Texas Civil Rights Project

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Texas Civil Rights Project (TCRP) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization based in Austin, Texas.[1] TCRP provides free legal assistance and education to low-income individuals whose civil rights have been violated. Since its founding in 1990, the organization has handled more than 2,000 cases and provided community trainings for more than 40,000 participants addressing a range of issues, such as disability rights, rural economic justice, racial discrimination, criminal justice, prisoner’s rights, and First Amendment rights.[2]

TCRP has also assembled self-help manuals on issues such as Title IX and disability rights, given more than 400 civil rights talks and speeches across Texas to diverse groups (such as school conferences, police and law enforcement trainings, senior citizens’ organizations, and Continuing Legal Education programs), and published eleven Human Rights Reports on issues such as hate crimes, jail standards, and sexual harassment in Texas secondary schools.[3]


The South Texas Project (STP) was originally founded in 1972 by the ACLU.[4] In 1978, attorney James C. Harrington created Oficina Legal del Pueblo Unido, Inc. (OLPU) as a grassroots foundation in South Texas. STP came under the auspices of OLPU soon after OLPU was founded. OLPU was a part of the late-1960s farm worker movement headed by César Chávez. Chávez’s efforts to organize the South Texas farm worker community and to ultimately secure union contracts for them led to the birth of both OLPU and the United Farm Workers. OLPU is one of the oldest and foremost proponents of civil rights in the Rio Grande Valley, and has long worked on behalf of farm workers, abused immigrant women, people with disabilities, and economically disadvantaged people along the US/Mexico border.[5]

In September 1990, James Harrington founded Texas Civil Rights Project (TCRP) as a program of OLPU in Austin, Texas. STP also became a project of TCRP the same year, and is sometimes known by the acronym STCRP.[6]

Office Locations and Service Areas[edit]

Today, TCRP’s main office is located at the Michael Tigar Human Rights Center in Austin, Texas.[7] Other regional offices include Paso del Norte Civil Rights Project (PCRP) in El Paso and the original South Texas Civil Rights Project (STCRP), which remained in its initial location in San Juan until the grand opening of its new facility in Alamo, TX on June 22, 2011.[8] The organization also operates an office in Odessa, TX, which hosts the West Texas Disability Rights Program and a branch of the TCRP VAWA (Violence Against Women Act) Program.[9]

While TCRP operates out of these regional offices, its services are available to individuals across the state.

A fire on October 30th, 2013 severely damaged TCRP-Austin's office building, which is expected to be unusable until spring 2014. The fire was determined by the Austin Fire Department to be accidental. TCRP-Austin was back to work the day of the fire, as TCRP was immediately offered office space by another local non-profit.

Programs and Services[edit]

TCRP operates the following programs and services.

Economic Justice Program (EJP)

The Economic Justice Program was created by the PCRP regional office in 2009 as a response to problems including wage theft and other labor abuses encountered by low-income workers throughout the El Paso region. The EJP helps workers confront these labor violations by providing them with legal representation. In 2011 PCRP helped publish a report that exposed the extent of wage theft and labor violations occurring in the El Paso area.[10]

The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) Program for Immigrant Survivors of Domestic Violence

A little-known clause of the Violence Against Women Act of 1994 provides immigrant survivors of domestic violence with a path to legal residency independent of their abusive U.S. citizen/legal resident spouses.[11] TCRP operates a program that advocates on behalf of these often undocumented immigrants by providing assistance in filing the documentation to qualify for protection under VAWA.[12] The program includes a “Circuit Rider” component, which sends VAWA Program employees into rural Texas communities to reach potential VAWA clients. Social services, such as counseling, case management, and support services, are also offered to VAWA clients and their families by an MSW supervisor and social work interns.[13]

Another aspect of TCRP’s work under VAWA is the Promotora-CAMBIO (Comunidades Activas Moviendo Barreras de Injusticia y Opresión, or “Active Communities Moving Barriers of Injustice and Oppression”) Program, that trains former VAWA clients to become community educators, or promotoras. These women use their training to raise awareness about the rights, protections, and services available to undocumented survivors of domestic violence and their families under VAWA.[14]

Prisoners’ Rights

TCRP operates a Prisoners’ Rights program, which seeks to improve conditions in Texas prisons and jails through litigation and advocacy.[15] Prisoner’s rights cases may include but are not limited to wrongful death, denial of medical care, violations of due process, and excessive force.

