Welcome to our 2016 Annual Report. If you would prefer to view the report in PDF form, you can find a link to download the PDF at the bottom of each page. Click the labels above to navigate the report and read about our different issue areas and programs.
For a country that has long defined herself through boundless optimism and a relentless pursuit of progress, 2016 was a challenging year. Everything is bigger under that Texas sky, and Texans endured a barrage of hateful rhetoric, divisive political tactics, and attempts to roll back the clock. When folks tell me that they can no longer bear to watch the evening news, I understand.
But, as our work at the Texas Civil Rights Project demonstrates, 2016 should still inspire hope — and spark fresh resolve to make our state fairer and more just in 2017.
As detailed here, in our first ever annual report, our team won critical legal victories last year. For instance, drawing together state and national partners, we launched a nonpartisan election protection initiative so that every Texas voter can cast a ballot that counts; we reached millions through our bilingual education campaign on Texas’ photo ID rules alone. We tackled mass incarceration from the front and back ends of the system, by challenging the unconstitutional debtors’ prison policies that push too many poor people into jail as well as the inhumane conditions of confinement, like dirty water and lack of air conditioning, that prevent successful rehabilitation. We ensured that every baby born in Texas can obtain a birth certificate, regardless of their mother’s immigration status, in a key victory for immigrant families — and for all who cherish our country’s Constitution.
In 2016, we also saw a renewed interest in our efforts to protect those who have been historically marginalized. Whether measured by volunteer numbers, financial support, or press attention, Texans — and many outside of Texas — were increasingly drawn to our core priorities of expanding voting rights, fixing our broken criminal justice system, and advancing racial and economic justice.
Through it all, our team never wavered from TCRP’s mission to use legal advocacy to empower Texas communities and create lasting change. We never stopped believing that change is possible and that Texas can be — and will be — better for future generations.
It’s not clear to me exactly what 2017 will bring. But, I can assure you that we will double-down on our fight for equality, for fairness, and for the other constitutional values we hold dear. We will remain bold and creative in the courtroom, and will combine our legal expertise with modern communications strategies to change hearts and minds. And, we will deepen our bonds with allies and grassroots activists across the state, in solidarity.
To those who gave their time, money, or attention to our work in 2016: we deeply value your support. This is your organization too, so never hesitate to reach out with questions, concerns, or suggestions for improvement.
With endless gratitude,
Executive Director, Texas Civil Rights Project
It is an honor and a privilege to serve as President of the Board of Directors for the Texas Civil Rights Project.
The past year was a momentous one for TCRP. After founding the organization and leading it for 25 years, James C. Harrington retired, leaving big shoes to fill. After a competitive, nationwide search, our Board selected Mimi Marziani to serve as the new Executive Director. Mimi received the call from our Board in the hospital, having just given birth to her first child. Lucky for us, Mimi still accepted our offer. She began full-time in late February.
In addition to her expertise in voting rights and passion for democracy, Mimi has brought energy, creativity, and a new perspective to TCRP. With the support of my fellow Board members, our donors, and our volunteers, Mimi and TCRP’s exceptional staff achieved much in 2016. This impressive report is a testament to that success.
I am immensely proud of the work this organization has done to protect low-income and otherwise marginalized Texans for the past 26 years. I am confident that, under Mimi’s leadership and driven by the urgency of the current moment, TCRP’s successes will continue in 2017 and beyond.
Thank you for your continued support and collaboration.
Pablo J. Almaguer
President, Texas Civil Rights Project Board of Directors
With thousands of strategic lawsuits, TCRP has fought for justice for over 25 years. Our efforts in 2016, however, took on new energy with the growing winds of change in our state.
We renewed our mission and more accurately defined our work to focus on the most pressing social justice issues in the state — where legal advocacy can create concrete and lasting policy change. We invested in our systems, staff, technology, and operations in order to better fight for fairness, promote safety, and strengthen communities.
With dozens of high-caliber attorneys and professionals in Austin, Dallas, El Paso, Houston, and the Rio Grande Valley, and an extensive network of pro bono counsel and community allies, we are one of the most influential civil rights organizations in the Lone Star State.
The right to vote is fundamental. Still, millions of eligible Texans remained shut out of the democratic process during an important election year, a disparate number of whom are young, poor, and people of color, facing obstacle after obstacle in order to cast a ballot that counts.
From our bottom-of-the-barrel voter turnout to the archaic system of voter registration laws, the need for democracy reform in Texas has never been more critical. We challenged systemic issues that suppress voting rights in Texas and began our fight to turn the tide on the state’s abysmal voting rights record.
