Tag Archives: Harris County

Harris County Attorney Files Brief Against SB4

As was reported last week, the Republicans on the Harris County Commissioner’s Court may have chickened out of joining the SB4 lawsuit, in what may have been a pre-emptive move to avoid getting on Greg Abbott’s “list,” but it didn’t stop County Attorney Vince Ryan from submitting a brief to the federal court asking for a stop to any implementation of the racial profiling, anti-immigrant law.

Ryan makes the case that SB4 affects children his office represents.

The Harris County Attorney’s office, objects to the law for the following reasons:

The office represents the state Department of Family Protective Services in child protection cases, advocating for children’s best interests and the preservation of families — irreconcilable with the thrust of SB4, which is to “to cooperate in efforts which will lead tothe deportation of parents or kinship caregivers, the separation of families, and further trauma to children,” according to the brief.

Federal mandates require that assistance and benefits should be available to children and families “irrespective of their immigration status,” according to the brief. State law also directs that “the provision of the services necessary to give effect to children’s best interests are not conditioned on their, or their parents’, immigration status,” according to the brief.

Ryan states: “Any county attorney who declines to engage with assisting in the enforcement of immigration laws or discourages colleagues from doing so in order to advocate for the best interest of the child and promote family unification — as child welfare laws mandate — would not be “providing enforcement assistance” and would be “adopt[ing], enforce[ing], or endors[ing] a policy” or engaging in a “pattern or practice” that “materially limits the enforcement of immigration laws.””

Children of parents or family members who have been deported will be placed in an overburdened and potentially harmful foster care system.

Immigrant communities will fear cooperation and will not report abuse or neglect or provide information to authorities seeking to protect children.

SB4 will leave a huge swath of the community affected in one way or another. Whether one sees it as a legalized racial profiling law that targets anyone of color to be asked their immigration status, or a license for local cops to shirk their crime-fighting duties in favor doing some immigrant hunting, or in the case of the County Attorney, a law that will affect children caught up in their own brand of hell, it’s just a bad law.

“S.B. 4 will do irreparable damage to this State’s child welfare process, place county attorneys charged with representing DFPS in an irreconcilable conflict, and do further trauma to children who have been placed in the State’s care. Further, there is no legitimate state purpose in treating children who have an unauthorized immigrant parent or other potential care giver differently in child welfare cases,” states Ryan’s brief, which was filed this month in federal court.

In other news, the City of Laredo has joined the SB4 lawsuit. In fact, their City Council voted unanimously to join it. Now, that’s what I call a “welcoming city.”

 

 

 

 

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Harris County Republican Commissioners Chicken Out on SB4 Lawsuit

As was expected, the Republicans on the Harris County Commissioner’s Court chickened out when Democrat Rodney Ellis made the motion for Harris County to join the SB4 lawsuit. So chicken were they–at the very least Judge Emmett and Pct. 2 Commissioner Jack Morman–that they wouldn’t even second Ellis’ motion so that a proper vote would be taken by the court.

A diverse set of leaders and advocates went before the court asking for the County to join the lawsuit against the legalized racial profiling law which would allow law enforcement to ask persons of their immigration status. Included in the list were State Senator Sylvia Garcia and State Representative Armando Walle.

As reported by the Texas Observer, it would seem to me that Emmett attempted to provide some political cover for his fellow Republicans.

“Don’t interpret, if we decide not to sue, that decision as an endorsement of SB 4,” he said after hearing the testimony, which lasted about 15 minutes.

“It is!” shouted someone in the audience. She called the commissioners  “cowards,” and promised that she and others would campaign against those who chose not to sue. Police officers escorted her out of the room.

Emmett said SB 4 goes too far in “interfering” with local government, but said that doesn’t mean the county should sue.

So, why not a vote? Admitting to overreach, yet chickening out, says a lot about the lack of leadership that exists in Harris County.

