aclu lawyer

This coming weekend Sprudge is teaming up with an astonishing 400 cafes (and counting!) nationwide to help raise funds for the American Civil Liberties Union, those non-partisan defenders of liberty currently challenging the legality of a slew of recent Presidential Executive Orders relating to refugees and immigrants. Check out the ever-growing list of cafe partners here.

As part of the wider effort, we want to take a moment and let you get to know one of the hardworking ACLU attorneys whom this fundraiser directly supports. Meet Edgar Saldivar, a Senior Staff Attorney for the ACLU of Texas, based in Houston. A native of Pasadena, Texas, Saldivar is a graduate (cum laude) of Harvard University with an A.B. in philosophy, and went to law school at the University of Houston. Here’s a bit more from his ACLU Texas bio:

Edgar Saldivar joined the ACLU of Texas in 2016 as a senior staff attorney where he focuses on a variety of constitutional issues. Prior to working at the ACLU of Texas, Edgar was a commercial litigator in private practice where he honed his skills as a trial lawyer in a variety of complex, multi-party litigation matters in both state and federal courts.

A native of Pasadena, Texas whose mother was a migrant farm worker and whose father worked in a slaughterhouse after arriving from Mexico, Edgar is ever mindful of his origins and the challenges faced by the poor, immigrant, and minority communities. His work is driven by a deep passion to seek justice for the most vulnerable and underserved in our society.

Sprudge co-founder Jordan Michelman spoke up with Edgar Saldivar by phone from the parking lot of George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity

Hey Edgar! Thanks for taking a moment to talk to our readers. What has the last week been like for the Texas chapter of the ACLU?

It’s been incredibly busy, and we’ve been mobilizing and preparing for fights—I’m talking to you form the parking lot of the airport. We’re on the front lines right now, seeking to protect people who might be detained because of the recent Executive Orders regarding refugees and immigrants. This is happening in ACLU chapters across the country, including our chapter here in Texas, which is headquartered in Houston, the largest city in Texas.

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On Friday, January 27th the Trump Administration issued an Executive Order that tried to block the entry of refugees, immigrants, and those with valid visas from seven countries. We were shocked by the breadth of that order because it crossed a lot of constitutional lines. Our Immigrants Rights Project in the New York office got to action and filed lawsuits immediately—the action came out Friday night at 5pm, and by Saturday morning we had a lawsuit to put an injunction in place to stop the Executive Order. By that Saturday evening a federal judge issued a stay on a portion of the EO, basically allowing those with valid visas and papers to enter the country without being detained.

But in between there was chaos. Refugees, visitors, and immigrants with valid documentation all over the country were being held at customs. It caused chaos and confusion at airports across the country. In an organic way people started to gather at airports to protest, expressing their fundamental First Amendment rights. So there we are on Saturday—I grabbed my bag and drove to the Houston ICH and arrived with a few other attorneys from different fields, gathering to see how we could help.

The group of attorneys got together and kept growing, looking for ways to help families waiting on loved ones who had been detained and needed help. Meanwhile other members of our team were doing the same at the intercontinental airport in Dallas, where people were being detained and not being released, even after the injunction was granted by the judge in New York.

We have basic protections in this country, including freedom from discrimination due to national origin, and freedom from religious tests. Lawyers from the ACLU saw through the discrimination in these Executive Orders and challenged them immediately in court. Many of us then made sure that those families impacted at airports were released in accordance with the law.  I myself was here at the airport in Houston until 2am that night, making sure people got released, negotiating with the police to make sure no protestors were arrested so long as they were being non-disruptive and simply exercising their First Amendment rights. My organization, along with many independent lawyers, stood up to protect people’s rights. If we give the government the opportunity to cross those lines, against immigrants or anyone, it will affect all of us.

Thank you for being a part of this effort at the Houston Intercontinental Airport. This coming weekend, coffee bars around the country will be raising funds for your non-partisan organization, the ACLU. Can you tell us a little bit about where those funds will go? 

The ACLU is on the front lines for civil rights in the United States, and we have been for around for 100 years. We have a long history of protecting constitutional rights. We rely on people’s support and help, because we are completely funded by donations.

I’ll give you one example of how we spend donated funds. In order for us to bring the lawsuit we did in New York that resulted in the stay on this Executive Orders, we had to first pay for filing fees for what’s called a habeas petition, which is a petition to get someone out of detention or custody. That filing costs money, and so immediately the ACLU allocates funds in order to be able to litigate in court—every step of this process has a cost, and it can be incredibly expensive, especially when the government is involved.

Funds also go to our efforts to print and distribute a number of different “Know Your Rights” materials that we use to educate communities about their rights, including immigrant communities. This includes things like “Pocket Constitution“, small version of the US Constitution that people are able to keep on their person. Things like that help empower and educate people.

Aside from all that,  funds go to maintaining our website, our social media channels, and to the salaries of our staff attorneys across the country. They aren’t making private law firm levels of money with these salaries—it’s nonprofit money—but we have top notch lawyers fighting the good fight, and money is needed to make sure we can employ top talent to take on these challenges.

That’s amazing, Edgar, but let’s get to the real questions: do you love coffee? What is your favorite coffee bar? 

Absolutely I love coffee! When I’m in Houston I go to Blacksmith. I was recently in San Francisco, and when I’m there I go to Four Barrel and Linea Caffe. I’m the kind of guy, when I travel, the first thing I do is to locate my hotel, and then the next thing I do is locate the nearest good coffee shop. It’s an absolute must for me. I love good coffee, and I can drink it any time of the day—in the mornings of course, but also a late afternoon or evening coffee.

I’m definitely a coffee guy, and I really love African coffees from Ethiopia and Kenya, but I also like Latin American coffees, especially from Guatemala. I’m one of those folks—I trust David Buehrer and Greenway Coffee / Blacksmith so much, whatever he’s roasting I’ll buy.

Who has the most annoying coffee order in the Texas ACLU office? 

It’s probably me! I’m the one asking for fancy coffee. Some of my colleagues will just get a Starbucks, but I’ll drive a little bit further for a cappuccino from Blacksmith.

Thank you for your time today Edgar, and for all that you do. 

Thank you!

Join us this weekend in raising funds for the ACLU by visiting one of 400 participating cafes nationwide. #YesEqual #RefugeesWelcome
Jordan Michelman is a co-founder and editor at Sprudge Media Network. Read more Jordan Michelman on Sprudge.
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