Texas Civil Rights Project
Texas Civil Rights Project (TCRP) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization based in Austin, Texas. 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.
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.
- 1 Mission Statement
- 2 History
- 3 Office Locations and Service Areas
- 4 Programs and Services
- 5 Major Litigation
- 6 See also
- 7 References
- 8 External links
The mission statement of TCRP is “to promote racial, social, and economic justice through community education and litigation. The organization strives to foster equality, secure justice, ensure diversity, and strengthen communities.”
TCRP provides direct legal representation, community education, public awareness campaigns, education and advocacy. These services are provided primarily to poor and low-income clients and to those who have historically been under-served or excluded from the justice system.
“Impact litigation” is a key component of the organization’s approach to realizing its mission statement. According to TCRP’s website, “impact litigation” is the practice of choosing “cases that have the potential to effect widespread systemic change and reform, in addition to assisting individual clients.” TCRP’s work has also led to the development of an informal group of pro bono professionals (including attorneys and private investigators) who have donated their time and expertise to the mission of promoting civil rights.
The South Texas Project (STP) was originally founded in 1972 by the ACLU. 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.
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.
Office Locations and Service Areas
Today, TCRP’s main office is located at the Michael Tigar Human Rights Center in Austin, Texas. 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. 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.
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
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.
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. 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. 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.
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.
TCRP operates a Prisoners’ Rights program, which seeks to improve conditions in Texas prisons and jails through litigation and advocacy. Prisoner’s rights cases may include but are not limited to wrongful death, denial of medical care, violations of due process, and excessive force.
Safe Schools Program
In 2008, TCRP established the Safe Schools Program, an educational initiative aimed at preventing bullying, harassment, and discrimination in schools, especially of LGBTQ students. 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.
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.
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.
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.
TCRP’s efforts to promote ballot accessibility for blind voters have set the national model for ballot accessibility 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.
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.
Rural Economic Justice
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.
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.
Title IX Compliance in Secondary School
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.
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.
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.
Criminal Justice System
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.
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.
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.
The efforts of TCRP’s Prisoners’ RIghts Program have also led to greater due process rights for paroled Texas prisoners.
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.
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.
Protecting Free Speech
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.
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.
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.
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.”
Right to Privacy
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.
Civil Rights and Women's Rights
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.
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.
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.
- Civil and political rights
- United States Bill of Rights
- Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990
- Violence Against Women Act
- Violence against LGBT people
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