UUSC’s Rights at Risk Program responds quickly to emerging human rights crises and protects a range of rights most at risk due to those catastrophes. This includes advancing the rights of people who are most overlooked or discriminated against in the midst of humanitarian crises such as forced migration, large-scale conflicts, genocide, and natural disasters.
UUSC decries both the white supremacist violence that took place in Charlottesville, Virginia over the weekend and the everyday structures of racism, anti-Semitism, xenophobia, and homophobia in the United States that enable extremist violence.
The neo-fascist, neo-Nazi, and “alt-right” groups that converged on Charlottesville this weekend cannot be treated as simply fringe and isolated elements. They are a particularly extreme manifestation of the much deeper sickness of white supremacism in our society, where the legacy of slavery and discriminatory policies has led to extreme racial inequalities today in education, employment, incarceration, and wealth.
Likewise, as we celebrate the Unitarian Universalist (UU) values that call us to resist hatred and bigotry, we recognize the complicity and contradictions in our country, within UU history, and our own lives. Our partners at the Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative (ARC) remind us: “Until we acknowledge and understand the history of White Supremacy…we will not be able to dismantle effectively structural oppression or to address the root causes of hate and violence in this country.”
While controversy following the events in Charlottesville has centered on the President’s disturbing response to the violence, we must not forget the even more direct role he continues to play in empowering the forces of the extreme right. Leaders at all levels should unequivocally denounce these actions, and we must all work to reverse course on policies that criminalize and stigmatize communities of color. This includes the promotion of anti-immigration legislation that reads like a white nationalist wish list
We mourn the death and loss of life that occurred this past weekend. We also recognize that structures of supremacy are inherently violent, and they are killing and harming people every day in ways that don’t receive equal public attention. We are inspired by the example of people of faith and conscience, including many Unitarian Universalists, who went to Charlottesville this weekend to counter the violence of hate with a message of love. “They showed us that the light of hope and love burns brighter than hate. It is imperative that we keep this flame alive even in these dark times,” says UUSC President and CEO Tom Andrews.
As we process our personal and organizational response to the weekend events, we are creating space to meet with one another as a staff to share our grief, reflect on the systems of racism that exist, and plan our response. We continue to support the individuals and groups that are targeted by the neo-fascist, neo-Nazi, and “alt-right” movement. May our grief for the past and present move us to work harder for the future as it ought to be. As the great labor organizer Mary Harris “Mother” Jones once bid us: “pray for the dead—and fight like hell for the living.”
We awoke last Monday to the horrifying news that ten people had died of dehydration and asphyxiation in a tractor-trailer in San Antonio, Tex., where they had been trapped without water or air conditioning for a 150-mile drive. Our partner in San Antonio, RAICES, organized a vigil the night of the tragedy to honor the victims. “We hope and pray for the survivors to recover quickly and find peace, safety, and justice,” RAICES wrote in a statement to their supporters. “This heartbreaking situation highlights the lengths that migrants will go to seek refuge in the United States. We value, honor, and respect migrant lives.”
These individuals were not the victims of the driver. They were the victims of an international economic system that pushes families into debt and hunger and criminalizes them for doing what is necessary to survive and provide for their loved ones. They suffered under a border enforcement regime that has grown so reckless and unaccountable that former agents are voicing opposition and migrants and asylum-seekers are forced to maneuver unimaginably dangerous crossings rather than risk an encounter with Customs and Border Protection (CBP).
Far-right politicians moved quickly to exploit the tragedy in their continued campaigns against pro-immigrant local policies. Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick released a statement declaring that “Sanctuary cities…enable human smugglers and cartels. Today, these people paid a terrible price and demonstrate why we need a secure border[.]” In Washington, D.C., Attorney General Jeff Sessions justified his continued attacks on sanctuary efforts stating, “So-called ‘sanctuary’ policies…encourage illegal immigration and even human trafficking…This can have tragic consequences, like the ten deaths we saw in San Antonio this weekend.”