It’s just another way of saying, “We’re not racist, but…”

Anyway, who’s running against the judge and the Pct. 2 commish in 2018? At the very least, we need a good Democratic choice on the ballot, if not a well-funded one. The GOPers sell themselves to the highest bidders.

Democrats, though, seem to be leading the way in fighting SB4, along with various organizations. And as a likely bigoted and anti-education special session nears, at least one Democratic State Rep., Ramon Romero of Fort Worth, has  filed a bill to repeal SB4.

Hey, who knows? Perhaps the ghost of Texas’ Bigoted Past will visit a majority of the Republicans under the dome and they’ll vote for it.

UPDATE:  Kuff has more on the Republicans’ big miss on what might have been a profiile in courage. Morman’s excuse is pretty weak.

 

 

Houston Area Senators Urge Harris County on SB4 Lawsuit; To Be Considered on July 11

From the inbox:

(Houston, Texas) The Harris County Commissioners Court is set to consider joining the lawsuit against Senate Bill 4 at their meeting tomorrow, July 11th at 10am. Senators John Whitmire, Sylvia R. Garcia and Borris Miles issued a joint letter urging commissioners to vote in favor of joining with counties and municipalities across Texas in suing the State of Texas over the controversial legislation.

The 85th Legislature passed Senate Bill 4 (SB 4), the “show-me-your-papers” law, scheduled to take effect on September 1, 2017. We were extremely disappointed to see the state’s leadership endorse legislation that strips local control from Harris County, incentivizes racial profiling, and makes our communities less safe.

SB 4 contains numerous provisions that simply cannot be allowed to take effect. SB 4 would prevent local law enforcement leaders from setting their own policies to work with the communities under their jurisdiction. It would further allow individual law enforcement officers to decide on their own whether and how to question individuals about their immigration status, creating a troubling path to unchecked racial profiling. This will have a chilling effect on crime reporting in vulnerable neighborhoods, and make our community less safe.”

Senator Garcia will personally attend the meeting to testify in support of litigation. The agenda item has been brought up by County Commissioner of Precinct 1, Rodney Ellis. The full letter can be read here.

Houston-area State Reps have also sent a letter urging the County to join the SB4 lawsuit. A federal court hearing was already held in late June; however, there was no immediate ruling. So, let’s stay tuned.

 

Local TX House Delegation Asks Harris Co to Join SB4 Lawsuit

A group of Houston Texas House members has penned a letter to the Harris County Commissioner’s Court requesting they join the lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of SB4–the “Show Me Your Papers” racial profiling law signed by Greg Abbott.

Texas House members include:  Alma Allen, Carol Alvarado, Garnet Coleman, Harold Dutton, Jessica Farrar, Ana Hernandez, Jarvis Johnson, Mary Ann Perez, Ron Reynolds, Shawn Thierry, Senfronia Thompson, Hubert Vo, Armando Walle, and Gene Wu.

Pointing to various constitutional flaws in the law, the group also made a case for the lawsuit citing the law’s threat to public safety:

With the fifth largest foreign born population in the country, Harris County is especially at risk. All people in the community must feel safe and free to report crime and call law enforcement when necessary, without the fear of the same law enforcement asking for their papers. The provisions of SB4 will diminish trust and chill the reporting of crime, making our county less safe.

The letter further states the constitutional liability the county could face for unlawfully detaining individuals without warrant or probably cause.

Already, Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, Austin, and the tiny town of El Cenizo, along with Bexar, El Paso, and Maverick counties have joined the lawsuit. Efforts have increased to add more parties to the lawsuit, including Brownsville, Pasadena, and other Texas communities.

For the latest on the lawsuit, head over to MALDEF’s twitter feed for the latest arguments being made by the good guys and the bad guys at the federal court hearing in San Antonio.

Thanks to the office of State Representative Armando Walle for keeping us informed and for their work on these efforts. [copy of letter below]

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Commissioner Ellis Seeks County Authorization to Join SB4 Lawsuit

This past week, Houston finally joined Austin, San Antonio, Dallas and various organizations in suing the state of Texas over its racial profiling law (SB4). In his weekly e-mail to constituents,  Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis stated he had sent a letter prior to the City’s action to County Attorney Vince Ryan requesting him to seek authorization from the Harris County Commissioner’s Court to join the SB4 lawsuit.

