The U.S. Has A Moral Responsibility to Support Refugees

UUSC condemns the White House’s threats to cut the refugee admissions quota to a historic low of less than 50,000 and urges the administration to institute a refugee admissions quota of no less than 75,000 in FY2018. At a time when the world is in the midst of the largest global migration crisis on record, any decision to reduce the refugee admissions cap would be an affront to the moral responsibility of the United States to provide a safe-haven for those fleeing violence and insecurity.

Lowering the admissions level is not factually grounded and represents yet another example of the Trump administration’s attacks on refugee and immigrant communities that include the Muslim ban, supporting the RAISE Act, and the decisions to end the Central American Minors (CAM) and the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals (DACA) programs. Despite what the administration claims, these attacks on refugee and immigrant communities do not promote national security or the economy. They are only designed to further the Administration’s nativist political agenda. As recent leaks have revealed, the administration appears to recognize that there is no justification for reducing the quota and has even gone so far as to actively suppress evidence about the contributions refugees make to our economy in order to justify their plans to reduce refugee admissions.

It is also important to note that news of the administration’s potential cuts to the refugee quota came the same week that the Supreme Court rejected part of a Ninth Circuit decision temporarily halting Trump’s executive order commonly called the “Muslim ban.” This ruling means that refugees will no longer be protected from the ban, even if they have a preexisting agreement with a resettlement agency. While the lower court ruling regarding extended family members still applies, the Supreme Court will hear arguments on the Muslim ban on October 10. In response, UUSC has signed onto an amicus brief calling on the Supreme Court to affirm the previous holdings of the Ninth and Fourth Circuits and block the ban from being enforced.

In recognition of the pattern of attacks on refugee and immigrant communities coming from the White House, it is critical that we take action in solidarity with refugees and immigrants. We encourage you to join us in supporting #NoMuslimBanEver, a national month action of online and in person events leading up to the Supreme Court hearing.

Please check our website, Twitter and Facebook accounts regularly for updates on how you can continue to join us to support refugee and immigrant communities and resist the Muslim ban.

ICE Moves to Destroy Records of Abuse

The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) has provisionally approved a request by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to destroy records related to detainees, which include, “incidents of sexual abuse and assault, escapes, deaths while in agency custody, telephone rates charged to detainees, alternatives to detention, logs and reports on status of detainees and detention facilities, and location and segregation of detainees.”

UUSC sent the following comment in response, urging NARA to deny this request:

The Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC) is gravely concerned by reports that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) seeks to destroy records pertaining to the sexual abuse, death, and solitary confinement of people in ICE detention. These documents provide a crucial evidentiary basis for future efforts to expose ICE abuses, hold the agency accountable, and offer a truthful historical reckoning of the nature of U.S. immigration enforcement. In light of the agency’s persistent failure to properly report and investigate human rights abuses, it would be grossly irresponsible to allow ICE to eliminate evidence of its own misconduct.

The government’s arguments in favor of destroying these documents are deeply flawed. UUSC rejects the claim put forward by federal appraisers, for instance, that retaining records of sexual abuse is unnecessary because “ICE creates annual reports on incidents of allegations of sexual abuse or assaults of individuals in ICE custody.” ICE has shown time and again it cannot be trusted to properly investigate its own officers and their actions. In April, UUSC’s partners at Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC) filed a civil rights complaint on behalf of victims of sexual abuse and assault in ICE detention. CIVIC found that between May 2014 and July 2016, ICE received on average more than one complaint of sexual abuse per day. Yet the agency investigated a mere 2.4% of the total. CIVIC also documented cases of retaliation and silencing of victims who reported abuse. In one instance, a woman was confined in solitary for over a week after she filed a harassment complaint against an officer.

ICE’s request to destroy documents comes at a time, moreover, when the agency is already under justified scrutiny for its lack of openness and transparency. After ICE announced plans for a massive deportation raid last week called “Operation Mega,” shortly after the termination of DACA, and then seemed to change course in the aftermath of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, immigrant rights groups mobilized nationwide to lodge Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests at every ICE field office, demanding clarity about the agency’s plans and tactics. Danny Cendejas of the Detention Watch Network declared: “ICE is an agency that regularly lies and actively hides information from public view.” UUSC’s partners at CIVIC and Grassroots Leadership agree, providing numerous examples of this pattern of deception in previous ICE raids. The UndocuBlack Network, also a UUSC partner, also have a pending FOIA request with the Department of Homeland Security, which houses ICE, to expose its decision-making process regarding the fate of 50,000 Haitian immigrants with Temporary Protected Status (TPS).

