Rights Reading

Our weekly roundup of what we’re reading includes a few select articles from the front lines of human rights that we don’t want you to miss. This week we are featuring the amazing work our partners are doing on the climate justice, protecting refugees, and to improve working conditions in the food industry!

 

Fear stalks migrants huddled along Hungary’s border, Karen McVeigh, The Guardian, March 18, 2017

Asylum-seekers, many who are Syrian refugees and children fleeing extreme violence and war, face additional hurdles in Hungary, which include a 108-mile electric fence and the construction of detention camps along the border. The president of Hungary, János Áder, approved the construction of these detention camps and is implementing a new policy that allows officers to deport any asylum-seekers back to Serbia, where many have already been stuck since last year.

Anti-refugee sentiment in Hungary is on the rise due to politicians like Áder spreading hateful rhetoric and fear, which has recently erupted into violence. There are allegations and investigations about “widespread and systematic violence by police after reporting it had treated 106 migrants, including 22 minors, for injuries caused by beatings, dog bites, and pepper spraying over the last year.”

Hungarian Helsinki Committee (HHC), a UUSC partner, has also documented similar reports of violence. A lawyer spoke to those living in an open camp and reported that people are afraid of and preparing for these new and inhumane policies, and HHC is calling for an investigation into these incidences.

Read more about our work with HHC and the Syrian refugee crisis here.

 

Catherine Flowers brings civil rights to the fight for environmental justice, Grist, March 2017

“Catherine is a shining example of the power individuals have to make a measurable difference by educating, advocating, and acting on environmental issues.” – Al Gore

Grist, a reader-supported publication focused on climate, sustainability, and social justice, recently announced their top 50 “Fixers,” – innovators who are making headway on climate-related issues. Catherine Flowers, director and founder of Alabama Center for Rural Enterprise Community Development Corporation (ACRE), a UUSC partner, was chosen as a Fixer by Al Gore. She mentions that her work was inspired by her parents, who fought for civil rights. “Even today, people share stories about my parents’ acts of kindness or help, and I feel it’s my duty to carry on their work.”

Flowers is continuing their legacy by advocating for poor and minority residents and working on water and sanitation issues in Lowndes County, Alabama. She is known as “the Erin Brokovich of Sewage.”

Click here to read more about UUSC’s work with ACRE!

 

Big Strike Brewing Against Trump: Coalition of More Than 300,000 Food Workers to Join May Day Showdown, Sarah Lazare, AlterNet, March 22, 2017

Over 300,000 food workers – farmers, cooks, servers, manufacturers, and more – are joining a nationwide strike on May 1, 2017, which is International Worker’s Day. This strike was issued by Food Chain Workers Alliance (FCWA), a UUSC partner, and Service Employees International Union United Service Workers West (SEIU USWW). Other organizations, unions, and movements are also participating, including Movimiento Cosecha, National Domestic Workers Alliance, and Black Livers Matter Movement.

Jose Oliva, Co-Director of FCWA understands that these types of strikes are risky, especially for food workers who are already vulnerable and underpaid. Oliva says, “The reality is that if folks don’t take the risk, we know what the consequences will be…The only thing we can do is to demonstrate our power through the economic reality we live in.” There will undoubtedly be some retaliation and FCWA and others are starting a strike fund and organizing legal support in preparation.

Learn more about our longstanding work with FCWA and worker’s rights here.

 

A Win for Rights, But the Struggle Goes On

 

These rulings, like those that blocked the first order, come as a great relief to refugees, immigrants, Muslim Americans, and everyone who cares about our country’s values of individual rights and equal treatment.

Two key rulings by federal judges in Hawaii and Maryland last week have temporarily halted the implementation of the President’s second attempt at a “travel ban”—widely referred to as the Muslim Ban 2.0. These rulings, like those that blocked the first order, come as a great relief to refugees, immigrants, Muslim Americans, and everyone who cares about our country’s values of individual rights and equal treatment.

Under these rulings, refugees in the United States will be able to reunite with their family members without fear of being denied a visa purely because of their nationality, people who have applied for third-country refugee processing in Costa Rica will no longer be stranded in limbo, and some refugee children in Central America who have already spent months or longer waiting in deadly conditions will again board flights to safety.

