On August 25, Andre Segura ’06 was in his home in Houston watching the news as Hurricane Harvey bore down upon the city, when it was announced that the president had issued a pardon for Joe Arpaio, former sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona. Segura had been part of the ACLU team that brought the civil case against Arpaio, showing that the sheriff had a practice of racially profiling Latinos and violating their Fourth Amendment rights. When he learned of the president’s pardon, Segura says, “I thought it was outrageous—a direct endorsement of the use of racial profiling and completely contrary to a sense of law and order.”
Segura, who was recently appointed legal director of the ACLU of Texas, has been working on racial justice and immigrants’ rights issues for a decade, and he quickly found a more hopeful way of thinking about what he originally received as devastating news. Looking back on his work in the case, he says, “We were able to expose a lot of unlawful, hateful, and divisive practices. And as a result, the community in Maricopa County decided to vote him out of office…. While he may have been pardoned, this will always be the top line of Arpaio’s biographical entry in the history books. And we still have this incredible opportunity to shape that agency moving forward, which would not have been feasible 10 years ago.”
This optimism is typical of the energy that Segura brings to his work, says Annie Lai ’06, co-director of the Immigrant Rights Clinic at UC Irvine School of Law, and a classmate of Segura’s who also worked with him on the Arpaio case. “Andre is an amazing colleague and co-counsel—he has an incredible work ethic and has great insights into case strategy, but also brings a sense of humor to his work,” she says. “He has the unique combination of being both a great litigator and a very kind and perceptive person.”
Segura had studied chemical engineering as an undergraduate and, he says, entered law school with an open mind as to what he would do with his degree, though he thought he might be suited to patent litigation, given his engineering background. He attributes his career trajectory to the community that he found at the Law School. “The public interest community at NYU Law was so close-knit and supportive of each other as we were trying to find our paths,” he says
Segura’s path thus far has led him to spend the majority of his legal career at the ACLU. He began at the Racial Justice Program as a Marvin M. Karpatkin Fellow, before becoming a litigation fellow at the ACLU of Northern California, then a senior staff attorney at the National ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project. Even though he did not originally plan to pursue a career in immigrants’ rights, Segura says, the issue has always been a significant one for him: “My parents are immigrants from Colombia, and growing up in Houston, in a very diverse community, I had a very personal awareness of immigrant issues.”
One case that felt particularly personal arrived in the summer 2014, when there was an influx of mothers and children entering the US from Central America, and the Obama administration had converted a training facility in the middle of the desert in New Mexico into a detention center. Segura flew to the site to meet with the people who were there seeking asylum.
“I remember interviewing this woman with her child, and thinking of how much the child reminded me of my son. This woman, who was no older than 19, had made this journey from Honduras on her own to escape from gang threats and brutality,” Segura recalls. “And I thought of how different my life could have been if I was born in those circumstances, if my child had to experience something like this.” Segura and his team were able to bring her case against the United States government and secure her release, and ultimately filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of all of the individuals detained at the site, arguing that they had not been granted the due process they should have been afforded.
Now, as legal director at the ACLU of Texas, Segura is embracing the challenge of working on a wide range of critical civil rights issues. “[Texas] continues to be the central place for the fight on civil rights for a variety of communities,” he says, noting that LGBTQ rights, criminal justice reform, voting rights, and reproductive rights are among the key issues at stake in the state. “It’s really ground zero for the country—things that are happening in Texas are going to be mirrored in other places.”
Posted November 16, 2017