As the nation’s third-largest county with the fifth-largest foreign-born population, Harris County is at particular risk under SB4. Immigrants are a vital part of our community and strengthen the social fabric of Harris County. This new legislation threatens to tear families apart. Immigrants cannot and should not be driven back into the shadows or live in fear because of this unconstitutional law.

Already, local governments have filed suit against SB4, and a preliminary hearing is scheduled for Monday in San Antonio. Just this past week, the Houston City Council voted to join San Antonio, Austin, Dallas, Bexar County and other local governments in a consolidated lawsuit challenging the law.

As Commissioner, I will continue to stand with immigrant families and defend the right of local government and law enforcement to set their own priorities. In a June 9 letter, I asked Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan to seek authorization from Harris County Commissioners Court to join the lawsuit against SB4. I believe it is vitally important for Harris County to fight this unjust law and look forward to working with County Attorney Ryan on this important issue that we both care about. 

SB4 is a reflection of the anti-immigrant sentiment permeating our society and stands in the way of comprehensive immigration reform. It upholds a flawed and outmoded form of immigration control that tears families apart, increases racial profiling, and violates due process. We need immigration solutions that attend to the complex issues surrounding reform with compassion, efficiency, and effectiveness in mind. And wherever there is discrimination, we must be prepared to speak out and take action.

Some may think there is a slim to none chance of a Republican-heavy court doing the right thing, but we have a County Judge who has taken more moderate stances on immigration issues, and the commissioner of Precinct 2, who is up for re-election in 2018, serves a Latino-heavy precinct. Who knows? Maybe they can be convinced to do the right thing. At the very least, they should provide an audience for discussion of this issue since it affects a majority of county residents.

Muchos thank yous to Commissioner Rodney Ellis for taking a strong stance on the lawsuit.

Sheriff Gonzalez Ends 287(g)

trumpfamilycrossing950As the Trump regime continues its onslaught against Mexicans and other Latinos, immigrant and citizen, with a steroid-laden immigrant hunting plan, the Harris County Sheriff’s Office under Sheriff Ed Gonzalez has ended its 287(g) agreement with ICE, citing a burden on resources and the need to place resources out in the field.

The withdrawal of the sheriff’s deputies will still allow ICE officials to come to the jail and screen jail inmates to determine their immigration status and the county will hold them for deportation if requested, Gonzalez said.

The sheriff said serious overcrowding in the county jail complex, where staff shortages have hiked overtime costs to $1 million every two weeks, has forced him to deploy his ICE-trained deputies elsewhere. He said his decision was not political “but an issue of resources,” explaining the deputies may also be assigned to help improve clearance rates of major crimes or ad to the patrol division.

“After thoughtful consideration, I’ve decided to opt out of the voluntary 287(g) program,” said Gonzalez, who sent ICE officials notification of his decision Tuesday. “We’ll still be cooperating with local, state and federal authorities as we always have, we just won’t have our manpower resources inside the jail doing that.”

The thing about local jails is that they’ve usually had the ability to report immigration detainers  that pop up on the national database so that ICE can pick up folks at their own discretion and with their own use of resources (other than local jailers). 287(g), which was always a voluntary program, used local resources to exclusively work on increasing deportation numbers in quicker fashion, including low-grade offenders who were not targets for deportation.

Of course, this was evident during the Obama era which broke deportation records, and counties like Harris and Arizona’s Maricopa were among the leaders in helping increase deportation numbers, while Congress did nothing to fix a broken immigration system. It wasted resources and was purely a political tool for whomever was in office at any level. Let’s face it, it became part of Obama’s push for “comprehensive immigration reform” as a possible dealmaker to offer Republicans. It didn’t work, obviously. Because it was in place, it also caused stress for good elected officials who wanted to rid their agencies of the flawed program, but had to deal with threats from right-wing elected officials.

