National Butterfly Center to host ‘Know Your Rights’ session

Local residents and others listen to Texas Civil Rights Project attorney Efrén Olivares as he points to a map of the proposed border wall path along the Rio Grande in South Texas. He is talking about property owner's rights at Casa Del Rio on Tuesday October 17, 2017, in Roma. (Joel Martinez | jmartinez@themonitor.com)

Representatives with the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas and the Texas Civil Rights Project will be on-hand Thursday to provide essential information on constitutional rights as it pertains to the borderlands region.

The “Know Your Rights: Borderlands” session, hosted by the National Butterfly Center at Cine El Rey in downtown McAllen, is free to the public and set to begin at 6:30 p.m. The session will specifically focus on providing the public with information regarding certain constitutional rights, such as free speech, peaceful assembly and protest, and rights pertaining to law enforcement interactions.

According to an ACLU release, the session will also “offer tools for protecting your privacy and increasing government transparency in the fight to protect the borderlands.”

Generalist civil rights attorney David Donatti, a Samuels Family Legal Fellow, will be representing the ACLU of Texas as the featured speaker for the bilingual presentation, which is designed to educate and empower border residents who face increasing militarization of their communities.

Donatti, who was previously an attorney with the private firm of Debevoise & Plimpton, was a member of the legal team representing the North American Butterfly Association in its suit against the federal government.

“Residents of the lower Rio Grande Valley deserve to know what their rights are and what lines should not be crossed by the multitude of law enforcement agencies that patrol the border,” Donatti said. “I am honored to be invited to share this important information, including special circumstances affecting immigrants and potential protestors, for all who wish to attend.”

Donatti said the sessions the ACLU puts together are essential in gaining an understanding of what rights are available to be exercised.

“…It’s very important to educate people as to what their rights are, and what the limits of law enforcement are, so that they can exercise their rights. Hopefully we can strike a better balance between law enforcement and just people trying to live their daily lives,” he said. “We think that’s especially important in the borderlands, and especially important at this time when so much is happening in the borderlands in terms of militarization, and in terms of condemnation (of land) to build the border wall.

“All of these ingredients are boiling up that we think makes it really important for people to understand that they have a right to free speech, to try and change the way things are being talked about nationally and done in the government at a federal level.”

He said the people living in border communities are particularly vulnerable to encounters with law enforcement.

“It’s really important to tell people what they can and can’t do if they’re confronted by law enforcement, including (U.S.) Border Patrol, including (Texas Department of Public Safety), or state officers,” Donatti said.

In addition to ACLU representatives, expected to be in attendance at the event are lawyers and advocates with the Texas Civil Rights Project, students from the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, the No Border Wall coalition including the Sierra Club, and representatives with the Tucson, Arizona-based Center for Biological Diversity.

According to the ACLU’s release regarding the event, there will be time after the presentation for attorneys to answer audience questions.

Doors will open at 6 p.m. The venue is sponsored by the Historic Cine El Rey Theatre Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to “preserving the past for the future.”

Popcorn will be available at no charge and the bar will be open for beverage purchases.

Officials are recommending those who wish to attend the event to arrive early for the best seating and downtown parking, which is free starting at 6 p.m.