face to casts a ballot, are not over and will only intensify.
Last year, we filed a lawsuit against the state for refusing to register the more than 1.2 million Texans who update their information online annually through the Department of Public Safety (DPS) website, a practice that violates the U.S. Constitution and the federal “motor voter” law. Twice this year, a federal court has handed the state defeats, by bringing sanctions against Texas for their needless delays in the case and rejecting its motion to dismiss.
We are also gearing up efforts to take back the vote in Texas. Our election protection efforts in the 2016 election showed that Texas voters face confusion, fear, and uncertainty at the polls. Together with our allies, we’re getting ready to launch our plan to resist ongoing efforts to quash grassroots civic engagement and other mobilization efforts, and expand access before 2018.
After the confirmation of the new Attorney-General Jeff Sessions, hopes on reforming our broken criminal justice and ending mass incarceration in Texas quickly dimmed. The Department of Justice reverted to the same tough-on-crime and “War on Drugs” talk of the 80s and 90s, which has only served to wreak havoc upon poor communities of color. It also quickly cancelled plans to stop the use of private prisons.
The alarmist claims of rising “inner city” crime rates (a false claim) has threatened efforts to reduce mass incarceration in our state. This session, the Texas Legislature is considering a bill that would classify offenses against police officers as hate crimes — perverting the initial intent that such laws would provide special protection to historically marginalized groups.
Despite these national setbacks, we are charging forward with our efforts in Texas. We’re refusing to accept the norm of inhuman conditions of confinement in Texas, a national pariah in this system, and challenging policies that criminalize Texans living in poverty and funnel them into the criminal justice system.
In 2016, we sued the City of El Paso, challenging its practice of incarcerating individuals for their inability to pay fines on Class C misdemeanors (usually parking tickets). We recently announced a settlement with Ochiltree County Jail, after suing them for failing to treat people with mental illnesses in their ward with the dignity and respect they deserve; leading to the tragic jail suicides that are so common in our state. These horrendous prison conditions are also the driving force behind our litigation against the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, which operates prisons throughout Texas that lack air-conditioning — leading to extreme heat that has killed dozens of inmates.
With these efforts and other litigation throughout Texas, we will work with our allies, hand-in-hand, to protect our broader movement for reform.
Even before his inauguration, Trump’s rhetoric against immigrants, refugees, and Muslims had a devastating effect on these communities — fearing hate and violence simply for existing. With the second largest Latino immigrant population in the country as well as the largest Muslim and refugee community, millions of Texans are now in the cross-hairs for this administration’s attacks on their civil rights.
In just 100 days, the administration has put a moratorium on arrivals of vetted refugees; launched aggressive immigration enforcement operations in cities across Texas; threatened cities with removing critically needed funds if they refused to cooperate with unconstitutional immigration holds; and moved forward with a plan to build a costly and harmful border wall. All the while, state officials add fuel to the fire with potentially devastating new state legislation.
We challenged these attacks on every step of the way
After potentially politically-motivated immigration raids devastated Austin’s immigrant community, we, along with the Workers Defense Project and Mexican-American Legal Defense and Education Fund, submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to federal law enforcement officials to uncover more information about the raids and find out who should be held responsible. Additionally, we are investigating the unconstitutional, but common, practice of detaining immigrants in local jails without a valid warrant or probable cause to do so.
We also launched our “We Are The Border” campaign to provide legal representation and education en masse — protecting landowners, stalling the wall’s construction and facilitating dialogue about the harm an unnecessary and ineffective wall would inflict upon our Texas communities.