See below, Major Litigation: Criminal Justice System

Safe Schools Program

In 2008, TCRP established the Safe Schools Program,[16] an educational initiative aimed at preventing bullying, harassment, and discrimination in schools, especially of LGBTQ students.[17] The Safe Schools Program offers seminars in the classroom that often revolve around a guest speaker recounting his/her experiences with bullying as well as classroom activities that try to build an atmosphere of understanding and acceptance for all students.[18][19]

Human Rights Reports

TCRP published its tenth Human Rights Report in 2011, investigating the health care crisis in Texas prisons, and its eleventh report later that year investigating the apparent inconsistencies in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s list of banned books.[20][21][22][23]

Justice for Veterans Campaign

The Justice for Veterans Campaign is working to establish veterans courts (similar to drug rehabilitation courts) for military veterans who find themselves entering the criminal justice system due to service-related mental and physical disabilities. The program also works to provide ADA litigation, Know-Your-Rights trainings, support groups, counseling, and other resources that support veterans.

DACA Program"'

The TCRP DACA Project began in Fall 2012. The goal of the program is to provide and expand free DACA legal assistance to low-income undocumented youth in underserved rural areas.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services describes Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) as such:

Certain people who came to the United States as children and meet several key guidelines may request consideration of deferred action for a period of two years, subject to renewal, and would then be eligible for work authorization. Deferred action is a discretionary determination to defer removal action of an individual as an act of prosecutorial discretion. Deferred action does not provide an individual with lawful status.

Major Litigation[edit]

Disability Rights[edit]

TCRP’s efforts to promote ballot accessibility for blind voters have set the national model for ballot accessibility[24] and their annual regional ADA compliance campaigns throughout Texas to commemorate every anniversary of the ADA (see Disability Campaign below) have prompted a myriad of businesses and public facilities to become more accessible to elderly and disabled persons. In 2010 for example, TCRP sued Austin Duck Tours, Congressman Lamar Smith’s Austin Office, Pure Nightclub in downtown Austin, and the University of Texas School of Architecture, among other Austin-area establishments, for ADA compliance.[25]

TCRP also helped a woman in a wheelchair sue a Texas movie theater, resulting in national requirements for wheelchair accessibility in theaters.[26][27]

To commemorate the anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), TCRP holds a disability rights campaign every summer. TCRP teams up with people from the disability community to enforce the compliance of Texas businesses and institutions with the ADA. In past years, TCRP has sued city buildings, schools, retail stores, restaurants, and hotels, among other businesses, to enforce ADA compliance.[28]

Rural Economic Justice[edit]

TCRP helps farm laborers and other low-income workers rectify injustice in the workplace and improve working conditions. TCRP’s efforts have addressed wage claims, sexual harassment by crew leaders and managers of housing projects, field sanitation, and protecting the right to organize to improve labor conditions and life in the colonias.[29]

To combat predatory financial practices, TCRP also conducts community education and litigation on behalf of low-income Hispanic families cheated on fraudulent land-purchase schemes and exorbitant water district fees in colonias, unincorporated low-income communities along the Texas-Mexico border that often lack basic infrastructure such as potable water, access to electricity, and paved roads.[30]

Title IX Compliance in Secondary School[edit]

To ensure that girls and young women in Texas schools receive equal treatment and opportunities, TCRP implemented extensive educational efforts and litigation in rural communities regarding student peer sexual harassment and comparable sports and educational benefits in Texas schools.[31]

Racial Discrimination[edit]

TCRP also assisted Texans who were discriminated against after the 9/11 attacks. These included American citizens, permanent residents, and university students with South Asian or Arab backgrounds. For example, TCRP helped Mohammed Ali Ahmed, an American citizen asked to leave an American Airlines flight with his three children after the pilot saw his name on the passenger manifesto, file suit against American Airlines.[32]

In 2009 TCRP filed a racial discrimination suit against employees of a West Texas inn, on behalf of Gwenda Gault, a woman whose hotel reservation was rejected by the hotel manager because of her race.[33]

Criminal Justice System[edit]

The Texas Youth Commission (TYC), a juvenile detention center that earned notoriety after allegations of child sexual abuse emerged, was sued by TCRP on behalf of four children who were physically and sexually abused by TYC guards. In addition to the $625,000 paid to the plaintiffs, TYC also agreed to make significant changes to its operations as a result of the lawsuit.[34]

