Post-Detention Support for the LGBTQI Immigrant Community

In honor Pride Month, we celebrate our partnership with the Queer Detainee Empowerment Project (QDEP), one of UUSC’s newest partners. With the launch of Love Resists, our joint campaign with the UUA, UUSC sought out partnerships with groups who are particularly vulnerable under the new administration, namely the LGBTQI community, immigrants, and people of color. The New York-based QDEP is representative of these three populations. They work to oppose the criminalization of the LGBTQI immigrant community and provide post-detention support.

QDEP’s message is clear: Immigrant detention is unsafe for all people, especially LGBTQI individuals, many of whom are also people of color. They are working with over 100 organizations that specialize in human and civil rights throughout the country and share the goals of closing down detention centers and holding Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) accountable for the death and violence that occurs in their facilities. QDEP works to secure the freedom of detainees by raising funds to pay their legal bonds, advocating on their behalf, providing direct legal services, and organizing a number of support services within detention centers, including a Pen Pal Program, visitation, and bond support. Once people have secured their freedom, QDEP provides case management to assist reintegration.

Through our partnership with QDEP and the work of Love Resists, UUSC is continuing to advocate for expanded sanctuary as a means of combating criminalization.  In line with UUSC’s values and eye-to-eye partnership model, QDEP is led by and for the communities it serves. Members of their staff and volunteer networks have experienced detention themselves. Once released, many return to join their communities in the struggle for freedom.

The poem, "First they came" by Martin Niemoller

When I think of times I have hesitated to stand by my values and put words into actions, I remember the famous poem by the German anti-Nazi theologian and Lutheran pastor Martin Niemöller. Beneath the rumination on the selfishness of the human condition lies a message of interconnectedness.

QDEP works directly at the intersection of multiple sources of oppression; however, the struggle for greater recognition and expansion of human rights does not just affect those who are experiencing the direct effects of persecution. The United States is not so different from Germany, the country Niemöller lived in less than 80 years ago.

Niemöller’s words are an important reminder of our shared humanity and the need to speak up for those who don’t have a voice. As we celebrate Pride, we are proud to partner with QDEP, an organization at the front lines fighting to stop the detention of immigrant LGBTQI people of color.

Expanding Sanctuary in Our Schools

In our final post of the Expanded Sanctuary series, we look at how criminalization impacts young people in the school system. Read parts one and two.

Desk and chair with red apple on the desk.

Sanctuary Schools?

“We can’t say, ‘hey don’t let ICE on your campus’ and not call out over-policing of people of color on […] campuses. We can’t celebrate local police who might consider not working with ICE but who over-police and won’t make those same proclamations for other communities of color.”

Marisa Franco, director of Mijente quoted in The Nation

As the impact of Trump’s immigration policy and xenophobic rhetoric are felt across the country, including in our schools, a growing number of communities are pressing their local school districts to adopt sanctuary and “safe zone” policies to protect undocumented students. At a minimum, this means refusing to share data about a student’s immigration status with federal authorities, preventing Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) from entering school facilities, and other tried-and-true strategies.

Policies that criminalize people disproportionately impact youth of color, LGBTQI students, Muslim students, and youth with disabilities or cognitive differences. So long as school districts rely on excessively harsh discipline and the presence of law enforcement on campus, they will continue to place their immigrant students at risk.

While traditional sanctuary policies are a crucial first step, they do not address the larger problem of criminalization. Even in districts where schools have pledged to provide a level of sanctuary by not sharing student information with immigration authorities, a juvenile delinquency record can have serious consequences, including in any later contact with ICE, and schools that rely on the criminal justice system for discipline leave their undocumented students vulnerable.

This is why the concept of sanctuary must expand. In schools, this means implementing disciplinary practices that are grounded in restorative justice and respect young people’s ability to develop and learn from mistakes, rather than practices of exclusion and punishment that limit their futures.

The school-to-prison pipeline

School policies in the United States reflect larger social and political trends resulting in mass incarceration and over-policing. Students today, particularly students of color, often face a disciplinary system that would have been unthinkable twenty or thirty years ago. The presence of uniformed police has become routine on many campuses, and officers increasingly use criminal penalties to enforce school discipline.