Plainly what is needed is to shed more light on a secretive agency whose decisions daily impact the lives, freedom, and dignity of millions of non-citizens. To allow ICE to eliminate records of possible human rights violations at its own hands as early as 2023 (and at a rate much faster than other federal agencies) would be a dangerous step in the wrong direction. The thousands of people who pass through immigration detention each year without trial or due process deserve better. The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) should reject ICE’s request and ensure the preservation of these documents for future generations.

UUSC Leadership Urges Senate to Oppose Expanded Support to Burma Military 

UUSC President & CEO Tom Andrews Says No to Senate Defense Bill Authorizing Expanded Burma Military Support, Yes to Senate Amendment 607 Calling for Protections of Brutalized Rohingya

“We ask for all Senators to support Senate Amendment 607 to the National Defense Authorization Act that has been introduced by Senators Markey, Gardner and Cardin.”

“The United States can be doing much more to stop the systematic brutality being inflicted on many thousands of the Rohingya ethnic minority in Burma.  At the very least, the U.S. should not be making things worse.

“That is precisely what will happen if next week the Senate passes Amendment 607, a defense authorization bill that will expand U.S. military ties to the military of Burma – a military that continues to lay the building blocks of genocide by engaging in systematic, brutal attacks against the Rohingya.

“Today, U.S. Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and John McCain (R-AZ) introduced a Senate resolution condemning the Burmese military’s violence against innocent members of the Rohingya ethnic minority, which we applaud. But their resolution will be undermined by the Senate if it passes the entire defense bill that Senator McCain’s committee will put on the floor for a vote next week As it is, that Section 1262 of the NDAA bill that McCain’s committee will introduce also includes a provision for the expansion of military-to-military engagement with the government of Burma.

“Over the past several days some 125,000 of the ethnic Rohingya population have been forced to run for their lives into neighboring Bangladesh from homes and villages destroyed by the military.

“Bangladesh Border Guards reported seeing machine guns and mortars fired by Burma’s military at those trying to flee. Hundreds of Rohingya are dead and untold numbers are being denied life-saving humanitarian aid. Many are stuck on the border where landmines were recently buried.

“A United Nations investigation earlier this year found that the military’s previous human rights violations were so systematic and widespread that they likely amount to crimes against humanity, and Burma refuses to admit an international fact-finding mission into the country to investigate these claims.

“Burma military chief Min Aung Hlaing continues to oversee disproportionate and devastating military operations that have been marked by widespread reports of arbitrary killings and burned villages.

“For the U.S. to strengthen ties to a military as it kills defenseless people, destroys their villages and denies them humanitarian aid would be unconscionable.”

“We ask for all Senators to support Senate Amendment 607 to the National Defense Authorization Act that has been introduced by Senators Markey, Gardner and Cardin.”

 

Note this post was updated for clarity on September 11, 2017.

Take Action! The U.S. cannot support abuse and murder by the Burmese government

A bipartisan amendment (S.A. 607) introduced by Senators Markey, Gardner, and Cardin would cut off U.S. military assistance to Burma’s army, which is accused of crimes against humanity. We need to mobilize NOW and urge the Senate to adopt this amendment and we only have a few days!

The United States must act to stop the systematic brutality the Burmese military is inflicting on the Rohingya, and we need you to help amplify this message. Follow the instructions below to contact your Senator before the Tuesday vote.

Call your Senator now!

  1. Call (202) 224-3121. This number will direct you to the Capitol switchboard
  2. Ask to be connected to your Senator (Note that you will need to call twice to reach both senators!)
  3. A legislative assistant or answering machine will answer the phone. Give them this message, filling in your personal details:

“Hello, my name is ____ ____. I’m a constituent from [State and zip code]. I don’t need a response. I am calling to urge my senator to oppose increased embrace of the Burmese military by co-sponsoring Senate Amendment 607 to the National Defense Authorization Act. Thank you.

  1. If you haven’t already, call again to connect with your other senator.
  2. Tell your friends, family, and colleagues to join you in this action!

