Celebrating New Partnerships to Advance Economic Justice

UUSC partners with over 80 organizations across the world to protect and advance human rights. In this three-part series, I will highlight a few of our newest partners and the projects we’re supporting across our focus areas: Economic Justice, Environmental Justice and Climate Action, and Rights at Risk.

Our Economic Justice Program strives to protect the rights of low-wage workers in the United States who face discrimination and human rights violations in the workforce, including immigrants, Muslims, and people of color. We partner with worker centers to strengthen protection mechanisms, improve working conditions, and respond to violations. In Central America, through the sale of Equal Exchange fair trade coffee, chocolate and other products, we support small farmer co-operatives to build sustainable livelihoods and advance human rights of other cooperative groups, particularly the rights of women, youth, and indigenous people. I’m excited to share with you three of our newest partnerships and projects that we’re currently supporting to advance economic justice.

Greater Minnesota Worker Center: Resist & Persist Campaign

The Greater Minnesota Worker Center
(GMWC) is “a coalition of low wage workers, community and labor activists, academics, and progressive clergy and laity to support low wage workers to build power, improve working conditions, and raise wages for workers and to improve the quality of life in Greater Minnesota.”

UUSC has partnered with GMWC, on their “Resist and Persist” (R&P) Campaign, a new project designed to provide added support to refugee and undocumented immigrant workers in Minnesota.

In the first few months of Trump’s presidency, GMWC has seen how anti-immigration policies and sentiments have already added to the marginalization of refugee and immigrant populations in Minnesota. One of the primary goals of R&P is to engage local communities in sanctuary practices by educating workers on their rights, creating a support network within the state, and engaging in legislative advocacy that protects the rights of refugees and immigrants. Another goal of the project is to provide low-wage immigrant and refugee workers with the knowledge, skills, and resources to organize for better working conditions.

“GMWC believes that we should not jeopardize the safety and security of people who have fled their homeland and have sought sanctuary in our shores due to a well-founded fear of persecution based on ethnicity, race, religion and other factors.” UUSC has partnered with GMWC to support the R&P Campaign because we share this belief. Learn more about GMWC and their innovative work here.

Fundación entre Mujeres: Strengthening of Strategic Planning Processes and Promotion of Sustainable Systems

Fundación entre Mujeres (FEM) is an organization of women farmers in northern Nicaragua. The organization “promotes ideological, economic, political and organizational empowerment through a holistic approach.”

Most Nicaraguan peasant women face a multitude of problems that deepen existing inequalities in access to and control over land and property and all their rights, including the right to live a life free from violence. These rights are threatened by the advance of monocultivist production (eg tobacco), and a state policy that does not favor the reduction of inequality gaps that peasant women face.

To counter these threats, FEM has a long-term goal to sensitize rural women to sustainable agricultural practices, which will give them control over their lives and the means to support themselves. UUSC has partnered with FEM to “support the development of a strategic organizational plan and the development of an agro-ecological defense network”. This commitment will help FEM continue to promote the processes of integral empowerment of peasant women, for the full exercise of their rights and the realization of their economic rights from a feminist, agroecological, and food sovereignty perspective.

FEM is an organization that has been promoting the rights of Nicaraguan peasant women for more than two decades, supporting education, preventing and caring for survivors of gender-based violence, and promoting sustainable agricultural practices in pursuit of their own autonomy. UUSC is proud to partner with an organization that has supported women for more than two decades. For updates on FEM, like them on Facebook.

Make the Road Pennsylvania: Comites de Defensa

Make the Road Pennsylvania (MRPA) is dedicated to advancing policy reform that will protect the rights of low-income minority workers in Pennsylvanian cities, where there are high concentrations of Latinx and African Americans living in poverty.

Pennsylvania also has one of the highest numbers of hate groups in the country. According to MRPA, “Eastern Penn. is the fastest growing part of the state, and many new residents are immigrants or people of color. The politics, however, have been reliably anti-immigrant at a congressional and state level.”

In light of this, UUSC has partnered with MRPA to establish “Comites de Defensa,” geographically-based committees that are ready to respond to the needs of immigrants in Pennsylvanian communities.

Much like GMWC’s R&P Campaign, Comites de Defensa aims to give support to immigrant families as raids and deportations increase—ostracizing already marginalized communities, spreading fear, and disrupting families.

The committees established through MRPA’s project “will be able to respond to abuses in the workplace, mobilize support for critical meetings and policy decisions affecting their members’ lives, and shift the public narrative towards pro-immigrant and worker messages.” Further, this effort will create a rapid response network in Pennsylvania to protect immigrants from Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids. UUSC is proud to partner with MRPA to promote economic justice for immigrants. Check out their Facebook page to get the latest news about their work.