For Sheriff Gonzalez, who also recently provided a statement against Senate Bill 4, the so-called anti-sanctuary city bill currently in the Texas House, he will have to deal with the ire of right-wingers like Greg Abbott, Dan Patrick, and some of the members of the Harris County Commissioner’s Court. Gonzalez, though, has the right idea. His decision is all about resources and public safety, while the Republican and Trump plans are all about fear and hate. And that should be the narrative of this debate.

This decision has been a long time in coming. This blogger had quite a few debates with the previous Democratic Sheriff Adrian Garcia about 287(g). And his Republican replacement was pretty much useless on the issue. Unfortunately, the Trump regime is hell-bent on hunting Mexicans and others. And even a lack of 287(g) will still leave an open door for Trump and his immigrant hunters at local jails. Add SB4, if Texas House Speaker Straus allows it to move forward, and local law enforcement could still be a part of the terror.

What people must understand is that we are in a whole different era. The same “bipartisan” rules no longer apply. Given Trump’s attitude, not even civil discussion. The right-wing, anti-immigrant members of Congress and state elected officials we dealt with in the past now have a leader to do everything they’ve ever wanted. And Republicans (and Democrats) who simply sit back and say nothing are just as bad, or worse, than those we’re dealing with today. Hate is hate. It cannot be defended.

The political implications are enormous, though. And 2018 is right around the corner. Republicans are useless, but Democrats still could rebuild into something with a spine, especially on immigration, detention, and deportation issues. It’s the one issue that they’ve felt useful for campaigns, as if they were actually going to attract bigoted votes in gubernatorial elections (2014). Instead, it demoralizes voters–base voters. Even voters like me, lifelong Dems, who have felt a need to skip around candidates during the last decade because they’ll say something stupid on immigration, or on child refugees from Central America, feel disconnected with the Democrats. Something’s gotta give.

For now, though, things seem ominous, even with a victory like ridding Harris County of 287(g) (Kudos to United We Dream-Houston). Trump’s new immigrant hunting plan expands the targets to include many more undocumented immigrants than the Obama era. Whether Trump sends out deportation forces or not, the fear is unsettling and certainly destabilizes communities and local economies. The Republican intent has never been about public safety, but about hate.

It’s time for ALL to fight back, and for the fight not to be left only to the immigrants under attack. Stand for all!

 

 

 

Dems Sweep Harris County

donkickWith a little help from a 12-point Hillary Clinton “victory,” the rest of the Democrats on the Harris County ballot managed to defeat every county-wide Republican in office or challenging a Democratic incumbent.

Of note from the point of view of this blogger is my once-client, still-friend Julia Maldonado who defeated her Republican opponent by over 60,000 votes in the race for the 507th Family District Court. I’m so proud of Julia, who was chosen from among several candidates in a “primary” decided by the local Dem precinct chairs. After squeaking by, she campaigned relentlessly. I mean, was that a plane with a Julia banner in the sky? Congrats Julia Maldonado!!!

Also of note was our Sheriff-elect Ed Gonzalez’s resounding defeat of right-winger Ron Hickman. What came to mind was Hickman’s and equally defeated DA Devon Anderson’s anti-Black Lives Matter rally-slash-press conference after the murder of a local deputy. Congrats to Ed Gonzalez and DA-elect Kim Ogg on running some great campaigns.

Of course, there was also a squeaker of a race for Tax Assessor-Collector which saw Ann Harris Bennett defeat the incumbent Mike Sullivan by a little over 7,000 votes. After a contentious primary, I have a feeling that a few Dems supported Sullivan; nonetheless, Clinton’s tide, and an active campaign by Bennett, was enough to seal the deal. Congrats to Ann.

Of course, many old friends were re-elected, such as Judge Larry Weiman. And other friends were elected, such as Judges-elect Fredericka Phillips and Ursula Hall. The list is  long, obviously. Congrats to all of them.