Sessions and Patrick are attacking the very sanctuary policies that could have prevented the tragedy in San Antonio from ever occurring. By ensuring that undocumented members of our community can depend on the services they need, without fear of deportation or immigration consequences, sanctuary can save lives.
If this government truly cared about protecting migrants from dehydration and exposure, it would not have raided a humanitarian aid camp administered by UUSC’s partners No More Deaths, as it did earlier this summer, thereby cutting off a critical lifeline to migrants in the desert. It would not be trying to militarize further an enforcement system that has already forced thousands of migrants to their deaths in inaccessible regions of the borderlands. Likewise, if this administration were concerned about transnational criminal groups like MS-13, as it frequently claims, it would not be doing the dirty work of these gangs for them by returning their victimsto danger.
By making it all but impossible to cross the border by safe means, Sessions and Patrick – and the administrations they represent – have virtually guaranteed that more people will have to trust their fate to smugglers. Even migrants with well-founded asylum claims who arrive at the ports of entry along the U.S.-Mexico border are returned to their persecutors without screening, leaving them with no choice but to cross by the most clandestine and dangerous routes. The narrowly averted tragedy in Mexico this weekend, involving 147 Central American migrants trapped in another tractor-trailer, reveals the potential for more tragedies like these if policies don’t change.
Reports out of Austin, Tex. indicate that many undocumented residents are afraid even to seek treatment for injuries or to attend school. The infiltration of federal immigration activities into an ever-wider array of local government activities – a threat that will be magnified by Texas’ Senate Bill 4, which bans sanctuary cities across the state – will only exacerbate this situation. The San Antonio Police Department (SAPD) seemed to justify these fears in the worst possible way by its actions on Sunday, calling federal immigration authorities to the scene of the tragedy. As RAICES wrote in its statement: “Instead of offering a humanitarian response, SAPD called an enforcement agency with a track record of causing migrant deaths and criminalizing, detaining, and deporting vulnerable populations.”
UUSC will continue to stand with our partners around the world in defense of migrant rights. The people who died on Sunday were not a statistic—they were families fleeing poverty and looking for a better life. Their deaths are an accusation against efforts that devalue people and criminalize poverty. Our hearts are with them and their loved ones in the long struggle for justice.
On Thursday, July 13, members of Love Resists linked arms with friends, family, and supporters of community member and father of two, Francisco Rodriguez, as he walked into the Boston field office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for his scheduled appointment. We were there to support the Keep Francisco Home campaign organized by Massachusetts Jobs with Justice. We were there to show up for a neighbor in danger of deportation, and a family at risk of being separated from their beloved son, husband, and father. Within the hour, these fears became a reality. Rodriguez was detained, pending deportation.
Shortly before he entered the office, Rodriguez spoke at a press briefing outside about his fear of returning to El Salvador, a country he fled ten years ago after the murder of his co-worker. Roxana Rivera, the vice president of the local Service Employees International Union (SEIU) chapter to which Rodriguez belongs, spoke tearfully of dropping her own two children off at school that morning and imagining what it would be like to be taken from them against her will, as Francisco is now experiencing. The co-chair of the Sanctuary Committee of First Parish in Bedford UU, Christine Dudley-Marling, quoted words from Love Resists’ Declaration of Conscience, reminding us to live “on the side of love with the most vulnerable among us.”
Francisco was far from alone. In addition to our team, he was also accompanied by Yessenia Alfaro (pictured above), the Deputy Director of the Chelsea Collaborative, of which he is a member. He received letters and statements of support from Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey, Congressman Mike Capuano, and the president and senior leadership of MIT, where he works as a custodian. ICE itself has previously granted him a stay of removal for years, under their prosecutorial discretion that used to be routine in cases like his. There was nothing to prevent the field office from exercising a modicum of compassion by extending it again.