Rights Reading

Our weekly roundup of what we’re reading in human rights and social justice! In honor of World Refugee Day on  June 20, this week’s wrap-up includes articles about how technology is helping to address the crisis, climate refugees in Somalia, and education access for refugee children.

The current humanitarian crisis is the largest since World War II. UUSC is dedicated to fighting for the human rights of refugees. Learn more about our partner organizations working in Croatia to provide humanitarian aid for and protect the rights of refugees.

Refugee hackathons and 3D printing: apps for the world’s displaced people, Tazeen Dhunna Ahmad, The Guardian, June 20, 2017

Although humanitarian aid provides refugees access to the essentials, like food, clothing, and shelter, refugees also need access to opportunities to improve their situation. This is where technology comes in and has helped “to transform conditions and empower more than 22 million refugees worldwide.”

The majority of refugees have mobile phones, which has made travel and global communication easier. However, it’s tech initiatives, like the ones Ahmad highlights in this article, that are really helping to create education and employment opportunities for refugees. Ahmad shares the story of, Admir Masic, a former refugee who is now an associate professor at MIT, who recently launched a global hub, Refugee ACTion Hub (ReACT), to provide refugees with education. 3Dmena, another tech partnership, is providing refugees with access to prosthetic limbs, “custom-built and cheaper” due to advances in 3D printing technology.

Hackathons and other tech-centric competitions provide refugees with an innovative platform to solve the problems their communities face and to find job opportunities – from solving water leakages on camps to employing refugees to take on a backlogged recycling system.

It’s rare to find stories about refugees that aren’t grim. Technology and the opportunities it brings for human creativity and collaboration can change the conversation.

Amid Drought, Somali Pastoralists Watch Their ‘Sources of Life’ Perish, Samuel Hall Research Team & Ashley Hamer, News Deeply, June 20, 2017

The number of climate refugees is growing, and is set to grow at a higher rate as the impacts of global warming accelerate. Despite this, efforts to address climate forced displacement have been lacking and even avoided, meaning climate refugees “remain on the fringes of humanitarian support.”

Due to drought in the Horn of Africa, over 739,000 people have been forced to leave Somalia since November. Most are pastoralists who have watched their livestock die of starvation and dehydration and who have no other means of livelihood. Climate forced displacement can have, and already has had, a global ripple effect of economic disparity and violence, namely because of the damage that displacement does to families and communities. Addressing the needs of climate refugees will not only save hundreds of thousands of lives now, but can curb the more widespread conflicts that will likely come in the future.

UUSC has highlighted climate refugees as a marginalized group who are not receiving the help they need, even within the sphere of humanitarian aid providers. This is why our Environmental Justice portfolio is focusing its resources on communities at high risk of climate forced displacement.

What we owe refugee children, Elias Bou Saab, Gulf Times, June 22, 2017

Fifty-one percent of the world’s refugees are children, and without access to education, there are concerns that this group will be a “lost generation” growing up without the skills needed to rebuild their communities or to thrive. Saab, former Lebanese education minister, points out the benefits education access has for children: “Education is also a vital instrument for combating violent extremism, which can capture the minds of young people with no hope for the future. And school attendance is essential for children’s welfare, because it gives them access to basic healthcare services and protects them from the horrors of child labour and prostitution.”

World leaders have recognized the need to educate refugee children, but efforts on the part of host countries to provide education haven’t been enough. Education access has been delayed by poor organization, violence, and strained resources. Saab signifies how important it is that governments and organizations meet their monetary pledges – which many have not – but also calls on them to step up their funding for programs that make remote and online education possible. No child should grow up without an education. Visit the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to learn more.

As Countries Fail to Support Refugees, UUSC Partners Step Up

UUSC is honored to work with our grassroots partners who dedicate themselves to defend and protect refugees across the world. Today, on World Refugee Day, we take a moment to celebrate two partnerships under our Rights at Risk portfolio. This celebration comes against a backdrop of record-high levels of global displacement—over 60 million people, among them nearly 20 million refugees—and increasingly hostile environments in which refugees can access protection and realize their fundamental human right to live in safety.

From violent border pushbacks to hate crimes to legislation that criminalizes their very existence, refugees today are under attack. Social movements demanding refugee rights are also threatened, making the work of UUSC partners all the more critical and worthy of recognition. Today, I wanted to highlight those who work in a place seldom mentioned in the headlines, but that have seen new waves of violence against refugees and new attempts to punish the act of “helping” irregular migrants with fines and jail time: Croatia.