In early 2016, we sued Texas for refusing to register eligible voters who update their information through the Department of Public Safety website, a practice that violates the U.S. Constitution and the federal “motor voter” law.
Along with our co-counsel, Waters & Kraus, LLP, we are representing several Texas voters who have been disenfranchised by the state’s unlawful practices. We believe tens of thousands of voters, at a minimum, are impacted each election cycle.
In 2016, we partnered with the Texas Organizing Project Education Fund on a multi-prong strategy to enforce a little-known state law that requires high schools to register eligible students twice a year. After much advocacy, the Secretary of State agreed to issue clear notices to principals and superintendents across Texas before the new school year.
We also published the first-ever guide to help schools comply with the law. We are gathering additional data so that we can closely monitor compliance, especially in school districts that largely serve communities of color.
In the fall of 2016, we spearheaded the coordinated non partisan election protection in Texas by connecting the national efforts of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law with local grassroots initiatives. We trained dozens of legal volunteers in Texas to answer calls from a national hotline and helped voters in select polling locations in Harris and Dallas counties. We also launched a public education campaign and reached over 1 million people with information about the state’s voter ID law.
With an incarcerated population of approximately 150,000, Texas locks up more people than any other state. Mass incarceration in Texas is fueled and perpetuated by the over-incarceration of impoverished populations — who are disproportionately from communities of color — at early stages of the criminal justice system. The problem is then exacerbated by inhumane conditions of confinement that boost recidivism rates.
This year, we challenged this system of mass incarceration by bringing strategic lawsuits and driving more public attention to the inhumane conditions endured
Debtors’ prisons — locking up people for being too poor to pay criminal fines — are constitutionally impermissible. However, cities across Texas continue this unlawful practice.
In early 2016, we filed a lawsuit in El Paso, Texas, challenging its practice of incarcerating individuals for their inability to pay fines on Class C misdemeanors. We joined forces with several legal, grassroots, and policy groups across Texas to expand our efforts to other jurisdictions and use media advocacy to build a public dialogue around debtors’ prisons in Texas and the systemic need for policy reforms.
In Texas, an estimated 30 percent of jail inmates have one or more serious mental illnesses. County officials fail to adequately respond to these needs, both by over-incarcerating individuals with mental illness during the pretrial process and not addressing their inhumane conditions of confinement.
This year, we brought three lawsuits on behalf of clients whose family members committed suicide in custody in Harris, Travis, and Ochiltree counties. These lawsuits are geared at bringing attention to these jail’s failures to respond effectively to inmates with mental illness through policies, training, and by allocating sufficient resources to this population.
Since 1998, twenty individuals have died in Texas Department of Criminal Justice custody because the lack of air conditioning in their prisons causes severe heat related health issues.
In 2016, our litigation moved the needle forward when U.S. District Judge Keith Ellison ordered Texas to stop its practice of providing arsenic-laden drinking water to more than 1,400 mostly elderly and sick prisoners in the Wallace Pack Unit near Houston. The state encouraged these prisoners, who have long withstood stifling indoor temperatures often well over 100 degrees, to drink the arsenic-laden water to “mitigate” the heat.
State officials have a notorious history of discriminating against Texas residents due to immutable and arbitrary characteristics, including race, ethnicity, religion, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, and physical disability.
In 2016, we redoubled our work to ferret out discriminatory policies that restrict access to social and economic necessities and protect the civil rights of historically marginalized communities — including immigrants, people with disabilities, and veterans.
In the summer of 2016, we settled a lawsuit against the state for refusing to issue birth certificates to babies born in Texas to undocumented mothers. We represented dozens of immigrant families from the Rio Grande Valley as well as the community organizing union, La Unión del Pueblo Entero, working with Texas RioGrande Legal Aid.
Without these documents, families lived in constant fear of separation and could not receive access to basic education, health, religious and childcare services. This victory brought relief and peace of mind to immigrant families across the state. However, our work continues, and we will continue to monitor compliance with the settlement.
Representing young, deaf drivers, we challenged the Texas Education Agency’s failure to provide interpreters and other accommodations in state-mandated drivers’ education courses administered by private driving schools. The case had far-reaching implications for people with disabilities around the country, as it would clarify when states may be held responsible for discrimination when public programs are handed over to private companies.
After heading to the U.S. Supreme Court in the summer, the justices dismissed the lawsuit and vacated the judgment of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals — leaving open the possibility for further litigation in the future.
On Labor Day 2016, workers and community members gathered to celebrate our successful case against a local restaurant chain involved in unpaid labor practices that recovered over $100,000 in unpaid wages to abused workers.
