Celestino Gallegos of Texas RioGrande Legal Aid visited LUPE offices last week to teach LUPE members to distinguish between the many Department of Homeland Security law enforcement officials. Members who have been the victims of human rights abuses by DHS officials often cannot distinguish between ICE, Border Patrol and other law enforcement officials, making it difficult to hold those law enforcement officials accountable for the abuses they commit.
Gallegos is a member of TRLA’s Border Issues Legal Team, which provides representation to clients in cases of misconduct and abuse arising out of immigration law enforcement activities in the Texas border region.
The main point of Gallegos’ presentation was to educate the community about the basics of law enforcement, so that the community can identify who the different police agencies and officers are, as well as what each one does. “The idea is that if people know what kind of police officers they are dealing with they will understand what those officers are charged with investigating,” said Gallegos. And therefore community members can route their complaints of mistreatment and abuse to the correct agencies.
LUPE, along with the Immigration Working Group of the Equal Voice Network, is beginning to develop ways of holding DHS officials accountable for acts of mistreatment or abuse they may commit in immigrant communities. It is the widespread lack of accountability, coupled with increased militarization of the border region that has created the growing trend of official violence towards Mexicans and immigrants that gained visibility with last month’s killing of Mexican teen Sergio Adrian Hernandez Huereka by a U.S. Border Patrol agent. While only ending federal militarization of the border will end the violent trend, it is the hope of the Equal Voice Network that our efforts to hold DHS law enforcement officials accountable will curb the trend in the RGV and bring national attention to the plight of border communities terrorized by federal immigration enforcement policy.
LUPE members had questions for Gallegos but also had many experiences with law enforcement officials to share with their compañeros. With space for questions and discussions, sessions such as these provide invaluable information to LUPE members but also allow them to be educators of their own community. LUPE members are experts in the issues that affect their lives and through discussion educate their fellow LUPE members. Even guest presenters learn from the many experiences members have to share.
Texas RioGrande Legal Aid is a non-profit corporation that provides free civil and criminal legal services to indigent residents of Southwest Texas. It is the principal provider of a broad range of civil legal services in 68 Texas counties, and its Public Defender Division staff serves persons accused of crimes in 8 counties. Program headquarters are in Weslaco, in the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas, with branch offices located in 14 cities throughout the Valley and Southwest Texas. TRLA also serves migrant and seasonal farm workers throughout the state of Texas.