Decision to Withdraw from Paris Agreement a “Step Backward”

Despite an enormous outpouring of public support from within the United States and abroad, today the Trump administration announced its decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement. This action is reckless and irresponsible, but we are not deterred. Together with our partners, UUSC will continue to seek every opportunity to advocate for policies that combat the effects of climate change.

The decision is unsurprising, as Trump made repeated promises to do so during his presidential campaign last fall. However, we are deeply concerned that the United States has chosen to take a path out of line with the goals the entire world agreed to work towards together just two years ago. There are only two countries that did not support the landmark climate deal: Syria, which is in the midst of a devastating civil war and Nicaragua, which thought the Agreement too weak.

Leaving the Paris Agreement is a dangerous step backward and a grave injustice to the rest of the world, particularly to smaller countries in the Global South. The United States has an obligation to protect those that have made vulnerable by their carbon emissions. The Agreement was one way we, as a global community, sought both to assign responsibility where it is due and find solutions to issues that affect us all.

Today’s executive order reaffirms concerns that leadership on issues important to so many across the globe—climate change, economic justice, and human rights overall—can no longer come from the White House. In this moment, it is important to remember that there are individuals, groups, and communities dedicated to resisting policies that roll back our protections and continually working to create a better future in the face of harmful policies.

Our community partners in the South Pacific and Alaska are working to build protections in place to adapt to climate change and to safely relocate with dignity to protect their lives and their families from the harrowing impacts of sea level rise, coastal erosion, melting glaciers and natural disasters. Abandoning our responsibility by withdrawing from the Paris Agreement now is an added insult, as even that Agreement came too late for the many vulnerable communities already living with the realities of climate change.

UUSC will continue to work with and support these groups, finding and capitalizing on opportunities to effect positive change and build a sustainable future wherever possible.

 

Rights Reading

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: intersections between environmental justice and racial justice, the human story behind our current immigration policy, and Trump’s disappointing praise of Philippine President Duterte.

 

True Climate Justice Puts Communities of Color First, Audrea Lim, The Nation, May 22, 2017

Climate justice is insufficient if it doesn’t address racial injustice. When we look at the environmental problems caused by human activity, people of color are adversely affected at a much higher rate across the board. As Lim reports, “African Americans are exposed to 38 percent more polluted air than whites, and are 75 percent more likely to live in chemical-factory ‘fence-line zones’ than the U.S. average (Latinos are 60 percent more likely)” and “Heat-related deaths occur at a 150–200 percent higher rate among African Americans than among whites.”

How does this happen? When it comes to environmental health, decades of institutionalized racism have begotten economic disparities that put people of color at geographic disadvantages – a problem which will only become worse as the effects of climate change accelerate. This is precisely why UUSC sees environmental justice as a human rights issue.

The environmental movement has been around for decades, but the environmental justice movement is only now starting to take root in the form of intersectional protests at Standing Rock, support for community-owned renewable energy sources, and fairer environmental legislation.

This week, Salote Soqo, senior program leader for environmental justice & climate action, spoke at the Second Informal Thematic Session for Global Compact on Migration. Soqo made an explicit call for member states to recognize “that the experts of this approach are the communities that are most affected by these issues and who inherently hold the power to meaningfully address these problems with dignity.”

Deported to El Salvador, Trapped Between the Gangs and Trump, Danielle Marie Mackey, Pedro Armando Aparicio, and Leighton Akio Woodhouse, The Intercept, May 21, 2017

Jose Escobar lived in the United States for 17 years, ever since he and his mother immigrated from El Salvador to Texas to escape gang violence. He has a wife and children and was well-respected in Houston where he worked his way up from the bottom to running both a painting and a construction business. Now, the only way he can see his family is through the cameras that his wife had installed in their home while he lives in his aunt’s house in El Salvador, unable to leave the house alone for fear of violence, unable to return to Texas because of Trump’s backward immigration policy.

Escobar, who was permitted to stay in the United States by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents when he was a teenager, was deported in March when he went to his annual ICE checkup appointment – he was deported even though he did everything he was supposed to. Mackey, Aparicio, and Woodhouse share this heart-wrenching story of one individual, among the thousands who are being deported without criminal records under Trump’s immigration policy. It is important to remember that these are people, and while each has their own story, they face the same systemic injustice.

