UUSC Condemns Shameful Raid on Migrant Desert Camp

UUSC is extremely disturbed by last week’s raid on the humanitarian aid camp operated by No More Deaths (NMD), a Tucson, Ariz.-based group with whom we partner. NMD provides life-saving food, water and medical care for people making the dangerous journey through remote parts of the Arizona desert on foot, and the raid on their camp represents a reprehensible disregard for the lives of migrants and refugees by the current administration.

On a day when temperatures surged over 100 degrees, U.S. Border Patrol descended on NMD’s aid camp with a helicopter, fifteen trucks and thirty armed agents in an unprecedented show of force. Four patients receiving medical care were arrested, and countless others in need of aid were prevented from doing so by a mobile checkpoint that had been set up at the entrance to the camp.

Since its founding in 2003, NMD has had a good working relationship with the Tucson Sector of Border Patrol. In 2013 the groups agreed in writing that their camp would be respected as a medical facility. The raid marks a disturbing shift in U.S. government policy and violates not only this agreement but international humanitarian law and International Red Cross standards that prohibit government interference with aid centers.

Many of those who make the unauthorized crossings through the Mexico-U.S. border in Arizona are refugees escaping extreme violence and instability in Central America. When people are fleeing for their lives, the merciless desert terrain and the threat of arrest will not deter them from seeking safety in the United States. The aid camp is an essential tool to prevent loss of life—human remains are found on average once every three days in this area—and the raid is a targeted attack on the migrants and refugees who seek its services.

UUSC been in solidarity with NMD since 2015 and is currently funding a series of reports that exposes Border Patrol’s anti-humanitarian policies and practices which have created a crisis of migrant death in the desert. We continue to support NMD in their mission, and we call on the Trump administration to direct Border Patrol to immediately comply with the law and stop obstructing humanitarian aid.

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: Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, the troubling relationship between immigration and private prisons, and Pride 2017.

Bucking Trump, These Cities, States and Companies Commit to Paris Accord, Hiroko Tabuchi & Henry Fountain, The New York Times, June 1, 2017

Thursday was a big blow to the global environmental movement and U.S. foreign relations. By officially declaring his intent to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement, Trump has turned his back on the 195 countries – nearly the entire world—who agreed to the work together to mitigate the effects of climate change. This decision, as well as his dangerous “America First” rhetoric, highlight a short-sightedness when it comes to our shared future. UUSC condemned Trump’s decision within hours of the White House announcement.

While Trump’s decision was disappointing, it wasn’t unexpected, and already environmental advocates are mobilizing. As Todd Stern wrote in the Atlantic before the decision, “The Trump administration is about to throw down the gauntlet. If it does, we’ll need to take up the challenge.”

We are heartened to see just that. The New York Times reports that already, a group of representatives from over 200 cities, states, and companies is working on a proposal to pledge their commitment to the Paris Agreement.

In the first few months of Trump’s presidency, local and state governments and grassroots organizations have stepped up to protect human rights where the federal government refuses. It appears that environmental policy will be no different. UUSC will continue to find partnerships and ally with groups and individuals that work for environmental justice.

The Immigrant Crackdown Is a Cash Cow for Private Prisons, Samuel Gilbert, VICE, May 31, 2017

Under Trump’s immigration policy, new and expanded detention centers mean more money in the pockets of private prison owners. Gilbert’s article puts the spotlight on “the close relationship between the federal agency tasked with detaining and deporting undocumented immigrants and the private prison industry that helps house those detained immigrants.”

This “relationship” is yet another way that government policy is muddled with corporate interests. Privately-owned facilities hold the majority immigrant detainees. Many of these companies will be signing new contracts this year. Larger private prison companies will often hire Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents to forge connections in the federal government and gain future contract opportunities. Bethany Carson from UUSC partner Grassroots Leadership, explains the situation, “They take the expertise they have working for the ICE and use that to lobby for even greater increases in their share of this system of mass detention.’”

Although the companies claim they do not lobby to change immigration policy and only use current rules to their benefit, they are nevertheless in the business of criminalization. Furthermore, studies show that poor treatment of detainees and corruption occur at much higher rates in private facilities. In 2015, UUSC issued a research report which found that half of the parents and children surveyed in detention centers reported clinically significant levels of symptoms of depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress, and were not receiving any treatment or therapy.  Possibly more troubling, Mother Jones reported today that three immigrants have died at a private detention center in California.

