TOP’s Tremillo Risks Arrest at Action in DC for Immigrant Families

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Michelle Tremillo, executive director of the Texas Organizing Project, was cited and released today in Washington D.C. while protesting Congress’ lack of progress in passing a clean DREAM Act and the Trump’s administration repeal of TPS. Tremillo made the following statement on why she risked arrest today:

“Today, I was proud to join thousands of other community members from across this country who stood up for immigrant families, and the heart and soul of America. We put our bodies on the line because our families’ future is on the line. We stood together with immigrant youth and families and faced arrest to demand that Congress address the moral and human crisis that the Trump administration has caused by terminating DACA.

“More than 800,000 Dreamers and more than 300,000 immigrants with TPS and their families are at risk because of Trump’s radical acts of white supremacy. We demand Congress pass a clean DREAM Act to safeguard their futures by the end of this year and that they take action to protect the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) beneficiaries.

“Nearly everyday, we witness acts of unbelievable cruelty and hate from Republicans in Congress and President Trump — from the repeated attempts to repeal healthcare to the assaults on public education to funding cuts to public housing. But forcing more than one million Americans into the shadows, leaving them vulnerable to deportation and family separation, might be their most inhumane act yet. We will continue to stand up and fight to keep families together and ensure that Congress act before the end of the year.”

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Texas Organizing Project organizes Black and Latino communities in Bexar, Dallas and Harris counties with the goal of transforming Texas into a state where working people of color have the power and representation they deserve. For more information, visit organizetexas.org.

Statement: TOP Thanks Mayor for Agreeing to Bring SB4 Lawsuit to a Vote

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The following is a statement by Mary Moreno, director of communications of the Texas Organizing Project, in response to Mayor Sylvester Turner’s tweet announcing that he will ask the City Council to vote on joining a lawsuit to stop SB4 later this month:

“We applaud Mayor Sylvester Turner for listening to the concerns of the community and agreeing to ask the City Council to join a lawsuit to stop SB4.

“The most diverse city in America shouldn’t be on the sidelines when it comes to fighting a law that will effectively encourage and legalize racial profiling. Fearing that police will be able to ask for immigration status when a person is stopped for any reason does not fit with the profile of a welcoming city.

“We need every major Texas city to stand up to Gov. Greg Abbott’s continued attempts to marginalize and criminalize people of color. Joining a lawsuit to stop SB4 would show the community that the Mayor and City Council are on their side.

“Now we ask the Mayor and City Council members to vote the right way and join a lawsuit to stop SB4. Dallas, El Paso, Austin and San Antonio have already done so. We can’t continue sitting on the sidelines.”

Civil Rights Groups, Fearing Racial Profiling, Sue Texas Over SB 4

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And so it begins: Civil rights groups and local government leaders have sued Governor Greg Abbott and the great state of Texas over the so-called “show me your papers” bill, Senate Bill 4.

Alongside El Paso County and its sheriff, Richard Wiles, the Texas Civil Rights Project filed the federal lawsuit on behalf of the Texas Organizing Project Education Fund, alleging that SB 4 is a discriminatory, unconstitutionally vague bill that encourages racial profiling and violates protections against unlawful search and seizure. The plaintiffs have also named Attorney General Ken Paxton and Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw as defendants.

“For over a quarter-century, TCRP has successfully challenged discriminatory laws targeting immigrant communities in Texas. SB4 is no different,” Efrén C. Olivares, the racial and economic justice director with the Texas Civil Rights Project, said in a statement. “All Texans, regardless of their immigration status, deserve to live free of harassment and discrimination. The ‘show me your papers’ law targets communities that have been attacked by both the state and federal governments already, further upending the lives of immigrant families throughout Texas.”

Slated to go into effect in September, SB 4 prohibits law enforcement agencies from adopting any policy that “discourages” officers from asking people about their immigration status. Police can ask about immigration status not just during an arrest, but while detaining someone for any purpose. The law also requires all sheriffs and police chiefs to honor ICE detainers, which are requests that suspected undocumented immigrants be held in the county jail until federal agents can pick them up. Should police leaders fail to “enforce immigration law,” they can be removed from office and charged with a crime; their jurisdictions can also face a steep civil fine. As the plaintiffs argue, “immigration law” is too vague for such a high price to be paid. The law even says police can’t “endorse” policies that conflict with SB 4, which seems to indicate that even just voicing a dissenting opinion publicly can cause police to lose their badge. Plaintiffs argue this chills First Amendment rights.

The real crux of the lawsuit, though, is its focus on how SB 4 could invite racial profiling, therefore violating the equal protection clause of the Constitution.

TCRP pulled no punches in introducing SB 4, saying that “SB 4 invites racial profiling, permitting officers to demand ‘papers’ from virtually any person in Texas at any time. History and logic supports that all Texans will not be equally subject to this harassment: Texans of Hispanic heritage and immigrants and their families, particularly those from Mexico, Central America and other Spanish-speaking countries, will be targeted.”

“We’ve joined this lawsuit because SB4 would be destructive and hurtful, not only to the people of color who will be subject to increased racial profiling, but to the state’s economy and safety,” said Michelle Tremillo, executive director of the Texas Organizing Project. “It seems everyone in this state, except the white men who voted for SB4, is aware that nothing good will come from this law.”

In El Paso, more than 82 percent of residents are Hispanic, according to the lawsuit. As police leaders from El Paso, Houston, Austin, San Antonio, Dallas and Arlington have made clear to lawmakers, they believe that SB 4 actually poses a public safety threat given that it will erode trust between police and immigrant communities, possibly causing them to fear reporting crimes and cooperating with police as witnesses. (Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo, in fact, railed against the law during an impassioned speech last month.)

“It is insulting to the people and leaders of El Paso that the Texas Legislature continues to erode the policy decision-making and sovereignty of local communities based on irrational, unfounded ‘fears’ of immigrants,” TCRP wrote in the lawsuit. Taking away local police leaders’ ability to create their own policies related to immigration, TCRP also argues SB 4 violates separation of powers.

Last week, city leaders from all of those cities announced their support for litigation, indicating that they would be launching a coordinated protest against SB 4 through lawsuits and organized action this summer.

Like every highly controversial piece of legislation that comes out of the Texas Lege, be it voting rights restrictions, reproductive rights restrictions or LGBT rights restrictions, the legal battles are bound to extend for months or years.

This time, in fact, Paxton was, oddly, the first to take legal action regarding SB 4, asking a federal court to declare the law constitutional so that advocacy groups would have to settle down. Apparently, that hasn’t slowed them down.

This story originally appeared 5/23/2017 in the Houston Press.