Too close for comfort

As crucial as these rulings were, however, they should never have been the only thing standing between people and the loss of their rights. The first ruling came down only a few hours before the ban was set to go into effect. Refugees, visa applicants, and nationals of six Muslim-majority countries were left staring down a precipice of possible family separation and years of processing delays up until the last minute. This was far too close a call.

Neither ruling offers permanent relief from these fears. They are both temporary restraining orders and could be lifted on appeal. The administration has already made clear its intent to fight the rulings, and Trump has suggested that he may return to the, even more discriminatory, version of the first order.

Moreover, the ban, even if permanently blocked, has already had a chilling effect on the lives and prospects of refugees. Since January, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has stopped conducting new interviews with child refugees applying for the Central American Minors program (CAM), even though the executive orders were supposedly on hold. Asylum-seekers from Africa and the Middle East have been fleeing the United States for Canada in significant numbers, enduring a frigid and dangerous journey on their way, because of the U.S. government’s undisguised hostility to their rights. And none of these court rulings will affect the administration’s other executive orders and implementation guidelines that continue to target immigrants and asylum-seekers.

What did the courts decide?

In many ways, the refugee ban has been foiled so far because of the President’s own rhetoric. The courts did not have to look hard for evidence of discriminatory intent for the actions of this administration. In fact, they relied on the President’s campaign statements that he would seek “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States” and that “Islam hates us.” Both cited Trump’s comments in interviews that he only stopped referring to a Muslim ban in public because “[p]eople were so upset when I used the word Muslim” that he decided to “talk […] territory instead of Muslim.” Further, administration officials have been quoted stating that the second executive order was meant to accomplish the same purpose as the first, even as the first was under a nationwide injunction because of its discriminatory purpose.

The second version of the order claims it does not discriminate. Instead, it offers a “national security” rationale for the ban (one that did not appear anywhere in the text of the first version), and which administration officials were not able to supply when asked for it at trial. These are strong indicators that the national security argument was a mere pretext. In fact, Maryland District Court Judge Theodore Chuang found that national security was “not the primary purpose for the travel ban.”

The administration claimed that people who come from six conflict-ravaged nations—Iran, Libya, Syria, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen—pose a greater terror risk than others. (They make no mention of the role the United States itself has recently played in conflicts in more than one of these countries.) The administration’s argument is not only belied by a recent DHS report which found that country of origin has little determination on whether someone is likely to commit violence. It is also a betrayal of our national promise, violating one of our most important social values: that people should not be judged based on where they come from, but rather as individuals with worth and dignity.

One order down – an entire political agenda to go

The executive orders are so extreme that they may not survive the legal challenges ahead. However, the courts on their own will not be able to forestall every piece of a larger xenophobic agenda. There are signs, for instance, that the administration could still suspend the refugee program even if the rest of the executive order is not allowed to stand. The Maryland court, for one, while blocking portions of the executive order, did not extend its ruling to cover the refugee program. This choice is difficult to understand, given that the assault on the program was motivated by the same anti-Muslim bias (nearly half of refugees currently entering the United States are Muslim, and the vast majority coming from the same Muslim-majority countries targeted in the order).

UUSC will remain vigilant in the months ahead and pick up the work of resistance wherever other remedies are insufficient. Our organization was born out of the struggles of refugees and victims of persecution during World War II and we will continue to speak out against the politics of hate and all efforts to unwind the moral consensus that has emerged since those years. UUSC is in solidarity with all marginalized communities as we struggle for greater recognition of human rights.

Rights Reading

Our weekly roundup of what we’re reading includes a few select articles from the front lines of human rights that we don’t want you to miss. This week’s catch up on the recent rulings on Trump’s travel bans, human rights violations in Burma (Myanmar), and immigration in the United States.

Two Federal Judges Rule Against Trump’s Latest Travel Ban, Alexander Burns, The New York Times, March 15, 2017

 “This is a great day for democracy, religious and human rights. I am very pleased that the processing of my mother-in-law’s paperwork will not stop now but more importantly that this Muslim ban will not separate families and loved ones just because they happen to be from the six countries.” -Mr. Elshikh

Two federal judges, from Hawaii and Maryland, blocked the Trump Administration’s revised travel ban earlier this week. This is the second setback since Trump issued the new executive order banning travel from certain Muslim-majority countries. The first block was from a federal court in Seattle. The federal judges both argued that the travel ban was discriminatory and based on religion, making it unconstitutional. In addition, the lawsuits mention that the executive order harms the operations of various organizations, schools, and hospitals overseas.