Then there were the “so-close” ones, which weren’t countywide, just as my friend Sherrie Matula in the race for county school board pct 2 who came up short, or Jesse Ybanez in HD-135 who garnered 45% of the vote. Or even Bill McCleod who was everywhere in his race for JP-5 and came up 4000 votes short. And I’ll also give a shout out to former client and good friend Jim Cargas in CD7 who earned a respectable 43%.

And kudos to Anne Sung who will be in a run-off for Houston ISD District VII, and to Mary Ann Perez who returns to the Texas House out of Pasadena.

It’s obvious Harris County can trend blue, even in some of the districts drawn specifically for Republicans. It also seems like Latinos in Harris County made themselves known. A quick look showed turn-out percentage increases in Latino state rep districts of anywhere from a few to 6 points. Of course, Latinos live everywhere in Harris County, so, I’m looking forward to hearing what the ultimate turnout was for Latinos.

One thing is for sure, Latinos did provide much of that margin of victory countywide. And that’s why I’m glad I got to congratulate Mario Salinas and Carlos Duarte and their team at Mi Familia Vota for their voter registration and outreach work, as well as Oscar Hernandez and Carolina Ramirez at United We Dream whose team was working hard knocking on doors. There were so many others, like the great team at Texas Organizing Project whose full-throttle campaign did what needed to be done to cause some huge victories. So, congrats to all who did the GOTV work in and for Harris County.

Obviously, I took a couple of years off from campaigns and even from blogging. I can’t say the top of the ticket excited me, but I knew it would be a catalyst locally. And Democrats winning the straight-ticket race shows more than half of Dem voters still enjoy straight-ticket voting. With Trump in office, I’m not sure how involved I’ll get, but I’m pretty sure I’ll keep blogging. The bottom line, liberals and progressives need to look inward and determine which course to take, at least nationally.

Oh, and with a bluer Harris County, there will be more challenges at the Primary level. I guess that’s healthy as long as we all don’t get crazy like some other parties.

 

SATURDAY 10/29: Tacos and Vote!

Early voting has been steady all week. After four days, over 293,000 have already voted in-person, while another 73,000+ have returned their ballots by mail. To put things in perspective, that’s about 47% of the total number of early voters in 2012. In only four days. (Did I get that right?)

Some locations are busier than others, but the bottom line is that during early voting, one may vote at any of the early voting locations. As is usually the case, Saturday will be very busy, but it’s a great day to vote. And there are some good folks that want to make sure you get to vote and enjoy some culture. Nothing says culture like TACOS and MARIACHIS! So, here’s a listing of Tacos and Vote polling locations.

Go get you some! And Vote!

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Ed Gonzalez Calls on HCSO to Reinstate Inspectors, Diversify Staff

cafeed2Ed Gonzalez, Democratic candidate for Harris County Sheriff, challenged current Sheriff Hickman to reinstate jail inspectors and diversify the staff if any criminal justice reform plan is to succeed.

Here’s the press release from Gonzalez:

Ed Gonzalez, the leading Democratic candidate for Sheriff, called on Sheriff Ron Hickman today to join the county’s push for criminal justice reform by reinstating jail inspectors and replacing his command staff with a more diverse leadership team

Gonzalez applauded yesterday’s action by county commissioners to accept a $2 million grant from the MacArthur Foundation and spend millions more on reforms that include expanding pre-trial diversion programs, implementing a new bail system and improving relationships with minority communities.

“Commissioners are moving in the right direction with their new reform plan, but it won’t be enough until real reform comes to the Sheriff’s office,” said Gonzalez.

“Sheriff Hickman must immediately reinstate the jail inspectors and the investigative unit he dismantled and replace his command staff with a leadership team that is more reflective of the communities served by the sheriff’s office,” said Gonzalez.

Hickman’s first act after being appointed sheriff was to replace the existing diverse command staff with all white men. After intense pressure, Hickman later made some additional appointments, but the command staff is nowhere near reflective of the communities that make up Harris County. Gonzalez expressed concern that, until the sheriff truly diversified his command staff, the county’s new racial and ethnic diversity coordinator would continue to face barriers in rebuilding the trust of minority communities in the criminal justice system.