In United States and abroad, a worrisome time for LGBT activists, David Crary, The Associated Press, June 1, 2017.

June 1 marked the beginning of LGBTQI Pride Month. This year, many organizers are foregoing the celebratory parades and rallies that have become typical in recent years and instead, organizing protests and solidarity marches. This has already drawn some criticism – even from more conservative LGBTQI advocates in the United States, who argue that the Trump administration has not done anything to infringe on current LGBTQ laws, for example, marriage equality. However, in a break from presidential tradition, Trump has yet to acknowledge Pride Month.

The fight for LGBTQ rights is by no means over. Same-sex marriage is only legal in 22 countries, and over 70 countries enforce laws that criminalize the LGBTQ community. As Crary points out, “most U.S. states still lack statewide laws banning discrimination against LGBT people, and majority Republicans in Congress show no interest in passing a Democratic-backed bill that would provide nationwide non-discrimination protections.” Further, the Trump administration recently revoked federal guidelines advising public school districts to let transgender students use the bathrooms and locker rooms of their choice. And multiple Trump appointees, as well as Vice President Pence are viewed as extreme opponents to LGTBQI equality.

UUSC is, as always, dedicated to protecting the rights of LGBTQI people across the world. We will be honoring Pride Month this year by highlighting events, stories, and news from the LGBTQI community on our blog and socials. Join in the conversation with #Pride2017!

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 Reading highlights articles on sanctuary, sustainability, and the Paris Agreement.

White People, It’s Time to Prioritize Justice Over Civility, Tauriq Moosa, The Establishment, May 9, 2017

Photo of justice statue

One of the hallmarks of white privilege is the option to be uninformed on and indifferent towards issues of oppression. In the name of “civility” and a backwards sense of fairness, the media has been giving white supremacists a platform on television to express their hate speech. However, this show at fairness actually undermines the platform of people of color fighting for true equality, giving them less airtime and raising white supremacists’ “concerns” to the same level as the concerns of those who are actually oppressed. Whether it’s in an effort towards equal airtime or boosting viewership, the media and white moderates’ uninvolved attitude thus promotes a more passive sense of fairness than an active move towards justice.

Moosa makes a strong argument for how the disaffected white majority can be even more harmful than hate groups. Just because white supremacists can make themselves look presentable and can express their views in a civil manner does not make their rhetoric valid or worthy of a platform in mainstream media.

Not Just Cities: We Can Become a Sanctuary Nation, Robert Greenwald and Angel Padilla, The Nation, May 9, 2017

Trump has called for a crackdown on undocumented immigrants, pushing for law enforcement everywhere to report even the smallest of misdemeanors to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). This is just one example of the alarming move towards the criminalization of marginalized communities that has been happening under the Trump administration.

“Sanctuary” is a term being used a lot lately, but it doesn’t just have to apply to cities. Communities all across the United States can engage in sanctuary practices to protect immigrants. There are many ways that individuals can get involved, such as coming together to push sanctuary laws, going with immigrants to ICE check-ins, staying vigilant and spreading the word about potential ICE raids, and working with grassroots organizations to advocate for immigrant rights.

UUSC recently called on Massachusetts to pass legislation that would would end “287(g) agreements” whereby local law enforcement personnel are authorized to perform a variety of federal immigration enforcement functions, including questioning people about their immigration status, arresting them for immigration violations, and place them in deportation proceedings. Read the press release here.

You can also read our Expanded Sanctuary blog series to learn more.

White House Advisors Postpone Paris Climate Deal Meeting, Andrew Restuccia, Politico, May 8, 2017

Yet again, Trump’s meeting with advisers to discuss the United States’ involvement in the Paris Agreement has been postponed. His advisers are in disagreement on this issue. Trump is expected to make a decision soon on whether the United States will withdraw from the Paris Agreement, a potential step that is being condemned worldwide.

During his election campaign, Trump stated his intent to withdraw the U.S. from the climate deal. Already under his administration, we have seen an increase in policies and government appointments that favor big business interests over the safety of the environment and the public. Withdrawing from the Paris Agreement is a dangerous step in the wrong direction for environmental policy and foreign relations. UUSC is watching the White House closely for further developments. Read our latest statement on Trump’s “Energy Independence” Executive Order.