These practices display a pattern of structural racism. Nationwide, more than half of students who are arrested at school or referred to law enforcement are people of color. Many arrests are for things that child development experts would regard as normal kid behavior. In one district in Louisiana, the Southern Poverty Law Center documented 562 school arrests in one year, many of them for such harmless and age-appropriate behavior as “yelling in the hallways.” One eighth-grader was allegedly arrested and detained for six days for throwing skittles on the school bus. 80% of those arrested were Black, even though Black students make up only 42% of the student body.

Referrals to law enforcement are one manifestation of the turn toward harsh discipline and “zero tolerance” in our schools; increasing use of out-of-school suspensions and expulsions are another. These practices cut short children’s education, erode their self-esteem, and place them into unstructured and unsafe environments that can ultimately lead to arrest or removal proceedings, what advocates call the “school-to-prison pipeline.”

Intersections with other forms of discrimination

Discrimination based on disability, race, and youth intersect to magnify a child’s vulnerability. In many cases, children are criminalized simply for displaying symptoms of their disabilities. The Center for Public Integrity reports a case in which an 11-year Black student with autism was handcuffed and criminally charged after kicking a trash can at school. Police on campus are rarely trained to know how to work with children with cognitive differences and frequently resort to violent forms of physical restraint and seclusion that can have devastating consequences for a child.

Gender nonconforming and LGBTQI students also disproportionately bear the brunt of “zero tolerance” policies. The Gay Straight Alliance Network (GSAN) notes that, while LGBTQI youth make up about 6% of the population, they represent 15% of people in juvenile detention. Many queer youth report being penalized for not conforming to gender roles in school dress codes (such as boys bringing nail polish to school or wearing hair extensions) or blamed for their own bullying.

By a cruel irony, many of the anti-bullying provisions that schools have adopted in recent years to protect LGBTQI students from harassment actually increased their criminalization. The Advancement Project, Alliance for Economic Justice, and GSAN note in a joint report that in some cases, LGBTQI students have been expelled or suspended on anti-fighting or anti-bullying grounds even though they were defending themselves from violence. Such zero-tolerance policies often fail to recognize that students who are labeled as “bullies” may have been victims of violence themselves. Many “aggressive” students engage in negative survival strategies because the long-term failure of responsible adults to protect them from harm has left them with few options.

Solutions and a path forward

Zero tolerance and “anti-bullying” policies can deprive young people of a meaningful chance to learn from their mistakes. These systems do violence to their humanity and disregard their capacity to grow and learn. Providing real sanctuary in a school setting requires more than barring ICE officers at the door. It means reducing or eliminating a school’s reliance on all forms of law enforcement to maintain student discipline and replacing them with restorative practices that allow students to recognize harms they may have caused and to learn to do better. It means creating schools that perceive the worth and dignity of all students and the inestimable contribution each can make to the school environment.

Helpful practices to counter criminalization at school can be found in The Advancement Project’s Model School Discipline Policy and a joint report by The Advancement Project, GSAN, and the Equality Federation Institute called Power in Partnerships: Building Connections at the Intersections of Racial Justice and LGBTQ Movements to End the School-to-Prison Pipeline. Some guiding principles include:

  • Deferring wherever possible to restorative practices, rather than punishment, to address student misbehavior. These could include peer mediation, behavior coaching, anger management, or classroom peace circles, among others.
  • Ensuring that children who face serious disciplinary consequences have full due process and the resources they need to keep up with the curriculum.
  • Curbing the use of subjective disciplinary categories that lend themselves to unfair enforcement, such as “disorderly or disrespectful behavior.”
  • Reallocate funding dedicated to school police and surveillance to support staff, such as guidance counselors, social workers, nurses, and restorative justice facilitators.

Expanded Sanctuary—Policies to Resist and Protect

In part two of this blog series on Expanded Sanctuary, we make the case for an intersectional and expanded approach to sanctuary for cities in order to better protect its residents from dangers created by federal discriminatory policies. Click here to read part one.