Learn more about the effects these executive orders are having on immigrant families in our blog, DHS Memos Threaten Immigrants’ Rights, Families, and Safety.

Myanmar must ‘allow Rohingya to leave camps’, Al Jazeera, March 16, 2017

Former U.N. Secretary, General Kofi Annan, was appointed to lead a commission by Burma’s (Myanmar) current de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi to investigate tensions between Buddhists and Muslims in the country. The commission released a report stating that Burma must close internally displaced persons (IDP) camps that have been housing and trapping thousands of Rohingya, Burma’s Muslim minority, for the past five years. The Rohingya are not recognized citizens and are denied basic rights, including healthcare, education, and often, humanitarian aid. The report also recommends that the U.N. to run an independent investigation into the ongoing violence and persecution of that has been taking place over decades.

Today, UUSC President and CEO Tom Andrews, along with other human rights leaders, gave testimony on the humanitarian situation in Burma. Click here to watch the hearing and join our call for a Commission of Inquiry at uusc.org/truthforrohingya.

Donald Trump’s Crackdown On Undocumented Immigrants Is Silencing Exploited Workers, Dave Jamieson, Huffington Post, March 8, 2017

The Trump administration’s crackdown on undocumented immigrants may have opposite consequences than intended. Christopher Williams, a lawyer who works closely with undocumented immigrants states, “I honestly think it’s creating an incentive to hire more undocumented workers, because now they’re even more vulnerable to being exploited.”

In light of the recent raids, some workers are even denying back pay, afraid of providing their home addresses for fear of deportation. The increase in raids and deportations are creating unsafe working environments to an already vulnerable population.

 

Rights Reading

Our weekly roundup of what we’re reading includes a few select articles from the front lines of human rights that we don’t want you to miss. This week’s focus: A Day Without Women.

A Day Without Women strikers in New York City, March 8, 2017
Women and allies join the International Women’s Strike and march to celebrate International Women’s Day, on March 8​, 2017, in New York City.

Below is an excerpt from U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein’s statement on International Women’s Day 2017

Today we honor the human rights struggle of millions of women who have demanded respect for their rights and the rights of others. The women’s movement has brought about tremendous change but we must also recognize that progress has been slow and extremely uneven.

Progress has also brought its own challenges. In too many countries, we are now seeing a backlash against women’s rights, a backlash that hurts us all. We need to be alert – the advances of the last few decades are fragile and should nowhere be taken for granted…

I salute the frequently under-reported and under-funded but absolutely vital work of women’s human rights defenders. These activists are often targeted, even killed, because of their efforts to promote gender equality. My Office has received information from numerous countries about the threats, violence and legal barriers, including criminalization of their work, which these defenders face.

These courageous women, despite many obstacles, stand up for others’ rights, mobilize movements from the grassroots upwards, and potentially have the greatest and most lasting impact on women’s rights and gender equality.

We need to stand beside them and stand up for them, and in so doing we will be standing up for the rights of us all.

Read the full statement here.

Women in More Than 50 Countries Set to Strike Today on International Women’s Day, Democracy Now!, Tithi Bhattacharya, March 8, 2017

Tithi Bhattacharya, associate professor of South Asian history at Purdue University, spoke with Democracy Now!’s Amy Goodman about International Women’s Day and the activities taking place around the world. Bhattarchaya helped to organize, “A Day Without a Woman,” a call for women to strike across the globe.

In what it means to strike, Bhattacharya stated, “It was important to emphasize that women do not just work in the paid labor market, in the employment sector, in the formal sectors of the economy. Women also do the unpaid labor, the care work, the picking up of the children from the school, and the countless hours that women put in. So when we say “Women’s Strike,” [it] also means, “I will not cook today, and I will stand in solidarity with women in 50 countries as I walk out.”

