29 Apr 100 days in, Trump has been shockingly successful at rolling-back civil rights

By Mimi Marziani

 

A section of the current fence along the Texas-Mexico border

 

Late-night comedians may taunt President Donald Trump for his dysfunctional leadership team, legislative failures and abrupt about-faces on foreign policy in these first 100 days. But, whatever other setbacks his administration has faced, the Trump team has been shockingly successful at using the first 100 days to roll-back protections on civil rights.

Texas communities have been directly impacted. Consider just a couple of examples of new threats to democracy, justice and other cherished values.

Defying actual facts, Trump repeatedly claimed that millions of votes were cast illegally in the election. Shortly after inauguration, he directed Vice President Mike Pence to conduct a “major investigation” into voter fraud. When this witch hunt stalled nationally, Texas state officials took the hint. In February, Texas 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.

Ms. Ortega’s unusually harsh sentence was intended to send a message about voting in Texas -— and so it did. After all, this is a state that has been criminalizing voter registration drives since at least 2011, making it as hard as possible for Texans to help their neighbors register to vote. Since January, grassroots groups have expressed heightened anxiety about engaging in voter registration and other protected forms of participation, chilling their civic engagement activities.

On top of that, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has reverted to tough-on-crime talk of the 80s and 90s -— even though the only known accomplishment of that era’s “war on drugs” was wreaking havoc upon poor communities of color. Sessions has also retreated from the Obama administration’s close scrutiny of troubled police departments, saying that such moves are not “wrong or insensitive to civil rights or human rights,” but will simply leave the duty of policing the police to the states themselves.

The dog-whistle politics of claiming rising “inner city” crime rates (an alternative fact) and exalting “states rights” endanger the very real, bipartisan progress Texans have made toward reducing mass incarceration and embracing more effective community policing methods. Indeed, alongside the important Sandra Bland Act pending in the legislature this session, there is 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.

Finally, there’s the administration’s treatment of immigrants and refugees, particularly Latinos who hail from Mexico or Central America and Muslims. In just 100 days, the Trump administration has, among other “accomplishments”: signed an executive order severely restricting immigration from certain predominantly Muslim countries and 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.

It is well known that Texas has the second largest immigrant population from our Southern neighbors; less recognized is that Texas leads the nation in the size of its Muslim population and number of refugees. So the fear in the air palpable. The city of Houston, for instance, reported a severe decrease in reporting of rape among Latino communities; numerous press reports show that Austin immigrant communities were paralyzed with fear during the raids, refusing to engage in normal activities like shopping, church and school. Since the election, reports of anti-Muslim hate incidents have skyrocketed across the nation, including in Texas.

After just 100 days, there’s little doubt that the threats to our civil rights are significant — or that the resistance will be long and hard. The Texas Civil Rights Project has been fighting back since day one. We’re kicking off a new project to provide legal counsel to grassroots civic engagement groups. We’re still refusing to accept inhuman conditions of confinement in Texas, like lack of air conditioning, disregard of mental illness and use of solitary confinement. We’ve representing the rights of landowners in the Texas borderlands to halt construction of the wall.

With more than 1,300 days left, we will not stop demanding dignity and justice for all Texans in and out of the courtroom. Join us.


Mimi Marziani is the Executive Director of the Texas Civil Rights Project