“If the county’s law enforcement leader fails to recognize the need for real diversity,” said Gonzalez, “what chance will the county’s new criminal justice diversity coordinator have to succeed?”

Gonzalez also expressed serious concerns about the ability of the county’s new jail coordinator to speed up the release of inmates awaiting bail, a key element of the new reform plan, given existing management problems at the jail.

Earlier this month, a suspect awaiting bail on a charge of stealing a guitar was beaten to death by inmates in his holding cell – continuing a pattern of violence, abuse and neglect at the jail that was exposed in a 2015 Houston Chronicle investigation. Hickman’s response was to reduce oversight at the jail, including dismantling the investigative unit that had uncovered some of the worst cases of abuse and neglect.

“For the county’s new reform plan to succeed, we must incease oversight, transparency and accountability at the county jail,” said Gonzalez. “That’s why I’m calling on Sheriff Hickman to live up to the values of this new plan by diversifying his command staff and reinstating the jail inspectors he cut earlier this year.”

Ed Gonzalez is a leading candidate in the May 24 Democratic Party primary runoff election for Harris County Sheriff. He is a veteran Houston Police officer who rose to the rank of Sergeant, led murder investigations and served on the elite hostage negotiating team. He served two terms on the City Council, chairing the Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee and becoming mayor pro-tem. On the Houston City Council, Gonzalez led efforts at criminal justice reform – including creating the Houston Center for Sobriety, which keeps people who need help out of the criminal justice system and allows police officers to spend more time on patrol, catching criminals.

 

2016: Brandon Dudley for Tax Assessor-Collector

dudley.jpgAnother friend of mine, Brandon Dudley, has also filed for the Democratic nomination for Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector. I’ve known Brandon since his 2010 run for a judicial post here in Harris County, and I appreciate his work on the Wendy Davis campaign in 2014.

He has served my own State Senator Rodney Ellis for a decade as Chief of Staff and General Counsel, and his work in criminal justice reform is very impressive.

Here’s more on Brandon:

Brandon’s commitment to public service began at an early age, working in programs for at-risk youth while attending the University of Texas at Austin. Brandon worked as a juvenile counselor after earning his degree, and went on to the Graduate School for Social Work at UT-Austin to further develop his administrative skills in the field of public service. After graduate school Brandon came to Houston to create and direct outreach, crime prevention, and community economic development programs for at-risk youth.

These experiences inspired Brandon to attend the University of Houston Law Center, where he twice received the Public Interest Fellowship Award. This also led him to pursue legal and policy advocacy work in the areas of criminal justice reform, economic fairness and voting rights.

After graduating from UH Law School and being licensed to practice, Brandon worked for the Innocence Project, which works to secure the freedom for those wrongfully convicted and advance criminal justice reforms. He later served as managing consultant for the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition’s Harris County Project to advance “smart on crime” reforms to improve public safety, increase fairness and justice, and save taxpayer dollars.

Read more on Brandon here and his platform is here.

I’m running because the right to vote is an essential component of our democracy, and ensuring that freedom is protected for all eligible voters is key to holding our government accountable.

But right now too many citizens’ freedom to make their voices heard in Harris County is under attack by intentional barriers making it harder to vote, tactics that wrongfully deny eligible voters their freedom to vote, and antiquated voting systems that are prone to mistakes, cause long lines, and increase taxpayer costs.

I’m running because the people of Harris County deserve a Tax Assessor that’s standing up for all us, not working against us.  A Tax Assessor that will fight for a fair and equal tax system and protect our freedom to vote, so we can have the Harris County we deserve.

We deserve better schools for our children, an economy that works for all of us, fair and equal justice, and a Harris County that treats all people equally and fairly.

But we have to stand up for it. We have to fight for it.  And we have to vote for it.

Stay informed, folks!