Another extension is what we still hoped would happen, as Lily Huang, an organizer with Massachusetts Jobs with Justice, led us in a slow march with Francisco to the door of the office, singing “Courage, my friend / You do not walk alone.” Camping out on the ground in front of the office, the support team kept its spirits up with songs like “This Land is Your Land” and “We Shall Not Be Moved.” After hearing from all the supportive voices, we expected to see Francisco emerge from the same door he had just entered, knowing that he was here to stay.
Then, a member of a local media film crew ran past our group, in such a hurry that he left a headset dragging from a cord several feet behind him. A member of our group who had moved off from us returned, saying that ICE had just taken Francisco into detention, loading him into a black van and driving out from behind the office. “Link arms! Link arms!” the organizers urged us, and we moved into the center of the parking lot, trying to block the exit.
Some of us starting singing again, but now with a tremor of alarm in our voices. I was suddenly aware of my own fear of arrest. I thought of what it would be like to be handcuffed in this parking lot and taken someplace against my will, rather than being able to get in my car at the end of the rally and drive home. The incredible violence committed against Francisco and his family was brought home to me. A person who had just been walking freely, a person who had done nothing wrong, was now behind bars, set to be put on a deportation plane sometime in the next 30 days. Our attempt to prevent the van from leaving the office not successful – it drove away by a different route.
ICE’s decision was astonishingly cruel. To those gathered, especially to the friends and family of Francisco, it felt like a breach of civilization. As an announcement from the Keep Francisco Home team put it shortly afterward: “ICE seems to think they operate in a different world than the rest of us, independent of human decency, public opinion, and even the rule of our elected officials.” Matt Cameron, one of Francisco’s attorneys, asked the press with desperation: “Where is the discretion? If not in this case, then what case?”
ICE justifies its outrageous actions always by an appeal to “the law,” just as this administration, in general, seeks to portray the communities most impacted by its policies as “criminal.” In a statement following the detention, ICE asserted simply that Francisco Rodriguez is an “unlawfully present citizen of El Salvador” with a prior removal order. In the face of such rhetoric, the words of Rev. Peter Morales that Christine Dudley-Marling shared at the rally are particularly apt: “[W]e must never make the mistake of confusing a legal right with a moral right. The forced removal of Native Americans from their land and onto reservations was legal. The importation and sale of African slaves was legal. South African apartheid was legal…The powerful have always used the legal system to oppress the powerless.”
As a human rights organization, UUSC declares that there is a law of humanity higher than the law of any government. As Clarence Darrow once wrote: “I do not believe in the law of hate. I believe in the law of love.” When the law of the land becomes a law of hate, then love must fight back. Love resists.
August 4, 2017 update: ICE has held Francisco since July 13, even preventing him from being with his family when his wife gave birth to their third child and underwent an emergency C-section. His attorneys continue to explore legal options to halt his deportation. Hope remains that the Board of Immigrant Appeals will grant Francisco a stay of removal, or that the government will abandon its cruel and unnecessary action against him. The violence that has already been done to this family, however, cannot be taken back. Lily Huang of the Keep Francisco Home team has compiled a list of action steps to support the family at this difficult time.
Our weekly roundup of what we’re reading in human rights and social justice! This week’s wrap-up includes select articles from the front lines of human rights that we don’t want you to miss: Highlights from the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia; updates on family detention; and the latest on climate-forced displacement.
There were even celebrations in countries with extremely anti-LGBTQI laws. Colin Stewart shares one story about a rally in Russia, where law enforcement stops pro-LGBTQ protests and detains participants. But this year 300 took to the streets in St. Petersburg, and due to their persistence and some fortuitous timing, received police protection. Organizers of the protest shared their thoughts, “Our strategy is ‘constant dripping wears away a stone,’ and today a little chip of that stone fell off.” This is a marked change from the typical response to LGBTQI rallies and protests in Russia and is a testament to how community organizing and persistence can yield surprisingly happy results.
It’s almost impossible for immigrants to win their case to stay in the United States if they don’t have an attorney, no matter how strong their case. There are multiple system-level obstacles that immigrants face as they seek U.S. citizenship, and those barriers can be insurmountable if they are being held in detention centers.