Over the last year, UUSC partner organizations Are You Syrious (AYS) and the Centre for Peace Studies (CPS) have documented a troubling increase of unlawful expulsions and escalation of police violence against refugees who seek to cross into Croatian territory from Serbia. The refugees—mostly from destabilized Middle Eastern countries like Syria, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iraq—have fled horrific war at home and journeyed across multiple countries, an exhausting and traumatizing experience.

Upon reaching the Croatian border, refugees have reason to believe they are finally arriving to a country that will protect them. Croatia is a member of the European Union and its asylum laws purportedly conform to European norms. What they find, however, is far from a hospitable reception. Our partners report that Croatian authorities confiscate property, commit severe acts of physical violence, and forcibly push refugees back across the border to Serbia, all in violation of international law. Serbia is not considered a “safe third country” by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees because their asylum procedures do not meet international standards.

Just last month, AYS and CPS spoke to a twenty-five-year-old man from Afghanistan who reported that he was apprehended by police and stuffed into a van with eighteen other people: “There was no air inside. They drove us to the ‘jungle’ across near the border with Serbia and made us sit and started to hit us. They used sticks and beat us with their heavy boots.” This is but one of numerous similar reports received by AYS and CPS of police violence and forcing refugees back to Serbia from inside Croatia, without giving them an opportunity to lodge claims for protection.

Such pushbacks are both immoral and illegal. The right to seek asylum from persecution is enshrined in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and is among the most important provisions in international law. The 1951 U.N. Convention relating to the Status of Refugees obliges States not to “refoule,” or return, a refugee to “the frontiers of territories” where life or freedom would be threatened.

As countries throughout the world shirk their obligation to offer refugees an opportunity to seek asylum, civil society actors have stepped up. CPS defends the right to seek asylum in Croatia by holding state institutions accountable working with and supporting asylum-seekers as they file complaints with police departments, Croatian ministries, and international bodies.


Likewise, AYS is a collective of committed activists who are growing a grassroots solidarity movement that breaks down social and cultural borders, in addition to physical ones. AYS decreases the social distance between Croatian people and refugees by activating volunteers for language instruction, cultural orientation, and public advocacy. This ultimately results in better quality of integration for those refugees that are able to access protection and remain in Croatia, as well as an informed public who demand better of their country.

The efforts of these vital organizations have not gone unchallenged by the Croatian government, who seek to criminalize not only refugees themselves, but anyone who stands in solidarity with them. Authorities have drafted amendments to the Croatian Foreigners Act that imposes hefty fines and subjects activists to criminal liability if they provide assistance to anyone in “irregular” status. CPS is now engaged in zealous advocacy to prevent the draft amendments from becoming law.

Acknowledging the difficult environment in which they work, and the countless, quiet ways in which they have improved the lives of refugees seeking to rebuild their lives in Croatia, UUSC is incredibly proud to support the work of Centre for Peace Studies and Are You Syrious. We honor them today, on World Refugee Day, and every day.

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 focusing on Climate Justice, as Climate Justice Month comes to an end.

How a Tiny Alaska Town Is Leading the Way on Climate Change, Joe McCarthy, Global Citizen, April 18, 2017

 School in Kivalina

“By 2100, as many as 13 million people living in coastal regions of the US and hundreds of millions more people throughout the world could be displaced by climate change.”

Kivalina, Alaska is a small village in Northwest Alaska, with a population of 420 indigenous people. Located 70 miles above the Arctic Circle, Kivalina is one of the most affected communities of climate change. The temperature increases have doubled in Alaska compared to the United States, and the Arctic Sea has evaporated by half in the last 35 years. In just 10 years, Kivalina will no longer be a place people can inhabit.

The people of Kivalina are mobilizing and planning. They are known to be self-reliant and have a lot of experience working with their communities and government. The article highlights more of the history of Kivalina and some of the work our partner, Alaska Institute for Justice is doing.

How a Warming Planet Drives Human Migration, Jessica Benko, The New York Times, April 19, 2017

There are obvious environmental consequences to climate change, but the effects are manifold. Climate change leads to droughts, floods, food and housing insecurity, and famine. This then leads to both political and economic insecurity. While there is no official legal definition for what it means to be a climate refugee, in 2010, it was estimated that 500 million people would need to evacuate their homes by 2015 due to climate change.

The evaporation of Lake Chad has led to 3.5 million already being displaced. In Syria, 1.5 million were forced into cities because of a three-year drought in 2006. Other areas, such as China, the Amazon Basin, and the Philippines have also experienced the detrimental effects of climate change, displacing and even taking lives.

On April 29, We March for the Future, Bill McKibben, The Nation, April 19, 2017

Climate justice is being threatened by the Trump administration, but the reality is, climate justice has been a decades-long battle with each administration. The current climate-justice movement is being led by communities, farmers, scientists, and indigenous people. Those that are marching march for a multitude of reasons: pipelines, the labor movement, fracking, solar panels to other sustainable measures.