 “The destiny of our planet, our towns, and our lives is caught up in each others’ fates.” – Marisa Franco, Mijente

In response to growing threats under the current Administration, Latinx, Black, Muslim, and transgender organizers are coming together to lead a new movement for “Expanded Sanctuary” – a simple and radical re-definition of sanctuary as dignity and protection 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. Subsequently, the best policies to protect city residents from unwarranted targeting address the issues various communities face together. Expanded Sanctuary is a policy approach that recognizes our collective liberation.

Janaé Bonsu, National Public Policy Chair of BYP 100, explains in her article in Essence magazine, Black People Need Sanctuary Too: “Without addressing safety and protections for all targeted communities, sanctuary is a misnomer…Whether it’s stop-and-frisk or no-knock raids, both undocumented immigrants and U.S.-born Black folks have a vested stake in redefining what sanctuary really means, and in resisting Trump’s ‘law-and-order’ agenda. Trump has made it clear that he is committed to strengthening all law enforcement, not just immigration agents. Thus, policies that address racist policing, incarceration and criminalization must be part of the demands of the immigrant rights movement. As long as the immigration and criminal justice systems are interconnected, creating real sanctuary cities is an issue of linked fate and real practical, principled solidarity.”

Expanded Sanctuary Policies for Cities & Counties

There are straightforward policy changes available to cities and counties that want to expand sanctuary to be radically inclusive of all communities threatened by the current administration and historically oppressed. The key components of expanding sanctuary at the city and county level involve: (1) reducing unnecessary arrests and over-policing; (2) eliminating profiling and broad surveillance; (3) and shifting funding to community programs.

Reduce unnecessary arrests & over-policing

  • De-criminalize crimes of poverty/survival such as fare evasion, panhandling, and loitering.
  • End law enforcement quotas for tickets and arrests.
  • Increase the use of diversion programs as an alternative to formal criminal charges.

In 2015 in New York City, 29,000 people were charged with fare evasion on public transit, the largest category of arrests in the city—and 94% were people of color. The numbers are so high in part because of daily quotas for fare evasion—each which come with a $100 fine—which if not paid, results in a criminal summons.

Eliminate profiling and broad surveillance

  • Discontinue the use of biased and unconfirmed gang databases.
  • Issue police directives against racial and religious profiling, and provide training.
  • Publicly refuse to engage in surveillance or infiltration of mosques, activist groups, and social media.

Gang databases have no fair and transparent process for how and why names are added, and are not always accurate. For example, in California, a gang database was found to include 42 people whose names were added before they were a year old. Yet they are used by local and federal law enforcement as a trusted source, and anyone in a gang database is a higher priority for deportation.

Shift funding to community programs

  • Re-allocate more of the city’s budget from law enforcement directly to jobs and education programs for the most marginalized, including transgender and gender-non-conforming individuals.
  • Invest in drug treatment and mental health treatment rather than arrests.
  • Refuse to receive federal resources for militarizing local police with tanks, grenade launchers, assault rifles, and more.

Many major cities now spend more than 50% of their budget on law enforcement, and nationally, if just 40% of those eligible received drug treatment instead of prison sentences, it would both save $12.9 billion and significantly reduce recidivism.

The time is long overdue for cities and counties to take their cues from people who have been suffering the most from over-policing such as communities of color and transgender people.

Mijente, which describes their work as “a movement that is not just pro-Latinx…but pro-Black, pro-women, pro-queer, and pro-poor because our community is all that and more” – is taking the lead on compiling exactly those resources. You can check out their detailed, crowdsourced “Expanding Sanctuary Policy Solutions” document here. Another fantastic resource is BYP100’s “Agenda to Keep us Safe,” their policy platform to end criminalization of Black youth.

Keep an eye out for the Love Resists policy guide coming soon on the campaign website, and our next blog post in this series, Expanded Sanctuary in Our Schools!

Defining Sanctuary Cities – and Why that Definition Must Expand

Part one of our Expanded Sanctuary blogs looks at the meaning and limitations of sanctuary cities. 

“When I hear the word ‘sanctuary,’ I envision a place that is safe for everyone — regardless of citizenship status, gender, religion, or any other marker that deems one ‘other’ in this country…I envision self-sustaining, well-resourced communities with strong bonds and networks of people who call on each other in times of need.” – Janaé Bonsu, Black Youth Project 100

Today, cities like Chicago, Boston, and New York are proudly re-affirming their commitment to being sanctuary cities for undocumented immigrants in the face of threats to their federal funding from the Trump administration. But what does it actually mean to be a “sanctuary city,” and what does it not mean?