Thoughts on the International Women’s Strike and What It Meant, New York Magazine: The Cut, Dayna Evans, March 9, 2017

New York Magazine staff joined in Wednesday’s strike and offered their takeaways and reflections. Some of our favorites:

  • Protesting felt important because I think there is something rooted and energizing about bodies organizing together for the same cause, and it felt even better because I was with the women I work with, who were also striking — including our boss and her family.”
  • I thought a lot yesterday about the varying degrees of powerlessness for women. Not even women in other countries who can’t go to school or can’t even get a driver’s license, but women right next to me.”
Other articles we recommend:
  • Enviro groups blast Trump plan to gut EPA’s environmental justice office as a ‘racist slap in the face,‘ Fusion, Lucas Isakowitz, March 9, 2017.
    Proposed cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under the Trump administration will slash programs that help address pollution problems disproportionately faced by communities of color across the country; in response, environmental groups have condemned the cuts as racist and called for Congress to intervene. This article features work done by UUSC’s partner, the Alabama Center for Rural Enterprise.

Rights Reading

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 we wanted to highlight articles on the Black Lives Matter movement and celebrate that work as Black History Month comes to a close.

A Black Lives Matter sign being held at a rally

Black Imagination, A Vital Way Forward, Huffington Post, Shanelle Matthews, February 1, 2017

“Today marks the first day of the third annual Black Futures Month (BFM), a month-long celebration where Black people visualize the kind of world we need and want. A visionary spin on Black History Month, BFM is designated space to both meditate on our history, and equally as importantly, to imagine the building blocks of a society where we affirm our right to thrive.”

Black Lives Matter Finds ‘Renewed Focus’ 5 Years After Trayvon Martin, NPR, February 27, 2017

“What we’ve seen over the last five years is the popularization of protest and the willingness of both media but also Hollywood to talk about Black Lives Matter unapologetically.”

It’s been five years since the death of Trayvon Martin, a Black, unarmed, teenager who was shot by George Zimmerman during neighborhood watch. Zimmerman’s acquittal caused outrage and protests and was the impetus for the Black Lives Matter movement.

In this interview NPR spoke with one of the founders of the Black Lives Matter movement (BLM), Patrisse Khan-Cullors, and she shared her thoughts on the movement today and the current political climate. In the interview, Khan-Cullors acknowledges the BLM movement is decentralized, but believes it is necessary since there isn’t just one solution to ending racism and police brutality against people of color. This has been effective and will ultimately create a world in where Black lives really matter.

Despite Trump’s election as our president, Khan-Cullors does not feel defeat. She believes the election has actually shown that the movement has become powerful and that the movement now has a renewed focus and has shifted from being a reactive movement to a more proactive one, with long-term strategy and vision.

STUDY: Police Kill Unarmed Black Civilians at Higher Rates Than White, Colorlines, Yessenia Funes, February 9, 2017

A study, A Bird’s Eye View of Civilians Killed by Police in 2015, released last month, found that police officers are two times more likely to kill an unarmed Black person than a white one. The study looked at nearly 1,000 police killings in 2015 and tested variables such as mental illness and crime rates, but found implicit bias to be the main factor in these killings.

The study also found that other unarmed minorities were more likely to be killed by police than white people and that white civilians were more likely to attack police officers back. Authors made recommendations, such as police using body cameras and having additional training as a way to combat police violence, as well as a deeper study that looks into other forms of police violence, not just fatal incidences, to examine the issue further.

Google Just Dropped $11,000,000 to Make Sure #BlackLivesMatter, The Root, Michael Harriet, February 24, 2017

Google wants to use technology and data to look at bias in the criminal justice system and believes that better data can help with research and accountability, and has pledged $11.5 million to support the effort. The money will go to organizations “focused on ending mass incarceration, keeping youth of color out of the school-to-prison pipeline and reforming the criminal-justice system.”

This is not the first time Google has given generously to this cause. In 2015 and 2016, Google gave over $5 million to organizations in Northern California working to end systemic racism in prisons and schools.

Other articles celebrating Black History, Black Futures, and Black Lives Matter we recommend:

DHS Memos Threaten Immigrants’ Rights, Families, and Safety

Over the long holiday weekend, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary John Kelly issued two memos spelling out the implementation of Donald Trump’s recent executive orders on immigration. These memos eliminate all doubt that the administration intends to follow through on the worst of its threats in the orders signed on January 25, 2017. The memos also harden into national policy some of the most egregious human rights abuses advocates have been witnessing on the border and in our cities in recent weeks.