UUSC continues to call for expanded sanctuary policies that will make our communities safer for all. While typical sanctuary city policies have focused on protections for undocumented immigrants, expanded sanctuary policies recognize that the current administration is jointly threatening the rights of a wide range of communities. Learn more about how we are working to create a safer, more just, welcoming, and sustainable world at loveresists.org.

Trump Praises Duterte for Philippine Drug Crackdown in Call Transcript, David E. Sanger and Maggie Haberman, The New York Times, May 23, 2017

On Tuesday, the transcript of President Trump’s April 29 call to Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte was leaked. According to transcripts obtained by the New York Times, Trump praised Duterte for doing “an unbelievable job on the drug problem” – essentially congratulating him on the “unbelievable job” of killing thousands of people without due process and incarcerating tens of thousands in less than a year.

Trump’s remarks break from the State Department’s condemnation of Duterte’s actions as a violation of human rights. The transcript also shows that Trump mentioned the location of two United States nuclear submarines in talks about North Korea, another instance in which Trump seems to have revealed pertinent information to foreign officials.

Our previous statement on President Duterte’s “drug war” bears repeating: Our partners in the Philippines, “some of whom are risking their lives to empower and protect their communities, deserve better than an American president who fawns over authoritarianism and condones state-sanctioned murder.”

CIW Makes its Case for Fair Food at Wendy’s Shareholder Meeting

Using an exciting new tactic to push for worker’s rights from within, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) attended the annual Wendy’s shareholder meeting in Dublin, Ohio last week. They were joined by over 25 allies, including UUSC. The group represented over half of all the shareholders in the room, and they used their presence to turn up the pressure on Wendy’s to join the Fair Food Program (FFP or Program). Outside the meeting, over 60 allied-organizations rallied to urge the company to support workers’ rights and economic justice at Wendy’s headquarters.

Throughout the Q&A session, moderated by the Chairman of the Board Nelson Peltz, CIW and its allies shared statements and posed hard-hitting questions to Wendy’s executives about their refusal to join the FFP. The Program would ensure humane wages and working conditions for the farmworkers who supply their produce to Wendy’s, at the cost of an additional cent per pound of tomatoes, which is used to raise wages for the farmworkers. The penny is distributed by the corporations to the growers, who then directly distribute it the farmworkers in the form of a line-item bonus.

CIW co-founder Lucas Benitez recounted how the Program had improved conditions for him personally, as well as hundreds of Florida farmworkers.

“I have been a farmworker since I was 17-years-old.  I have seen, up close, the two worlds – the one which we are coming from, and the one we’re in today thanks to the power of the corporations that are working together with us. Among them are Wendy’s principal competitors, including McDonald’s, Burger King, and Taco Bell. Thanks to this market power, we are now eliminating abuses that have been endemic in the U.S. agriculture industry. Forced labor, modern-day slavery, the sexual harassment that has been the bread of every day for the millions of farmworker women who labor in the fields.”

Benitez also extended an invitation to Wendy’s executives to come to Immokalee and visit an FFP-certified farm to see the impact that the Program has on the industry firsthand.

Wendy’s Way: Being on the Defensive

Throughout the meeting, Wendy’s took a defensive, and at times combative, approach to the comments and questions from CIW and its allies. During her presentation on the Wendy’s Code of Conduct, which took place before the Q&A, Chief Communications Officer Liliana Esposito recognized the group’s presence, remarking, “It’s not pleasant for us to see our brand criticized on a regular basis.”

Esposito also misrepresented the FFP, incorrectly claiming that CIW’s aim is to get financial contributions from Wendy’s. Contrary to Esposito’s assertion, the penny more per pound paid as part of the Program goes directly to the suppliers, who pay the farmworkers – CIW never sees or handles the funds.

Esposito was not the only executive feeling the pressure. Chairman Peltz was also on the defensive. In fact, before the meeting, Rabbi Daniel Kirzane of T’ruah sent a letter, signed by over 200 fellow rabbis, requesting to meet with Peltz and discuss the FFP. During the Q&A Kirzane followed up on his request, to which Peltz replied pointedly: “If it’s about fair food, it isn’t going to happen.”