TCRP also brought a case against the Otero County Sheriff’s Department, which resulted in sweeping reform and increased training within the police force, after officials illegally searched homes, harassed and interrogated residents, and racially profiled and stopped citizens in an effort to target undocumented immigrants.[35]

TCRP also represented a magazine publisher and filed suit against a jail that had denied inmates access to the publication Prison Legal News. The jail was required to modify policy as a consequence.[36]

The efforts of TCRP’s Prisoners’ RIghts Program have also led to greater due process rights for paroled Texas prisoners.[37]

Police Brutality[edit]

When police responded to a report of a mentally-ill man sleeping at a bus station, an officer brutally beat him with a baton and filed a false report causing the man to spend ten weeks in jail. TCRP represented the man in a lawsuit requiring the city to pay him a total of $62,000.[38]

A police officer slammed an African American college student to the ground, knocking him unconscious, after the student complained the officer was treating an unrelated suspect too harshly. When an ambulance arrived to take the student to hospital, the officer took him out of the ambulance and sent him to jail instead. A TCRP lawsuit forced the city to pay $31,000.[39]

Protecting Free Speech[edit]

TCRP sued the City of Round Rock in 2006, after hundreds of students were arrested and charged with truancy for leaving their classes to protest anti-immigrant sentiment and legislation. The suit was filed on behalf of 98 students whom TCRP represented, claiming that their First Amendment rights had been violated, and was eventually won. The City of Round Rock was forced to halt all prosecutions, erase the arrests from the students’ records, and arrange a scholarship fund for the students.[40]

The organization also sued the City of Austin in 2001, after protestors demonstrating against then President George W. Bush’s first visit back to Austin were blocked by police from entering the free speech zone near the Texas Governor’s mansion. Eventually, in 2006, a district judge ruled that the City had indeed violated the protestors’ First Amendment rights.[41]

When Raul G. Salinas, Mayor of Laredo, had issues of local newspaper LareDOS removed from distribution because they contained criticism and caricatures of Salinas, TCRP sued on behalf of the newspaper. TCRP Director James C. Harrington called Salinas’ actions “classic political retaliation” against unfavorable coverage. As a result of the suit, Salinas was fined $15,000 and was forced to apologize for violating freedom of the press.[42]

When members of the San Angelo-based American White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) came to Austin City Hall to demonstrate in support of Proposition 2, the Texas constitutional amendment that banned gay marriage in 2005, about 3,000 counterprotesters flooded downtown Austin to demonstrate against them. However, the counterprotesters were met by police barricades that kept the counterprotesters two blocks away from where the KKK was demonstrating. Because the counterprotesters were prevented from exercising their rights to free speech and members of the independent media were blocked by the city from covering the protests, TCRP sued the City of Austin for violating the First Amendment. This suit eventually required the city to “establish reasonable perimeters for future demonstrations, and establish objective press credentialing criteria.”[43]

Right to Privacy[edit]

In 2010, the organization sued the Texas State Department of State Health Services, after Texas parents discovered that local hospitals were selling millions of baby blood samples to pharmaceutical companies and the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, bartering with it for medical supplies, and using it to build DNA databases for law enforcement purposes. The suit will ultimately enforce nationwide regulations against taking and storing newborn blood samples without parental consent.[44]

Civil Rights and Women's Rights[edit]

Gary Bledsoe, President of the Texas NAACP since being elected in 1991, has made substantial civil rights changes, which include his handling of racial discrimination complaints against the Austin Department of Public Safety that dismantled racial barriers that prevented minorities and women from becoming Texas Rangers. His involvement in the Cedar Avenue case resulted in heightened public awareness of the Austin Police Department’s mishandling of minority youth and led to widespread changes in how police abuse cases are handled. The landmark settlement resulted in the creation of a scholarship program for college-bound minority youth. Bledsoe also negotiated an African-American student scholarship program with HEB which provides $25,000 in scholarships for students attending Texas Southern University, Prairie View A&M University and Huston-Tillotson University. Bledsoe’s legal acumen has earned him an AV rating according to the prestigious legal publication Martindale-Hubbell, the second highest rating available for lawyers.

