ICE Again Targets the Most Vulnerable

Yessenia Alfaro, Deputy Director of the Chelsea Collaborative, addresses the press at a briefing shortly before Francisco Rodriguez’s ICE appointment.

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?”

Sadly, this pattern is not limited to the Boston field office. It is happening all over the country. ICE targets those who are least able to resist or escape; those who are already in its custody or who have voluntarily shown up to an ICE appointment. They have raided the sick and the homeless. They are trying to deport four children from the Berks detention center who have already been granted Special Immigrant Juvenile (SIJ) status due to a history of abuse or neglect, putting their lives in jeopardy. It is targeted long-term Iraqi residents with prior removal orders simply because it knows where they live, and because the Iraqi government has been strong-armed into accepting their return.

Horrifying reports are emerging of ICE using unaccompanied refugee children as “bait” to arrest their relatives and charge them with “smuggling” for bringing the kids to safety (thereby putting into effect the worst threats of the DHS memos released in February). ICE is even punishing immigrants who, like Francisco, follow its own rules.

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.  

Deportations to Iraq Reflect “New Low of Cynicism and Immorality”

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) launched raids earlier this week targeting Iraqi communities in Tennessee and Michigan, resulting in over 200 arrests of immigrants with prior deportation orders, many of whom are members of Iraq’s Chaldean Christian and Kurdish minorities. While attorneys and advocates race to secure emergency relief, these individuals are now at imminent risk of deportation to ongoing conflict, humanitarian crisis, and the threat of persecution in Iraq.

UUSC strongly condemns any forced returns to Iraq while the country is still at war and the government cannot or will not ensure the safety of its citizens. Not only do such returns violate the obligations of the U.S. under international law, but it is a particularly callous move in light of its own contributions to conflict, instability, civilian casualties, and human rights violations in Iraq over the past fifteen years.

The way in which the resumed deportations to Iraq were negotiated likewise reflects a new low of cynicism and immorality for this administration. Iraq was one of seven Muslim-majority countries included in the original version of Trump’s notorious “travel ban.” Its removal from the list in the second version of the ban is believed to be due in part to Iraq agreeing to resume receiving deportees again from the United States.

In short, despite the fact that Trump’s Muslim Ban has been repeatedly halted in the courts for being flagrantly discriminatory, it is still being used as political blackmail to coerce other governments to process removals to some of the most dangerous places in the world. 

The specific targeting of Christian and Kurdish Iraqi communities by ICE shows that everyone is endangered by this administration’s reckless xenophobia and Islamophobia, whether they are Muslim or not. Trump defended his Muslim Ban when it was first announced as a sign of his support for Christians in Iraq and Syria, who have faced genocidal violence from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Now that same ban is leading to the deportation of Iraqi Christians directly into the hands of their persecutors.

Threats to the human rights and civil liberties of our Christian, Arab, and Muslim neighbors are unacceptable. UUSC opposes any and all deportations to active conflict zones or ongoing sites of persecution and stands in solidarity with the Iraqi immigrant communities in this moment of peril.

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.”

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’s Rights Readings covers immigration events, from an unjust deportation of a mother and her son to May Day protests around the world.

In a day of frantic tweets, a senator pleaded with Trump to stop a deportation. It didn’t work, Samantha Schmidt, The Washington Post, May 4, 2017

Senator Robert Casey Jr., a Democrat from Pennsylvania, pleaded with Twitter users to advocate against a mother and her five-year-old son’s imminent deportation that would likely lead to their death. After witnessing the murder of her family members in Honduras, the mother was being threatened and chased by gang members. She and her son fled to the United States seeking asylum, and they have been held at Berks County Detention Center for the past 18 months. Senator Casey, along with thousands of other Twitter users, tweeted at Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and President Trump, pleading for this family. Despite the public uproar, the mother and her son were deported.

They are the first of 14 families who have been held at Berks long-term. The other families also come from Central America and face similar situations – they are seeking asylum here in the United States. Though Senator Casey was not able to stop this specific deportation, he has written letters to DHS, signed by 13 other senators, asking for the release of four other families currently being held at Berks.

UUSC has followed this case closely and continues to demand justice now for the mothers and children detained at Berks and for all vulnerable asylum seekers fighting for their rights. Read more here! 