The United States is facing setbacks with the current administration, but the rest of the world is showing hope. Solar panel prices have dropped, wind energy is being used, and other countries are investing in renewables. People continue to march, protest, and resist in other ways, defining what the new normal is.

Check out related blogs and articles for climate justice month

Three-part series on composting, The Good Buy, April 18, 2017

5 Ways to #Resist this Earth Day, Green Peace, April 18, 2017

Making a Deeper Commitment to Climate Justice Month, UUSC, April 19, 2017

Rights Reading

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

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

photo of refugees behind a fence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Asylum-Seeking Families at Risk Under Trump’s Aggressive Immigration Policies

In just over a month, the new administration has executed a multi-pronged assault upon refugees and asylum-seekers who need humanitarian protections that the United States can and must provide.

Legally, people who are on U.S. soil, and meet the definition of a “refugee” should be granted asylum protections. This means that they face or fear persecution if they were returned to their country of origin based on their race, nationality, religion, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group.

98% of CAM applicants report exposure to danger in communityThe U.S. has seen a dramatic rise in asylum claims in the past decade, largely fueled by escalating violence and widespread international gang activity that has created a deadly crisis in El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala, often referred to as the “Northern Triangle” of Central America. Families seeking asylum have fled the region at incredibly high rates. From 2008-2014, asylum applications increased over 1,000% in the countries that neighbor the Northern Triangle and rose 370% in the United States.

In FY2016, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) apprehended nearly 60,000 unaccompanied minors and 77,857 families nationwide, most at the southwestern border. Many of these families were Central Americans seeking asylum in the United States. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service reports conducting nearly 100,000 credible fear screenings of asylum seekers in FY2016, with extremely high granting rates: nearly 80% of people that pundits and critics call “illegal immigrants” have a credible fear of persecution in their home country.

Refugees from the Northern Triangle

In 2014, the Obama administration created a limited refugee resettlement program allowing some children in the Northern Triangle to apply for refugee protections and be reunited with a parent who is a legal resident in the United States. The program was touted as saving children the dangerous journey through Central America and Mexico, and allowed them to seek asylum at the U.S. border. Since November 2014, there have been nearly 11,000 applications for the program and approximately 1,800 children have been reunited with their parents here in the United States with either refugee status or humanitarian parole. UUSC researchers spent the last year conducting research about how to make the Central American Minors In-Country Refugee Processing Program (CAM) even more effective and have direct testimony from CAM participants about the need for this life saving pathway to safety.

The children who use CAM are in imminent danger at the hands of gangs and corrupt police where they live. When asked why they applied for refugee status, CAM applicants have shared reasons like:

  • “I received threats from a gang member. Before that, two friends of mine who played on the same soccer team in which I played appeared dead . . . he told me that if I did not want something to happen to me or be killed, I should leave the neighborhood.”
  • “My fear sometimes is that my baby will get sick at night . . . no one leaves and if they leave they have to be accountable for where they go to the gangs. . . [my baby] suffers from epilepsy and I have to go for treatments in San Salvador, when we go we try to do everything fast, to return early . . . it is very difficult to live constantly with fear.”
  • “I am afraid to leave the house now because gang members meet outside my house . . . My family and I are in danger . . . if we do not give the [rent] they are going to kill one of us . . . you cannot live in peace.”

However, President Trump’s January 27, 2017 executive order suspending all refugee resettlement for 120 days likewise suspended CAM. While a handful of CAM refugees who had already been granted refugee status have been able to fly to the United States in the weeks since the 9th Circuit Court stayed the presidents’ executive order, the administration has effectively halted refugee processing. This avenue to refuge is now closed for thousands of Central American children who may have to begin their application almost from scratch when and if CAM is reinstated.

Part of the border wall in Nogales, Mexico.
Part of the border wall in Nogales, Mexico.

With the refugee program halted, children will need to travel through Mexico to seek asylum at the U.S. border. There, too, the administration appears poised to cause immense harm to asylum-seeking families and children. DHS Secretary Kelly’s recent memos indicate that the department will:

  • Extend the border wall to make entry into the United States more difficult.
  • Deport asylum-seekers to Mexico or place them in U.S. detention centers while they await a decision on their case, placing families in inhumane prison-like conditions that we know causes lasting harm.
  • Strip protections for unaccompanied children that are guaranteed by law and charge parents with “human trafficking” for bringing their children to the United States.

Alarmingly, reports from El Paso, Texas, indicate that CBP agents have already turned asylum-seekers back from official ports of entry, denying them even the chance to make their asylum claim.