AUSTIN — The Texas Civil Rights Project, a non-profit legal advocacy organization, will close its El Paso office, a TCRP spokesman confirmed Wednesday.
The organization’s board of directors voted last month to close the office, which has been open in the border city since 2005.
“We’ve only had one attorney there in the last year, so it made financial sense to do that,” said Zenén Jaimes Pérez, spokesman for the organization. “The board made a decision for financial reasons.”
The Texas Civil Rights Project has been behind several legal battles originating in El Paso and is assisting both the city of El Paso and El Paso County with their legal challenges to the state’s ban on sanctuary cities, or Senate bill 4.
The organization previously brought litigation in the area challenging federal immigration authorities, Chico’s Tacos when one location refused service to a gay couple and the county court system for holding people in jail who can’t pay bond for minor offenses.
County Judge Ruben Vogt said he was not aware of the organization’s decision to close their El Paso office, but said he was concerned about what it could mean for the area.
“It’s always difficult to see an organization that has done such good work leave a community, especially a community where there is always need,” he said. “It’s sad for me to think about not having the organization that often focused on those really important issues that might be smaller for other people.”
It has not been decided when the office will close, and Jaimes Pérez said a staffer is still on the ground in El Paso.
The organization will continue to serve the El Paso community after the office closes, Jaimes Pérez said. Its headquarters are in Austin, and there are other offices in Dallas, Houston and Alamo, in the Rio Grande Valley.
“Not having an office there doesn’t mean that we’re not doing any El Paso work,” Jaimes Pérez said, adding that attorneys with TCRP already make frequent trips to El Paso and maintain partnerships with members of the community. “There will be absolutely no reduction in our work in El Paso.”
The board of directors cited financial concerns as their motivation to shutter the office, Jaimes Pérez said. The organization was funded by the Texas Access to Justice Foundation until last year, when he said “they made the political decision not to keep funding us.”
“Since then, we’ve had an aggressive push and we’ve made up most of our funds,” Jaimes Pérez said. “But we’ve reorganized and launched a new strategic plan in the last year. So we’ve been shifting as an organization and it made sense to not have our El Paso office.”
Jim Harrington, the founder and former executive director of the Texas Civil Rights Project, said the group’s decision to close the office “is the result of mismanaging and restricting its priorities.”
“This is very painful to see because it represents TCRP’s current retrenchment from being part of the community, not just in El Paso but around the state,” he said in a statement. “We opened the office because the El Paso community asked us to do so, and we had a strong and respected litigation program. Some of our most important cases came out of the El Paso community.”
The organization’s decision to close its office comes as the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas announced that it would relocate its Regional Center for Border Rights in El Paso, moving the center from its current location in Las Cruces, N.M.
“The ACLU has long been active in El Paso but has not had permanent staff in the city,” said Terri Burke, executive director of the ACLU of Texas, in a statement. “That will change when the RCBR moves its primary base of operations from Las Cruces to El Paso this fall.”