In the past two weeks, hundreds of thousands of the Rohingya minority population of Burma have fled to Bangladesh and India. Bangladesh Border Guards have reported seeing Burma’s military fire machine guns and mortars at those trying to flee, including children. Many are stuck on the border where landmines have been buried. Thousands have died and untold numbers are being denied life-saving humanitarian aid.

Myanmar’s military chief, Min Aung Hlaing, is arguably the most powerful person in Burma. He continues to oversee soldiers who rape women, arbitrarily shoot civilians, and burn entire villages to the ground. It is also under his command that conflicts in Kachin and Shan states have escalated, and he who has blocked constitutional reforms that would make Burma a legitimate democracy.

Incredibly, the current draft of the military budget, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) which the U.S. Senate will consider next week calls for an expansion of U.S. military engagement with the military of Burma. This is unconscionable and the U.S. government’s message to Burma’s military must be clear: There can be no further engagement or assistance until the government of Burma ends abuses and demonstrates a real commitment to accountability and reconciliation.

Thank you!

Promoting Sustainability at Work

UUSC has been eco-audited! This July, we invited a youth group based in Cambridge, Mass., called the Eco-Action Team, to evaluate the energy efficiency of our office. The Eco-Action Team is made up of a group of students from the Cambridge Rindge and Latin School, as part of the Cambridge Mayor’s Summer Youth Employment Program (MSYEP), which gives high schoolers meaningful internship opportunities. The team is managed by the Cambridge branch of Youth for Earth Action, an organization that empowers young adults to get involved in the sustainability of their communities.

Group of people posing for a picture in a conference room.
UUSC staff attended the Eco-Action Team’s Report of Recommendations to improve our office sustainability.

Environmental justice is a cornerstone of UUSC’s work and with that comes the belief in promoting accountability through sustainable practices—we wanted to ensure that we are walking the talk. According to the Eco-Action Team, buildings account for 80% of greenhouse gas emissions in Cambridge. Our building, located on Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge, uses 54% less energy compared to similar buildings in the city. But there’s still lots of work we can do. That’s why we were so excited for this group of students to conduct their audit. Their detailed evaluations gave us insight into what our strong and weak points are with energy consumption, and their findings will also be extremely useful as we continue through the process of getting Platinum LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification – the highest rating that the globally-recognized green building evaluation system awards.

Eco-audit Findings

Our building houses two other tenant organizations: Citizens Bank and Altman & Altman Attorneys at Law. The Eco-Action Team carefully examined each office using a systematic checklist and surveying individual staff members. They returned in August to present their findings, giving our building an overall sustainability score of 72.65% (not bad, but it leaves plenty of room to improve!), and identifying areas to cut down on waste.

The team broke their Report of Recommendations into specific areas of concern to give us a more detailed analysis of our office sustainability. The areas of energy use that the team evaluated were Lighting, HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, and Cooling), Office Equipment, Kitchens, Restrooms, Waste Management, and Environmental Policies.

It was good to see that the team recognized many of the steps UUSC has already taken towards sustainability, such as using Energy Star certified appliances, LED lighting, standard AC settings that minimize energy use, and bins for recycling and compost. According to their report, our most sustainable area was Lighting, and the area that needs the most improvement is Office Equipment. The recommendations they gave us were both practical and helpful. We’ve shared them below in hopes that readers can consider them for their workplaces and homes.

Our Takeaways

What made Eco-Action’s visit resonate with me was getting the chance to reconnect with one of the team members, who is heading into 11th grade and interested in studying Sociology in college. It was great to share with her about how the team’s recommendations are already having an impact in our office. Staff members were talking days later about one student’s reminder to be aware of how many disposable coffee cups we each use and to invest in reusable mugs. Personally, I’ve started getting my coffee “for here” and taking a short work session at a local coffee shop. I’ve also become more stringent about my paper towel use; I used to go for a second, even third sheet to make sure my hands were completely dry, essentially more than doubling the number of paper towels I was contributing to the waste stream.

These behaviors may seem small, and they’re things that many at UUSC already held in the back of our minds. But there was something about the Eco-Action Team’s gentle confrontation of our daily habits that drove me to make small changes, at no inconvenience to myself.