May Day Marches and Protests Around the World, Alan Taylor, The Atlantic, May 2, 2017

Crowds gather in the Philippines for May Day
Crowds gather in the Philippines for May Day

From Los Angeles to New York, Moscow to Manila, hundreds of thousands of people from all over the world rallied for May Day, or International Workers’ Day, to stand up for worker’s rights. The protests ranged from peaceful to forceful. In France, anti-riot police officers threw tear gas at youth who were targeting them with firebombs. In Los Angeles, pro- and anti-Trump supporters were separated by police tape. In many cities, whether protests were peaceful or violent, many were arrested as they marched. Thirty-one total cities all over the world are highlighted in this great photo-journalistic piece covering May Day events.

UUSC joined the May 1st coalition in Chelsea, Mass. Marching alongside other members of the faith community, unions, the Movement for Black lives and many others, staff joined the movement, protesting the criminalization of immigrants and communities of color, policies that threaten the planet, and economic inequality. 

Five Big Questions for the Future of the Immigrant Rights Movement, Marisa Franco, Truthout, May 2, 2017

This year’s May Day was one of the biggest since 2006, largely in part because the Trump administration has focused so much energy on deportation and the border since the election. The immigrant movement has changed in multiple ways. The anti-immigrant movement has grown more militant, more intergenerational, and unapologetic, while the other side has become intersectional, increasing connections across racial and cultural ties, and LGBTQ groups, emphasizing opposition to over policing and criminalization. Grassroots movements are also focusing more on local organizing rather than focusing on federal legislation, which was more common 10 years ago.

Franco poses some important questions about next steps and strategies and how that will shape and effect this movement on both sides. Questions around exponentially increasing engagement, not just within the immigrant community, but with allies outside; how to highlight the impact immigrants have on our economy while still holding the importance of their humanity; the targets of the movement; and finally, how we ought to be approaching this as an intersectional movement.

Read more about the immigrant rights movement in the first of our three-part Expanded Sanctuary blog series.

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!

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 are highlighting the ways that the Trump administration’s policies are affecting an already vulnerable immigrant population.

Jeff Sessions Prepares DOJ For Crackdown On Unauthorized Border-Crossers, Elise Foley, Huffington Post, April 11, 2017

With the ultimate goal of detention, Attorney General Jeff Sessions is preparing harsher policies for undocumented immigrants with non-violent criminal offenses. Despite these non-violent offenses, such as illegal re-entry and document fraud, Sessions evoked dangerous and harmful imagery, using words such as “war zones, beheadings, depravity and violence, drug cartels, killing innocent citizens” to describe these non-violent offenders these policies are aimed at, criminalizing undocumented immigrants and painting them in a dangerous light.

Some of the policies cover prosecution for those harboring or transporting immigrants, felony prosecution for re-entry and multiple misdemeanors, and tighter border controls. There was no mention of how these policy rollouts would be funded or what other resources this would take.

Read more about criminalization and the harmful effects it has on minority communities here.

How Police Entanglement with Immigration Enforcement Puts LGBTQ Lives at Risk, Sharita Gruberg, Center for American Progress, April 12, 2017

LGBTQ immigrants are especially vulnerable to the new administration’s executive orders on immigration enforcement. The LGBTQ community already interacts with local law enforcement due to discrimination, profiling, and higher rates of violence and intimate partner violence. The executive orders have called for deportation of undocumented immigrants, many that are seeking asylum here because their lives are in danger. “LGBTQ people face widespread persecution in much of the world, with 76 countries criminalizing people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity and expression.” Deportation in these cases can result in death.

Mixing local law enforcement and immigration enforcement increases the danger that LGBTQ people face. LGBTQ immigrants will be less likely to come forward in instances of violence, discrimination, and domestic violence for fear of deportation. Their lives are more at risk both here in the United States because they are less likely to come forward and their lives are also threatened for fear of deportation.

Read a blog post about a UUSC staff member’s experience meeting an LGBTQ asylum-seeker in detention here.

Trump Plan Would Curtail Protections for Detained Immigrants, Caitlin Dickerson, The New York Times, April 13, 2017

“A decision to simultaneously abandon detention standards could have disastrous consequences for the health and safety of these individuals.”

The Trump administration is cutting back on already low standards and protections for immigrants being held in detention centers. For over 15 years, basic standards, such as regular suicide checks, ensuring translation is provided, and adequate medical care, have always been met. However, even these basic services are now at risk under the new administration. A regulatory office that oversees these protections and standards is being closed.

The Office of Detention Planning and Policy, which created policies to prevent sexual assault and protect pregnant detainees will also be shut down. A report released by a Homeland Security inspector just last month, cited health and safety concerns and even found that violent and non-violent offenders were sharing spaces.

UUSC partner, Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC), filed a complaint calling for a federal investigation into reports of sexual abuse, assault, and harassment in immigration detention facilities. Read more here.