Our litigation, in partnership with Fuerza del Valle Workers’ Center, will help bring justice to workers in the Rio Grande Valley who continue to face abusive workplace practices and wage theft. It also sends a clear message to employers across the state that all workers, regardless of their immigration status, must be treated with dignity.
An estimated five million Texans have experienced family violence in their lifetimes and immigrants are even more vulnerable to exploitation and abuse. In 2016 alone, our Immigrant Victims Services Program delivered nearly half a million dollars in free legal services to immigrant survivors of violence and trained hundreds of local policymakers to ensure they create systems to protect immigrant families.
Our work created bridges between dozens of law enforcement agencies and immigrant communities across rural Texas and prompted press investigations into the failure of Texas’ Child Protective Services agency to properly protect immigrant families.
Texas is home to over 1.6 million veterans of military service, the highest number in the nation. Veterans returning from deployment sometimes have mental, emotional, and physical injuries stemming from their service and face delays in getting the services to which they are entitled. Many of the clients served through our impact litigation have served our country.
In 2016, we filed suit and reached a settlement with the Department of Veterans’ Affairs to expedite the release of crucial documents. Our client, a veteran who had been exposed to Agent Orange, had been waiting for 10 months for the necessary documents to apply for benefits.
In addition to our impact litigation, we also educated veterans through “Know Your Rights” trainings, provided legal assistance to veterans with disabilities, and advocated for the expansion of Veteran Treatment Courts.
In response to the enormous confusion among voters and election workers about the state’s Voter ID law, we partnered with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and the Texas Association of Broadcasters’ Public Education Partnership Program to launch our own public service announcements throughout the state.
The English and Spanish language radio and television ads reminded voters about their rights and what they need to bring to the polls in order to cast a ballot that counts.
Our ads generated over 1.5 million impressions across the state.
Blackburn & Brown, LLP
Fish & Richardson
Flores Tawney & Acosta, PC
Garcia & Garcia Attorneys at Law, PLLC
Graves Dougherty Hearon & Moody
Haynes and Boone, LLP
John Escamilla Law Firm
King & Spalding, LLP
Law Office of Carlos Eduardo Cardenas, PC
Law Office of Enrique Moreno
Morgan, Lewis & Bockius
Mukerji Law Firm
Norton Rose Fulbright
Reynolds Frizzell, LLP
Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis, LLP
Scott, Douglass & McConnico, LLP
The Law Office of Lynn Coyle, PLLC
The Nielsen Law Firm
The Singley Law Firm, PLLC
Vinson & Elkins, LLP
Waters Kraus & Paul
Weil, Gotshal & Manges, LLP
Williams, Birnberg & Andersen, LLP
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Mimi Marziani, Executive Director
Efrén C. Olivares, Regional Legal Director, South Texas
Brian Jacobi, Regional Legal Director, El Paso
Hani Mirza, Regional Legal Director, North Texas
Stephanie Schweitzer Garza, Development Director
Krissi Trumeter, Finance Director
Zenén Jaimes Pérez, Communications Director
Paulina Baca, Director of Immigrant Victims Services, El Paso
Glenaan O’Neil, Director of Immigrant Victims Services, Austin
Jaime Ortiz, Director of Immigrant Victims Services, South Texas
Abby Frank, Senior Staff Attorney
Cassandra Champion, Staff Attorney
Emma Hilbert, Staff Attorney
Wallis Nader, Staff Attorney
Hannah Herzog, Equal Justice Works Fellow/Attorney
Amelia Furrow, Immigrant Victims Advocate
Yessica Gonzalez, Immigrant Victims Advocate
Severine Kale, Immigrant Vicitms Advocate
Karla Quiñonez, Immigrant Victims Advocate
Julia Burke, Immigrant Victims Fellow
Rolando Pérez, Legal Manager
Megan Garcia, Accounting and Human Resources Assistant
Sandra Arzate, Paralegal/Office Manager
Sister Moira Kenny, Paralegal/Office Manager
Chris Rainbolt, Paralegal/Office Manager
Christopher Rivera, Paralegal/Office Manager
Aura Valdez-Payan, Executive Assistant
Pablo Almaguer, President
M. Kyle Wright, Vice President
Roxann Thomas Chargois
Carlos Moctezuma García
Kenneth S. Marks
Mandy S. Price
Human Rights Center
1405 Montopolis Drive
Austin, TX 78741
Houston, TX 77004
P.O. Box 219
Alamo, TX 78516
1412 Main St., Ste. #608
Dallas, Texas 75202
1317 Rio Grande
El Paso, TX 79902