The student shared suggestions for how she has incorporated Eco-Action’s findings into her own life, like unplugging chargers and shutting off power strips at home. “Before Eco-Action, I wasn’t especially into [environmentalism]. I knew about the Paris Agreement, I knew it was important, but now it really feels like it is.” In reflection with how their work has impacted the other students, she said, “We all talked about the little things that we can do to save energy or water – just little things. I think we all agree after doing this how important it is it be practicing [sustainability] at home as well.”

For her, Eco-Action was an empowering experience: “Through Eco-Action I learned how I am able to have an impact. And, I was able to build up a leadership role and learn to work as a team.” Personally, as a teen, I was very interested in environmentalism, but these problems felt too big for me to know where to start. The issues of climate change, habitat destruction, and environmental injustice can be so overwhelming. That’s why it was so inspiring to hear the students report back on their findings, and to learn how this program has helped them engage in environmental issues.

I’ve been so fortunate to work at UUSC this summer, and I can truly say that it’s a community of conscientious, dedicated people. Although everyone at UUSC followed different paths to be here, we are all united by a desire to do good in this world. That’s a special kind of environment that you don’t see everywhere, but it’s one we hope we promote in everything we do. It’s clear that in our current political moment, we can’t count on the president or his administration to push for the environmental change that most Americans want to see. If there’s one thing to take away from the Eco-Action Team’s audit, it’s that we must start being that change we want to see, one step at a time, inspiring each other every day to work towards our goals.

On behalf of the entire UUSC staff, thanks so much to the Eco-Action Team! These students deserve to be recognized for their hard work. Their detailed report was extremely helpful to us, and their thoughtful reflections and suggestions showed that these students have bright futures ahead of them. We hope other businesses in Cambridge will take this great opportunity to evaluate their sustainability, and we hope to see a new group of eco-auditors next year!

Eco-Action Team’s Recommendations

  • Optimize use of natural daylight, especially in smaller rooms with large windows, but also evaluate where using blinds can shield against solar heat gain in the summer months to minimize the demand on the air-conditioning system.
  • Use indoor plants, which have been shown to have air-purification effects.
  • Because different programs and tenants, like the bank, need to leave certain machines running at all times, focus on digitizing document editing and print double-sided whenever possible to improve Office Equipment energy efficiency.
  • Set default energy saving options on computers and other office equipment.
  • Reduce the use of single-use disposable utensils and cups, and use biodegradable or other green option single use products instead.
  • Since installing hand dryers in our restrooms is currently not economically and environmentally efficient, focus on conserving paper by strategically placing eco-signage near paper towel dispensers.
  • Add eco-signage near switches to remind employees to turn off lights.
  • Get plumbing checked annually to prevent leaky faucets.
  • Convey to building renovation contractors and the cleaning service that we prefer to only use environmentally-safe products.
  • Create green teams in each office to facilitate and monitor green practices.
  • Encourage tenant organizations to adopt similar eco-friendly practices.
Group of people on a roof deck garden.
UUSC staff showed the Eco-Action Team our rooftop garden during their examination of the building.

UUA, UUSC Leaders are Appalled by Decision to End DACA

DREAMers are not bargaining chips to be used for political gain

The Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray, President of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), and Thomas Andrews, President and CEO of the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC), issued the following statement in response to the Trump administration’s announcement to end the DACA program:

“As leaders in faith and human rights, and working jointly through the Love Resists campaign to protect communities targeted by hate, we are appalled by the Trump administration’s announcement to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. DACA has provided protections from deportations and the ability to work and attend school for more than 800,000 young immigrants. The United States is home to these brave people.

Taking away DREAMers’ legal status and leaving them vulnerable to deportation is immoral and wrong. DREAMers are not bargaining chips to be used for political gain, and the further criminalization and persecution of the broader immigrant community is disgraceful. These individuals are not statistics; they are students, doctors, and veterans, they are hard-working members and leaders of communities, they are parents, friends, neighbors and loved ones. Tearing our communities apart makes no one safer.

We raise our voices in outrage at the President’s betrayal of DREAMers so that he may receive accolades and applause from the alt-right and other white supremacist groups. This action goes against our nation’s principles and the views and wishes of the majority of the country. We are in solidarity with all DREAMers now facing a nightmare of uncertainty because of today’s announcement. We encourage Unitarian Universalists and all people of faith and conscience to rise up and resist this latest attack on our immigrant siblings.

To all those directly affected by this decision, we recognize your humanity. You are part of the United States. We will defend your right to stay. We will continue to resist with you in the spirit of love and freedom.”