David Hinojosa, regional counsel for the Southwest Regional Office of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), visited NYU Law on February 27 to present the Bickel & Brewer Latino Institute for Human Rights’ Latinos and the Law lecture, which was cosponsored by the Leaders in Public Interest speaker series. Using specific examples of cases that he had worked on, Hinojosa discussed the challenges of litigating civil rights impact cases in the 21st century.

Hinojosa opened his lecture with a discussion of Vicente v. Barnett, in which MALDEF represented a group of 16 immigrants who alleged that they had been assaulted by a vigilante rancher at the Mexican-Arizona border. Though there had been police complaints filed against the rancher in the past, this group was the first to press charges. “None of these were drug carriers," Hinojosa said. "None of them had prior convictions… they were all just trying to find better means to support their family."

Finding jury members for the trial was not easy, Hinojosa said. When asked if undocumented immigrants have any rights in U.S. courts, most of the potential jury members answered that they did not. Two jury members claimed that they had to recuse themselves before the end of the trial. However, despite these obstacles, the jury eventually found in favor of the plaintiffs for their tort claims, and 77,000 dollars in damages were awarded to the women in the group. Although the defendants appealed the case twice, both appeals were rejected.

Hinojosa also spoke of his involvement in Santamaria v. Dallas Independent School District, a class action suit on behalf of Latino ESL learners. In this case, MALDEF represented parents who alleged that a school had illegally used its ESL program to segregate Latino and minority students, regardless of their language abilities. “You can’t segregate someone just because they’re not born in this country,” Hinojosa said. “The parents I was with didn’t understand much English, but they understood that.”

Watch the full video of the lecture (53 min):

Posted March 16, 2012