The Dark Side of Fashion We Never Talk About, Rachel Selvin, Refinery29, May 8, 2017

Do you know the environmental footprint for what you’re wearing right now? It’s probably larger than you think. The process to manufacture and distribute clothing requires a high amount of energy and resources. While often overlooked, the fashion industry is one of the leading contributors to environmental pollution and resource depletion in the world.

Selvin discusses pioneering new biotechnologies to cut down on the environmental cost of fashion, but it isn’t just manufacturers who need to think more sustainably. Consumers need to be conscience of what they’re really buying, and how much. Cutting down on how many new clothes you buy and making sure that that your clothing is sustainably sourced are two great ways to reduce your personal environmental footprint.

The Good Buy, UUSC’s online store, is a great option for buying sustainably sourced products, and you’ll also be helping to fund UUSC’s human rights efforts.

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 ways to get involved in the #May1Strike, the Nepal Earthquake anniversary, and the anniversary of the Rana Plaza Factory Collapse.

 Immigration rights demonstrators rally in downtown Los Angeles 11 years ago.

How to Join the ‘Day Without Immigrants’ on May Day, Ariana Rosas Cardenas, The Nation, April 28, 2017 

 “When workers, immigrants, women, Muslims, black and brown, indigenous, queer and trans communities face exploitation, criminalization, incarceration, deportation, violence and harassment, we strike.”

This year’s May Day, an annual worker’s day strike held on International Worker’s Day, is expected to have the biggest turnout in over 10 years. Not only are immigrants and workers participating, but Native Americans, refugees, LGBTQ, and people of color are all joining to protest the Trump administration’s threats and attacks on minority communities.

Hundreds and thousands will be missing work, school, and shopping to show the impacts these combined communities and movements can have and to defy the hate and criminalization they are facing. This article highlights different events that are happening all across the United States.

Together with the Unitarian Universalist Association, UUSC has launched a joint campaign, Love Resists, to resist hate and create more welcoming communities. We’ve posted some more ways you can participate in May 1 events here!

Nepal’s earthquake disaster: Two years and $4.1bn later, Narayan Adhikari, Al Jazeera, April 24, 2017

It has been two years since the Nepal Earthquake, and only 5% of the houses that were destroyed have been rebuilt. The Nepal Earthquake destroyed close to 824,000 homes, which means over 800,000 families are still waiting for their homes to be rebuilt. Despite over $4 billion being donated and pledged for reconstruction efforts, only 12% of these funds have been used. A lack of government coordination and understanding, low participation among local groups, and overall lack of transparency have all contributed to slow recovery.

The article emphasizes that “the international community can bring about more lasting change by directing their support towards citizens and local organisations committed to solving the root problems of corruption and lack of information.”

UUSC is proud to be part of this international community that brings lasting change. We work with grassroots partners that are empowering survivors and protecting their rights as they rebuild their homes and lives. Read more about our work with two of these organizations!

It Has Been Four Years Since the Rana Plaza Factory Collapse—How Much Has Changed?, Michelle Chen, The Nation, April 24, 2017

Four years ago, Bangladesh’s Rana Plaza factory collapsed, killing more than 1,000 workers and fueling an outrage for labor reform needs in the garment industry. Despite this outrage, labor reforms have been slow to make. After hundreds went on strike at one of the manufacturing centers in Ashulia, labor activists and factory workers have been fired and accused of various acts by the same government that promised reforms and protections four years ago.

Wage theft and proper working conditions are some of the basic demands workers are asking for. Activists and workers that speak out are being punished, and at the end of the day, workers feel that large companies are only looking to make a profit. These workers currently only making $67 a month, and the raise they were asking for is still far below a livable wage.

International pressure has allowed for some regulations and improved working conditions, but without continued public pressure, workers are losing their right to organize – a detrimental effect on equal rights and protections. Without the ability to organize, there is also no structure to hold owners and bosses accountable.

The Good Buy, UUSC’s online store, recently published a blog with resources on how you can get involved in the Fashion Revolution campaign, a new movement to wake up people to the continued injustice in the garment industry.