Once it became apparent that CIW and its allies had taken over the Q&A, a frustrated Peltz requested that there be no more questions on the FFP. When the questions kept coming, Peltz ended the meeting, leaving CIW’s questions unanswered and unaddressed.

A Key Question Remains

Wendy’s executives were clearly flustered by the strong support for the Program inside and outside of the building. However, Wendy’s continues to resist the call to join the FFP.

How does Wendy’s justify this refusal? They claim that their supplier code of conduct offers sufficient, and has even strengthened, human rights and labor protections for their suppliers. This rationale is incredibly misleading, as Wendy’s supplier code of conduct is simply guidance with little consequence for non-compliance and does not give workers a voice. The FPP’s protections, on the other hand, include mandatory prohibitions against child labor, physical violence, and sexual harassment.

Wendy’s talks frequently about how they “create joy and opportunity through food, family, and community.” But Wendy’s refusal to join the FFP makes it clear that this family and community does not include the farmworkers who handpick their produce. Indeed, Wendy’s has a solution to the issue of farmworker poverty and exploitation right in front of it and the opportunity to lift an entire industry up.

With this in mind, a key question remains: How long will it take for Wendy’s to stand by its purported values and end the abuse of its workers by joining the Fair Food Program?Now is the time for us to keep the pressure on Wendy’s. Join CIW and UUSC as they continue their call for justice by pledging to boycott Wendy’s, organizing a protest, or by sending postcards explaining why you’re boycotting to Wendy’s headquarters. Also, keep checking UUSC’s website for more updates and ways to be involved.

UUSC Responds to Six-Month TPS Extension for Haitians: Not Enough

Yesterday, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) revealed its decision to extend Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Haitian nationals in the United States for a mere six months, instead of the 18-month window normally granted. This announcement is in line with previous threats of Trump administration officials who have recommended terminating the program at the end of the six-month extension—potentially resulting in the deportation of the nearly 58,000 Haitian immigrants currently living with TPS in the United States. UUSC joins with Haitian and Black immigrant leaders and immigration advocacy groups, including our new partner the UndocuBlack Network, to demand an extension of TPS beyond January 2018.

The consequences of ending TPS status for Haitians will be swift and devastating—Haiti is still in the midst of a humanitarian emergency as it works to recover from a catastrophic 2010 earthquake, a cholera epidemic imported by U.N. peacekeeping forces, and a deadly hurricane last fall. Mass deportations of Haitians would cut off a critical lifeline for the Haitian economy, which currently receives about $1.3 billion a year in remittances from Haitians in the United States. The U.S. economy will also lose an estimated $2.8 billion in GDP over the next decade if this community is deported.

“Numbers cannot do justice, however, to the suffering that would be inflicted on thousands of families by a policy of expanded deportation and separation if TPS expires in six months,” says Hannah Hafter, UUSC Senior Program Leader for Activism. “Many Haitians with TPS have U.S. citizen children who were born in this country and know no other home. They are taxpayers, caregivers, parents, and employees whose loss would be felt by all.”

Our partners at the UndocuBlack Network have joined national efforts to renew TPS status for Haitians and, in alliance with the National Immigration Law Center, have helped to spearhead a recent push to uncover the truth about how the Trump administration made its TPS decision. Their recent refusal to renew TPS for three African countries impacted by the 2014 Ebola epidemic; reports that DHS has been requesting information on criminal offenses committed by Haitian TPS holders; and its renewed deportations to war-ravaged Somali, all point to a clear intention to stigmatize and expel immigrant communities of color.

The U.S. obligation to extend TPS for Haitians is more than a matter of humanitarian conscience. Meaningful extension of the TPS program offers a chance for the United States to do the right thing in a part of the world where, for too long, it has been complicit in generating the social problems that created a need for TPS in the first place. UUSC’s Haitian partners at the Papaye Peasant Movement (MPP), for instance, are working with communities directly impacted by U.S. trade policies and aid dumping, which in many places have devastated the local food economy, fueling the poverty and urban overcrowding that made the 2010 Haitian earthquake so deadly. MPP works to establish sustainable agriculture and recover food sovereignty so that Haitians can build a better future.