In this article, Patrick Lee provides background and context to the reality of this situation. Because detained immigrants lack the right to an appointed attorney, they must either pay for a lawyer or find one who will take on their case pro bono. However, many lawyers won’t take these cases and many who do lack the necessary time and resources to take on more than a handful of clients from the thousands of immigrants currently in detention centers. On top of this, detention center locations often make lawyers geographically inaccessible, something which Amy Fischer, policy director of UUSC partner RAICES, calls a purposeful move by the federal government to inhibit immigrants’ access to legal resources.
Under President Trump, ICE is ramping up its immigration control policies – arresting more immigrants and making plans for more detention centers. UUSC and its partners, like RAICES, are working hard to ensure that immigrants have the necessary legal resources and protections to plead their case and build their lives in the United States.
Media coverage and aid are much easier to come by for communities displaced when a natural disaster hits. But refugees who are forced to leave their homes due to the slow onset of climate change are often overlooked, even though rising sea levels, erosion, and other consequences of global warming are expected to disrupt thousands of communities over the course of the next several decades.
The choice to relocate is one that must be made by individual communities, but even but even they make that decision, there is often no financial support from local and national governments or NGOs, who have been slow to recognize the severity of climate-forced displacement. Robin Bronen, executive director of the Alaska Institute for Justice (AIJ), argues that the lack of funding is different from political will, which she feels does in fact exist. “There’s this urgent need to protect populations from climate change, but we don’t have the laws in place to facilitate it,” Bronen said. “[That] means that government agencies don’t have mandates or funding to make it possible to actually implement what everybody agrees is the best long-term adaptation strategy.”
UUSC partners with AIJ and other organizations working on climate-forced displacement across the globe to support their efforts to help communities facing destruction at the hands of rising sea levels and prepare themselves for relocation.
Our weekly roundup of what we’re reading: a few select articles from the front lines of human rights that we don’t want you to miss. This week’s Rights Reading highlights articles on sanctuary, sustainability, and the Paris Agreement.
One of the hallmarks of white privilege is the option to be uninformed on and indifferent towards issues of oppression. In the name of “civility” and a backwards sense of fairness, the media has been giving white supremacists a platform on television to express their hate speech. However, this show at fairness actually undermines the platform of people of color fighting for true equality, giving them less airtime and raising white supremacists’ “concerns” to the same level as the concerns of those who are actually oppressed. Whether it’s in an effort towards equal airtime or boosting viewership, the media and white moderates’ uninvolved attitude thus promotes a more passive sense of fairness than an active move towards justice.
Moosa makes a strong argument for how the disaffected white majority can be even more harmful than hate groups. Just because white supremacists can make themselves look presentable and can express their views in a civil manner does not make their rhetoric valid or worthy of a platform in mainstream media.
Trump has called for a crackdown on undocumented immigrants, pushing for law enforcement everywhere to report even the smallest of misdemeanors to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). This is just one example of the alarming move towards the criminalization of marginalized communities that has been happening under the Trump administration.
“Sanctuary” is a term being used a lot lately, but it doesn’t just have to apply to cities. Communities all across the United States can engage in sanctuary practices to protect immigrants. There are many ways that individuals can get involved, such as coming together to push sanctuary laws, going with immigrants to ICE check-ins, staying vigilant and spreading the word about potential ICE raids, and working with grassroots organizations to advocate for immigrant rights.
Yet again, Trump’s meeting with advisers to discuss the United States’ involvement in the Paris Agreement has been postponed. His advisers are in disagreement on this issue. Trump is expected to make a decision soon on whether the United States will withdraw from the Paris Agreement, a potential step that is being condemned worldwide.
During his election campaign, Trump stated his intent to withdraw the U.S. from the climate deal. Already under his administration, we have seen an increase in policies and government appointments that favor big business interests over the safety of the environment and the public. Withdrawing from the Paris Agreement is a dangerous step in the wrong direction for environmental policy and foreign relations. UUSC is watching the White House closely for further developments. Read our latest statement on Trump’s “Energy Independence” Executive Order.
