Press Release

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

February 25, 2020

Houston Leads Coalition Celebrates Harris County Resolution Towards Establishing Immigration Legal Defense Fund

HOUSTON, TX – Houston Leads, a coalition of immigrants rights organizations, commends the Harris County Commissioners Court for passing a resolution towards establishing an immigrant legal services program for county residents. In the Houston immigration court, only about 10% of people facing deportation proceedings have legal representation. The defense fund will support the immigrant community in Harris County by providing a fair chance to fight deportation and helping keep families together.

 

County Judge Lina Hidalgo introduced the measure at the February 25th meeting of the Harris County Commissioners Court. Judge Hidalgo’s recommendation passed with support by both Commissioner Garcia and Commissioner Ellis. This is a key step in creating the legal defense fund in partnership with the Community Services Department and County Attorney’s Office. These departments will submit a program proposal with a budget request to the Commissioners Court for final approval in the near future.

Testimony supporting the recommendation was offered by faith leaders, local business owners, community activists, legal representatives and directly impacted immigrants. 

“We have come a long way. Today reminds us of how important local elections are and how important it is to get people that truly represent our communities in decision making spaces. Today’s resolution is the result of a collective effort and we are building on the work of all the people that came before us to fight for immigrant rights. For many years we have seen the civil rights of immigrants be dismantled and getting access to legal representation is one small step in the right direction to undo the damage. Hurricane Harvey brought us all together and reminded us we are one Houston family, let’s remember that as we move forward.”

“This fund provides a critical opportunity for fair representation and access to justice for indigent families who cannot afford an immigration attorney. Nearly 250,000 children have at least one undocumented parent at risk of deportation and about 27,000 people face deportation in Houston’s immigration courts.”

Arguments in favor of the creation of the legal defense fund also centered the negative economic impact of mass deportation, along with the adverse public health effects suffered by those impacted, especially children and families.

“Construction workers building this county are already facing many obstacles like wage theft and health and safety issues at work and we want to ensure that the people building this county, this city may go to work without having to live in fear of being arrested or deported due to inadequate representation. Workers pay taxes. Workers have families. Workers built this county. The least our leaders can do is make sure that these people are safe and secure in Harris County.”

“In 2018, I reported a case of racist attacks and bullying by a fellow student to school officials at my high school. Instead of resolving the situation, I was handcuffed, put into police custody, and taken to Harris County jail.Then the Sheriff’s Department transferred me to ICE. I was held in detention for almost three months, but I was able to be released because my community organized from the day I was detained, and I had a good legal strategy and support. The reality for many folks who cannot afford an attorney is that they could face indefinite detention, meaning many could be in detention camps for as long as their case is open, which could be years. By Harris County providing this legal defense fund for immigrants like myself, many more people will be able to fight their cases without the prohibitive financial burden on our families.”

“Immigrants fuel economic growth, they contribute $2.5 billion in state and local taxes. Deportations are leading to labor shortages and millions in turnover-related costs that significantly impact Harris County business owners. I’m one of the growing number of Houston-area business leaders that support creating a system of employment rather than deportation for the invaluable immigrants that silently work in the shadows. Let’s give businesses an opportunity to hire skilled workers that have contributed to our community for years. It’s a win-win for Harris County.”

“For the last eight years, I have evaluated the mental health of children and adults in multiple settings, including detention centers in Harris County. I have consistently observed the mental health of children and adults decompensate the longer they are in detention. Depression and anxiety are often treatment resistant and psychotic symptoms, such as auditory and visual hallucinations and delusions, may present for the first time or are exacerbated by the uncertainty of their legal status and indefinite incarceration. Without an attorney to advocate for detained children and vulnerable adults, they are at risk of medical neglect, physical and sexual abuse, and deportation, which—for asylum seekers—can mean persecution and even death.”

“Last year my son was deported after being arrested by local law enforcement for false allegations of domestic violence, after spending some time in jail he was transferred into ICE custody and then deported back to Mexico.  He never had the opportunity to prove his innocence because we are a family of low income and we could not afford an attorney at that time.  My son was deported back to an unknown place where he has no family and no connections.  Houston is the only home he knows. The legal defense fund is essential to help families like mine to give people like my son the chance to a fair trial and freedom, it will stop the separation of more families.  We are all human beings regardless of immigration status and we deserve respect and equality”

Establishing a legal defense fund for individuals facing deportation is the right thing to do for our community..

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Houston Leads is a diverse, non-partisan coalition of immigrant organizations committed to enhancing the protection, safety, dignity, inclusion and freedom of all immigrants living in the Houston area. Together, we call upon elected officials, businesses, faith leaders, government agencies, and the community at large to join us in our fight to build stronger, safer, cohesive communities for all, regardless of immigration status.

Houston Leads includes the following Core Members:

Core Members: ACLU of Texas, Houston Immigrant Legal Services Collaborative (HILSC), Immigrant Legal Resource Center (ILRC), Mi Familia Vota, Service Employees International Union- Texas (SEIU TX), Tahirih Justice Center, Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services, Texas Organizing Project (TOP), United We Dream, and Workers Defense Project.

CONTACT: Andrea Guttin, Legal Director HILSC, [email protected]; José Alonso Muñoz, Communications Manager UWD, [email protected] (202) 810-0746; Damaris Gonzalez, Immigration Rights Organizer TOP, [email protected]