Bledsoe has received several lawyers of the year awards from the Texas Attorney General and the Travis County Bar Association, the Austin and national NAACP, and the Austin Area Urban League, among others. He has also received the Kelly Alexander State President of the Year Award, the Juanita Jackson Mitchell Award for Legal Advocacy and the Benjamin Hooks Keeper of the Flame Award and is on the Houston Hall of Fame at Riverside General Hospital. All have recognized him for his legal acumen and civil rights efforts.[45]

With respect to women, Texas has veered from the crowd in notable ways, electing its first female governor, Miriam "Ma" Ferguson in 1925, just five years after passage of the 19th Amendment gave women the right to vote. Texas broke gender and racial barriers when it put Barbara Jordan, a black woman in the U.S. House of Representatives ahead of all other Southern states. Texans put Ann Richards in the governor’s mansion in 1991, and Kay Bailey Hutchison in the U.S. Senate in 1993.[46]

In recent years, the rights of Texan women to control decisions about their health, family planning and employment have been eroded. And when conventional legislative tactics have failed, the male-dominated leadership has employed procedural tactics to block women from fully engaging in the democratic process.

In this regard, the journalist Alberta Phillips has been honored in Texas for her dedication to civil and women's rights. She has written a large number of articles about this topic, fighting for equal rights.[47]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Harrington, James C. (2007). "Presenting the Paso Del Norte Civil Rights Project". Texas Civil Rights Project. Retrieved 24 December 2011. 
  2. ^ "Title IX and Gender Inequality in Texas School Athletic Programs" (PDF). Texas Civil Rights Project. 2007. Retrieved 24 December 2011. 
  3. ^ Negron, Sito. "Montwood Protest and Other Civil Rights Issues", Newspaper Tree, El Paso, 14 November 2005. Retrieved on 24 December 2011.
  4. ^ "American Civil Liberties Union Records: Organizational Matters Series, 1947-1995: Finding Aid". Princeton University Library. 2003. Retrieved 24 December 2011. 
  5. ^ "History of Oficina Legal Del Pueblo Unido, Inc and The Texas Civil Rights Project". Texas Civil Rights Project. 2011. Retrieved 24 December 2011. 
  6. ^ "Our History". Texas Civil Rights Project. 2011. Retrieved 24 December 2011. 
  7. ^ "Contact Us". Texas Civil Rights Project. 2011. Retrieved 24 December 2011. 
  8. ^ "Open House and Dedication for South Texas". Texas Civil Rights Project. 2011. Retrieved 24 December 2011. 
  9. ^ "West Texas Disability Rights Program". Texas Civil Rights Project. 2011. Retrieved 24 December 2011. 
  10. ^ "Report on Wage Theft in El Paso Exposes Newest Crime Wave". Talking Union. 11 July 2011. Retrieved 24 December 2011. 
  11. ^ Title VIII—Protection of battered and trafficked immigrants, H.R. 3402, 109th Cong., U.S. Dept. of Justice, Violence Against Women Office (1996) (enacted).
  12. ^ Rozemberg, Hernan. "Law Aids Immigrants Who Are Victims of Abuse." San Antonio Express-News 9 June 2004. http://www.texascivilrightsproject.org/newspub/currentarticles.html
  13. ^ Nick Braune (8 April 2005). "Activist Discusses the Violence Against Women Act". Mid-Valley Town Crier. Retrieved 24 December 2011. 
  14. ^ Rodriguez, Iris (25 March 2010). "PROMOTORA Training Empowers Resistance to Domestic Violence". La Nueva Raza. Retrieved 24 December 2011. 
  15. ^ "Prisoners’ Rights Program." Texas Civil Rights Project. Web. 21 June 2011. <http://www.texascivilrightsproject.org/?page_id=482>.
  16. ^ "Safe Schools: Our Team". Texas Civil Rights Project. 2011. Retrieved 24 December 2011. 
  17. ^ "Safe Schools Program". Texas Civil Rights Project. 2011. Retrieved 24 December 2011. 
  18. ^ "Taylor McCaslin Awarded 2011 PFLAG Austin Scholarship" (PDF). PFLAG. 5 July 2011. Retrieved 24 December 2011. 