At a basic level, self-declared sanctuary cities publicly refuse to cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in the detention and deportation of undocumented immigrants under most circumstances. However, beyond that, a common definition does not exist; rather, there are different levels of protection for immigrants bundled together under the catch-all term “sanctuary,” with some cities only doing the bare minimum and others providing maximum protection within the boundaries of the law.

Yet the greatest limit of sanctuary cities lies in racist policing practices, which affect both immigrants and U.S. citizens of color. How can a city call itself a sanctuary city if unarmed black men are being shot by the city’s police? What about a sanctuary city that doesn’t ask for immigration status, but does charge undocumented immigrants for driving without a license, resulting in a misdemeanor and their fingerprints being sent to the FBI and ICE? How can we applaud a sanctuary city that has arrest and ticket quotas for crimes of poverty like fare evasion on public transit, and then balances their budget off the backs of its poorest residents, mostly Black and Brown?

Now that the courts have blocked the President’s Executive Order to defund sanctuary cities, cities with a vision to create an environment that is safe and welcoming for all must do more. All of those scenarios are examples of “criminalization.” The best way to build a broader, more inclusive kind of sanctuary city is by listening to the solutions proposed by those most directly impacted by criminalization, who understand intimately what real, lasting change needs to look like.

In an earlier blog post, we took a deeper look at how “criminalization” is used to justify racial bias and inequality by treating entire communities as criminal, or potentially criminal. Criminalization is both symbolic and literal: it works through repeated stereotypes (we all know who is automatically associated with terms like “illegal,” “terrorist,” or “drug dealer”) and through actual arrests that create criminal records (although Black people use marijuana at a similar rate as white people, they are up to eight times more likely to be arrested for it depending on which state they live in).

Criminalization is grounded in “nativism” – a xenophobic nationalism that seeks to protect not only traditional power and wealth, but also white, straight demographic dominance in the United States. Criminalization and discriminatory policies use the same tools towards the same ends whether their target is race, religion, sexual orientation and gender identity, poverty, mental illness, or any other status that pushes groups of people to the margins of society. As Marisa Franco of Mijente explains, “In order to ‘make America great again,’ some of us will have to die, some of us will have to be pushed out, and some of us will have to be silent, malleable, and complacent.”

One clear example is the dozens of state bills introduced in recent years to prevent the fabricated threat of “Sharia law,” a set of Islamic codes guiding moral practice, from being implemented in U.S. courts. Anti-Muslim hate groups claimed that radical Muslims aimed to take over the justice system, but the bills’ originator, attorney David Yerushalmi, suggested an ulterior motive: “If this thing passed in every state without any friction, it would not have served its purpose.” It needed to attract controversy to render Muslims more suspect in the public eye. Notably, as Muslim Anti-Racism Organizer Manzoor Cheema explains, “80 percent of these laws were introduced by legislators that also introduced anti-gay marriage laws, anti-abortion laws, voter suppression laws, anti-immigrant laws, and right-to-work (anti-union) laws.”

Similarly, North Carolina’s infamous anti-transgender bathroom bill of 2016, HB2, also included provisions that revoke workplace discrimination protections based on race, religion, sex, and age. HB2 was a profoundly intersectional bill, raising to light how justifying oppression against one community opens the doors for oppression against all people treated as “other.”

The alt-right advances intersectional politics of hate. The only way to resist is through intersectional politics of love. What does this look like and how can we advocate for this? Stay tuned for our next blog post in this series: Out Intersectional Strategy: Expanded Sanctuary.

Criminalization: Legalized Discrimination

Last month, I was privileged to attend the “Defend, Defy, Expand” conference in Philadelphia, organized by Mijente, BYP 100, the Undocublack Network, DRUM, and others, where we met leaders from Muslim, South Asian, Black, immigrant, Latinx, and trans communities, who are taking unprecedented action to build new alliances across multiple movements with the goal of advancing and expanding the concept of sanctuary. This means making our shared communities safer for all of us, in particular for those who are most at risk. At the heart of the expanded sanctuary concept is the need to end criminalization, a shared threat that extends across communities.