Do you know the environmental footprint for what you’re wearing right now? It’s probably larger than you think. The process to manufacture and distribute clothing requires a high amount of energy and resources. While often overlooked, the fashion industry is one of the leading contributors to environmental pollution and resource depletion in the world.
Selvin discusses pioneering new biotechnologies to cut down on the environmental cost of fashion, but it isn’t just manufacturers who need to think more sustainably. Consumers need to be conscience of what they’re really buying, and how much. Cutting down on how many new clothes you buy and making sure that that your clothing is sustainably sourced are two great ways to reduce your personal environmental footprint.
The Good Buy, UUSC’s online store, is a great option for buying sustainably sourced products, and you’ll also be helping to fund UUSC’s human rights efforts.
UUSC applauds the decision of District Court Judge William Orrick last Tuesday to block the implementation of the Trump administration’s executive order to cut funding to so-called “sanctuary cities” nationwide. This preliminary injunction reaffirms the right of local governments to serve all their residents, regardless of immigration status, and to limit their cooperation with federal immigration enforcement programs like civil “detainers” that operate outside the court system and—frequently—in violation of the constitution itself.
However, this case also highlights the ways in which undocumented residents will continue to be at risk, even in so-called “sanctuary” jurisdictions. The court’s decision may have found this particular executive order to be a blatant case of overreach, but it leaves many of the tools that the federal government can still use to compel local jurisdictions to share information with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) through the criminal justice system untouched. This continues to expose undocumented folks to the threat of raids and family separation. It therefore points to the need for “expanded sanctuary” policies that end mass arrest and over-policing, not just traditional sanctuary.
President Trump’s January 25 executive order on “Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States,” was blatantly unlawful and unconstitutional from the start—especially in its threat to designate “sanctuary jurisdictions” as “not eligible to receive federal grants[.]” The District Court on Tuesday ruled that it is only Congress, not the President, who has the power to attach conditions to federal grant programs. Our democratic Constitution ensures that the legislative branch makes the law, not the dictates of one individual, and Judge Orrick observed in his ruling that Congress has repeatedly failed to pass legislation in recent years that targets sanctuary cities in ways similar to this executive order.
It is important to recognize, however, the limitations of what the courts alone can do to protect sanctuary policies. The ruling does not, for instance, remove the laws already on the books that compel cities to cooperate with federal immigration enforcement in other quite dangerous ways.
The three federal grant programs with immigration conditions already attached to them require local jurisdictions to share information with ICE about a person’s immigration status when detained. Because this part of federal law still stands, even so-called “sanctuary cities” must send the fingerprints of every person they arrest to a federal database that is shared with ICE. As San Francisco argued in its complaint in this case, this effectively “allows ICE to determine the immigration status of everyone in San Francisco custody.”
This means that under existing law, there are still serious limitations around how much a sanctuary city can protect its undocumented residents through purely immigration-related policies. As Albert Saint Jean from the Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI) has put it, “ As an undocumented person, if you are arrested for jumping [a subway turnstile], that arrest means your fingerprints will be taken and given to a federal database and guess what—now ICE knows where to find you. This is the knowledge that facilitates ICE raids. All in a sanctuary city.”
This is one of the many reasons why “sanctuary” policies for one group of people will never suffice until we have expanded sanctuary for all. Undocumented people will never be protected from raids so long as our cities don’t also end racist and discriminatory law enforcement practices that expose certain communities to systematic mass arrest and mass incarceration.
Inspired and informed by the analysis of Mijente, BAJI, Black Youth Project 100, and other groups leading the front-line struggle against criminalization, the UUA and UUSC have joined together to launch the “Love Resists” campaign to stand in solidarity with the movement to expand sanctuary and end all policies that criminalize and stigmatize anyone in our communities.