  19. ^ "Texas Civil Rights Project". University of Texas Center for Women's and Gender Studies. 12 November 2010. Retrieved 24 December 2011. 
  20. ^ Henson, Scott (9 February 2011). "Texas' "Secret Death Penalty": Inadequate prison healthcare". Grits for Breakfast. Retrieved 24 December 2011. 
  21. ^ Grissom, Brandi (9 February 2011). "Advocates: Prison Health Cuts Will Prompt Lawsuits". Texas Tribune. Retrieved 24 December 2011. 
  22. ^ Dexheimer, Eric (19 March 2010). "Banned in Texas prisons: books and magazines that many would consider classics". Austin American-Statesman. Retrieved 24 December 2011. 
  23. ^ Losowski, Andrew (3 October 2011). "Prison Books Ban: The Censorship Scandal Inside America's Jails". Huffington Post. Retrieved 24 December 2011. 
  24. ^ Harrington, James C. Pencils Within Reach and a Walkman or Two: Making the Secret Ballot Available to Voters Who Are Blind or Have Other Physical Disabilities. <http://www.nls.org/conf2004/voting-litigation.pdf>.
  25. ^ Petrowski, Lauren (26 July 2010). "Duck Tours, UT Among Local Businesses Sued for Violating Americans with Disabilities Act". MyFoxAustin. Retrieved 24 December 2011. 
  26. ^ "Disabled Patrons Win Lawsuit against Cinemark". Amarillo Globe-News. 9 Feb 1999. Retrieved 24 December 2011. 
  27. ^ Everett, Liz (9 Feb 1999). "Cinemark Must Retrofit Auditoriums". Amarillo Globe-News. Retrieved 24 December 2011. 
  28. ^ Smith, Denise (26 June 2010). "Businesses Sued on Behalf of Disabled". KXAN.com. Retrieved 24 December 2011. 
  29. ^ Taylor, Steve (3 August 2010). "Border Patrol Asked To Stop ‘Terrorizing’ Colonia Residents". San Diego Immigrant Rights Consortium. Retrieved 24 December 2011. 
  30. ^ Ramshaw, Emily (7 July 2011). "Improvement Comes Up Short in South Texas Colonias". New York Times. Retrieved 24 December 2011. 
  31. ^ "Winning Title IX Cases". feminism.org. Feminist Majority Foundation. 2011. Retrieved 24 December 2011. 
  32. ^ Root, Jay (5 June 2002). "ACLU Lawsuits Aim at American Airlines". Fort Worth Star-Telegram. 
  33. ^ Flener, Matt (2 February 2009). "Suit: Black Family Refused from Hotel". KXAN.com. Retrieved 24 December 2011. 
  34. ^ "Judge Approves Settlement in TYC Civil Rights Case". Your News Now. 5 July 2008. Retrieved 24 December 2011. 
  35. ^ Porter, Kai (19 March 2009). "Big Changes At Otero County Sheriff's Department". News Channel 9 KTSM. Retrieved 24 December 2011. 
  36. ^ Rodriguez, Iris (15 March 2011). "Prison Legal News No Longer Banned in Galveston Jail". La Nueva Raza. Retrieved 24 December 2011. 
  37. ^ "A Whacked-Out System: Inmate’s Lawsuit Focuses on Secret and Unreasonable Texas Paroles". Austin Chronicle. 5 April 2007. Retrieved 24 December 2011. 
  38. ^ "City Settles Excessive Force Suit". KXAN.com. 23 June 2011. Retrieved 24 December 2011. 
  39. ^ Chavez, Crystal (30 June 2011). "Justice Department Closes APD Investigation". KUT News. Retrieved 24 December 2011. 
  40. ^ Axtman, Kris (19 June 2006). "For Students, Cost of Protest Can Be High". Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved 24 December 2011. 
  41. ^ Dunbar, Wells. "Naked City." Austin Chronicle. 28 July 2006. Web. 28 June 2011. <http://www.austinchronicle.com/news/2006-07-28/390542/>.
  42. ^ Richards, Ashley (28 June 2011). "Publication Charges Mayor with Censoring Newspaper". Laredo Morning Times. Retrieved 24 December 2011. 
  43. ^ Welch, Diana (11 November 2005). "With God on Their Side: The KKK Stops By". Austin Chronicle. Retrieved 24 December 2011. 
  44. ^ "Texas Sued over Sale of Baby Blood Samples". CBSNews.com. 9 December 2010. Retrieved 24 December 2011. 
  45. ^ http://www.austinchronicle.com/gyrobase/Archive/search?Search=Gary%20Bledsoe
  46. ^ http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/viw01
  47. ^ http://www.austinwomanmagazine.com/black-history-month-events-in-austin

External links[edit]