What is criminalization?

Simply put, “criminalization” refers to the stereotyping and treatment of whole communities as “criminal” or “terrorist,” rather than responding to the actions people take as individuals. The experience of being “criminalized” is something that at-risk communities – trans, undocumented, Muslim, and Black – have in common. For communities who directly encounter the immigration enforcement, criminal justice, and national security systems every day, the reality of this problem, and the need to combat it, are readily apparent.

How communities are criminalized

The Movement for Black Lives has brought national attention to the way in which Black neighborhoods are over-policed and subjected to unfair and invasive law enforcement tactics like “stop and frisk,” which violate constitutional rights and fuel mass incarceration. Similarly, Muslim people have faced racial profiling and invasive surveillance through various programs, including a notorious post-9/11 New York City Police Department program that infiltrated Muslim houses of worship with a network of informants and which was ultimately halted by court order because it violated civil rights protections.

Undocumented immigrants meanwhile are being increasingly threatened with federal criminal charges for “illegal entry,” “illegal reentry,” and other crimes that are related solely to immigration status, and which already make up a majority of federal criminal prosecutions nationwide. The current administration has even started threatening to lock up immigrant parents on “human trafficking” charges if they hire a coyote, or smuggler, to bring their children to the United States—even though this is often the only way for asylum-seekers and others to reach safety, since criminal networks control most of the border crossings.

Grassroots organizations like the Queer Detainee Empowerment Project describe the way in which transgender and gender non-conforming people are often profiled and harassed by police on the false assumption that they are sex workers. Stereotypes and prejudices about trans people as “dangerous” has likewise been central in recent attempts to roll back trans civil rights through various state “bathroom bills.” One recent ad campaign, funded by an anti-LGBTQI hate group in Texas, depicts trans people as sex offenders who will use gender inclusive bathroom policies to attack women and girls.

Trans people also face exceptionally high rates of housing and employment discrimination, which forces many into poverty and homelessness and leads, in turn, to what advocates describe as “crimes of survival.” These are offenses like loitering or public urination that while technically criminal offenses, are almost impossible to avoid for people who are denied a decent place to live and a chance for lawful employment.

Persecuting at-risk communities

The cruelest irony of criminalization is that it treats as dangerous the very people who are often most at risk. Black Muslim immigrants, including the large Somali refugee community in the United States, endure stigmatization as potential “terrorists” and “criminals” due to intersection of their multiple identities. Yet, they are themselves at grave risk of suffering terrorism and violence in the form of hate crimes for precisely this reason. Earlier this year, a group of white supremacists plotted to bomb an apartment complex because its residents were Somali immigrants. Fortunately, the plot was foiled before it could be carried out, but it is a terrifying reminder of the potential for violence set off by government policies that stereotype and stigmatize whole communities.

Politicians and lobbyists have long exploited the rhetoric of criminalization, often because there are powerful interests with a stake in maintaining systems of mass incarceration, detention, and deportation. For example, criminalization benefits the private prison industry; airlines that contract to carry out deportation flights; and international telecom companies that rely on the cheap labor of English-speaking deportees to work in call centers. The Trump administration has carried this discourse to a fever pitch, demanding a national “stop-and-frisk” policy on the campaign trail and creating an office to monitor crimes committed by “illegal immigrants,” as if offenses are somehow worse when committed by undocumented people than when they are done by citizens.

Why should we resist and take action against criminalization?

Criminalization is a threat to our values as people of conscience. We resist the criminalization and stigmatization of whole communities because we believe that every individual has worth and dignity as an individual. This means that we all have the right to be judged on the merits of our actions, not on the basis of stereotypes about our identities. Not only is this a minimal requirement of fairness, it is also crucial to the right to due process.

For those of us, like myself, who grew up in privileged settings where federal agents and law enforcement were not a daily feature of life, the concept of “criminalization” is not always intuitive. Meeting community leaders who are on the front lines of the struggle for dignity and sanctuary, has shown me why it is so important to gain a clearer understanding of this term and resist efforts to legalize discrimination. Confronting criminalization and ending it is key to creating communities that will be genuine sanctuaries for all.