UUSC will continue to work with our partners to advance the human rights of Haitians at home and abroad, to call for a further extension of TPS, and to press for permanent legislative solutions that will allow all immigrant communities to live in safety and dignity.

Rights Reading

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. 

‘A miracle happened’: 300 rally for LGBT rights in St. Petersburg, Colin Stewart, Erasing 76 Crimes, May 18, 2017

May 17 marked the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia (#IDAHOT or #IDAHOBIT). People all across the world celebrated by  wearing colorful clothes that signify the colors of the rainbow, going to rallies, and being vocal online about their support for and solidarity with the LGBTQI community

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.

Immigrants in Detention Centers Are Often Hundreds of Miles From Legal Help, Patrick G. Lee, ProPublica, May 16, 2017

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.

Mulling the possibility of a “managed retreat” from climate change, Rachel Waldholz, Alaska Public Media, April 28, 2017

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.

“Which side are we on?”: H.3033 and 287(g) agreements

On May 8, UUSC Vice President and Chief Program Officer Rachel Freed testified on a panel before the Joint Committee on the Judiciary at the Massachusetts State House in support of H.3033, a bill designed to end 287(g) agreements in Massachusetts by preventing state and local funds from being used to enforce federal immigration laws. The panel supporting H.3033 was organized by the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition (MIRA) and included UU Mass Action Executive Director Laura Wagner and Bishop Felipe Teixeira of the Franciscan Order of Saint Joseph Cupertino. Support for H.3033 was high with over 30 speakers supporting the bill and only three in opposition, including Bristol County Sheriff Hodgson who infamously offered to send his inmates to build the U.S.-Mexico border wall without pay.

The hearing came one day after Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed SB4 into law, a vehemently anti-immigrant bill criminalizing cities that want their law enforcement to focus on “safety” and not immigration. SB4 prohibits Texas law enforcement from practicing “sanctuary” policies and allows authorities to question someone’s immigration status based on racial profiling. The bill is now facing lawsuits from civil rights organizations.

287(g) agreements are one of the main ways that local and state law enforcement agencies become empowered to serve as an arm of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and are granted authority to identify and hold undocumented immigrants for deportation. These agreements deputize police and sheriff officers to act as immigration agents and provide them with minimal training before authorizing them to perform immigration-related duties. . Implementation of the program is entirely funded by the local agencies themselves rather than the federal government.

In addition to using local resources to support federal aims, 287(g) agreements do not make communities safer. In her testimony, Freed pointed out that “When police and sheriffs become immigration agents, victims and witnesses of crime, including victims of domestic violence, are less likely to come forward to cooperate with law enforcement. Deputizing police to act as ICE agents in our communities opens the door to racial profiling and other civil rights abuses and undermines public safety by decreasing trust in police. Let’s not use already stretched local resources to do ICE’s job for them.”

Passing H.3033 and ending 287(g) agreements is an important first step for the state, but also not enough. This is why many Massachusetts communities are rallying behind immigrants and are focusing on getting involved at the local level.

UUSC continues to work in coalition in Massachusetts to support these efforts as well as to pass groundbreaking state legislation like the Safe Communities Act (S.1305 and H.3269). The Safe Communities Act would set a new standard for pro-immigrant state legislation. It both goes further to restrict local agents’ participation in immigration enforcement and also prohibits state law enforcement agencies and the Mass. Registry of Motor Vehicles from allowing federal access to their data, limiting their ability of the federal government to use that data for the purpose of a Muslim registry or another tracking system based on religion or national origin.

Freed ended her testimony posing a question to the Mass. legislature and Governor Baker: “Which side are we on? Are we going to be complicit with President Trump’s anti-immigrant agenda? Or will we take a bold stand to defend and protect our communities from it?”

Update as of May 24, 2017: H.3033 was reported out favorably from the Joint Committee but the planned vote was indefinitely postponed” today. UUSC is closely following the legislation to see where Massachusetts lands.