This is not “business as usual.” Secretary Kelly’s memos take unprecedented steps at removing long-held constitutional and statutory protections in immigration proceedings, continue to criminalize immigrants, and put children and parents lawfully seeking refuge at risk of criminal charges and separation. UUSC remains vigilant in watching the Trump administration’s efforts to expand policy in ways that violate civil and human rights and continues to work with our partners on the ground to support those affected by these unnecessary, harmful policies.

Here is a quick rundown of some of the troubling activities outlined in the memos.

  • Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents can easily target just about any undocumented person for deportation and deny them due process protections.

The administration is throwing out years of “prosecutorial discretion” guidelines that had offered a small bedrock of security, however tenuous, for undocumented families. Under this new regime, anyone targeted by an ICE agent or picked up during a raid is at risk of being deported. This could separate parents from their U.S. citizen children and expel people who have lived in this country for decades or longer. The memos also designate as an enforcement priority deportation of anyone who has committed a “chargeable criminal offense,” even if they have never been arrested, tried, or convicted.

The memos will likewise expand the use of “expedited removal,” which allows ICE to deport people without any legal proceedings. This form of summary removal will now apply to every undocumented immigrant who can’t prove they have been in the country for more than two years, stripping an even wider category of immigrants of their Fifth Amendment right to due process. Such hasty deportations can be a matter of life and death since deportees from the United States are often singled out for persecution by criminal groups in Central America and Mexico.

  • People will be increasingly criminalized because of their immigration status.

In calling for heavier prosecution of crimes related to the southern border, Secretary Kelly has swept together grave matters like human trafficking with innocuous and victimless immigration offenses. Many of these offenses, like giving a false social security number to an employer or driving without a license, are all but inescapable for undocumented people who need to work and put food on the table. Aggressively prosecuting immigration violations will push even more innocent people into deportation proceedings. It will basically make it a crime to survive as an undocumented person in the United States.

More concerning still, there is a serious danger that these new policies will slam asylum-seekers with “illegal entry” charges if they cross the border at an “improper time or place,” which would violate international law by making it a crime to seek protection. Advocates have already heard reports that this is happening in some locations.

  • Asylum-seekers can be detained en masse, with little hope of parole, or worse – pushed back across the border.

Secretary Kelly has called for the near-total restriction of parole for immigrants in detention currently awaiting their court dates (many of which will be years in the future due to backlogs in the system). We have heard stories of ICE arresting and re-detaining people previously released, as well as refusing to consider parole applications from asylum-seekers.

This form of detention, in facilities run by private prison contractors, allows for the long-term incarceration of people who have done nothing worse than a civil immigration violation.

The memos will also allow DHS to send people back to Mexico to await the completion of removal proceedings regardless of whether they are Mexican nationals. Treating asylum-seekers this way would amount to a violation of international law, which forbids pushing people back across the border without screening if they have expressed fear for their safety.

  • Strip protections for unaccompanied children that are guaranteed by law and charge parents with “human trafficking” for bringing their children to the United States.

Currently, children who cross the border alone are protected from summary deportation under the 2008 Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA). Kelly’s memos redefine the term “unaccompanied child” to exclude refugee children who cross the border without adults, but subsequently reunite with their parents in the United States. This would open the door to placing children of any age into expedited removal and denying them their lawful protections under the TVPRA.

Finally, Kelly’s memos target undocumented parents for deportation or criminal charges under human trafficking laws if their children seek refuge in the United States. Parents from Central America often have few options to help their asylum-seeking children escape their persecutors apart from hiring a smuggler because criminal networks now control nearly all border crossings. The Secretary’s memos permit DHS to prosecute these parents as accessories to smuggling and human trafficking, essentially criminalizing them for protecting their children’s safety.

 


In response to concerns about how the Trump administration is likely to proceed, UUSC has joined with the Unitarian Universalist Association on an unprecedented course of action to align ourselves together, united in purpose to protect the values of our democracy and those vulnerable populations among us.

As a first step, we have prepared a Declaration of Conscience stating in the strongest possible terms our commitment in these troubling times. By signing the declaration, you join us in affirming our core values and declaring our willingness to put them into action. We encourage you to read the full declaration here, and add your name.