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Attacks on Humanitarian Organizations Are Threats to Us All 

UUSC is in solidarity with faith-based groups facing harassment.

By Josh Leach on June 14, 2024

At a Catholic humanitarian agency in California, right-wing operatives tried to infiltrate the staff in order to publish false and inflammatory misinformation about their work. Meanwhile, the Texas state government has launched a criminal probe into a nonprofit network that helps asylum-seekers and other people in migration. And at another small humanitarian aid shelter in a border town, right-wing media planted a false story with blatantly doctored evidence to try to accuse the organization of facilitating an unlawful voting scheme…

The details of all these stories all differ—but the larger pattern is clear: the extreme right is increasingly targeting humanitarian organizations, just for exercising their mission to accompany people in distress. 

Most of the world’s religious and ethical traditions call on members to be in solidarity with travelers, refugees, immigrants, and other people facing poverty and oppression. Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and secular humanitarian organizations—among many others—have put these teachings into practice by operating shelters that temporarily house people in migration and assist people as they navigate the asylum and refugee processes. 

Yet, simply for heeding this call of conscience, these organizations now increasingly find themselves in the crosshairs of the extreme right. 

In the recent incident at Catholic Charities, staff faced a campaign of harassment and intimidation from right-wing activists at Project Veritas. This organization is known principally for infiltrating progressive organizations in order to record misleading and selectively-edited footage that casts their leadership in a negative light. They tried to do the same thing to the Catholic shelter, sending an operative posing as an exterminator. Their overarching goal was reportedly to push the absurd claim that the humanitarian agency is engaged in human trafficking.

In reality, organizations like Catholic Charities provide shelter and legal assistance to survivors of human trafficking (and similar human rights abuses). Many asylum-seekers face the risk of kidnapping in their home countries or on their travel to the U.S. border. Anti-asylum policies—including President Biden’s recent order severely restricting asylum—expose more people to these risks by trapping them in deadly conditions. Humanitarian organizations that work with asylum-seekers—by contrast—help people escape these dangers. 

Such basic truths, however, seem to make no difference to the right-wing activists pushing false claims against humanitarian agencies. It is a simple fact, for instance, that noncitizens cannot vote in U.S. federal elections. It is likewise a fact that many of President Biden’s policies have actually been terrible setbacks, not victories, for asylum rights in the United States. Yet, neither of these facts has prevented right-wing media from pushing the ludicrous claim that humanitarian organizations are conspiring to register undocumented voters in order to re-elect Biden to the presidency. 

Exhibit A: in another recent incident, a right-wing think tank publicized a flier that was supposedly found near the site of a humanitarian aid shelter in Matamoros, and which called on asylum-seekers to vote for Joe Biden in the next election. The flier was an obvious forgery—featuring basic misspellings in Spanish and text that appeared to be copied and machine-translated from the organization’s website. But the gaping flaws of credibility in the story did not prevent right-wing media from picking it up and running with it. 

Many of these false conspiracy theories quickly reveal their antisemitic origins. The claim about an overarching plan to register undocumented voters—which prominent right-wing figures including House Speaker Mike Johnson and social media influencer Elon Musk have pushed in recent months—smacks of the antisemitic “Great Replacement Theory” promoted by white nationalists. 

Likewise, many of the right-wing influencers pushing false claims against humanitarian agencies specifically target HIAS (formerly the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society)—an organization inspired by Jewish values and history that serves people in migration around the world. There is no reason to connect HIAS to the other targeted organizations, apart from a broadly shared mission of helping people seeking refuge. The only thing that links them in the minds of extremists is the fevered pseudo-logic of antisemitic conspiracy thinking.  

Perhaps most disturbingly of all, these extremist attacks are not only coming from internet trolls. Some are also emanating from state governments. In Texas, the state attorney general is reportedly investigating former UUSC partner Annunciation House—a Catholic nonprofit agency that has worked for decades providing humanitarian services to people in migration—on bogus charges of facilitating unlawful entry. 

This is not the first time humanitarian agencies have been criminalized for assisting people in migration. Under the Trump administration, the faith-based volunteer organization No More Deaths likewise faced criminal charges for their humanitarian work. Many similar accusations could come in future years, if far-right ideas continue to penetrate the political mainstream. 

UUSC took action with faith leaders to show our solidarity with No More Deaths when they were targeted, and we express our solidarity now with faith-based agencies facing renewed threats to their rights. An attack on one organization fighting for human rights is an attack on us all. 

Moreover, these attacks undermine the rights of every person in the United States—whether they support the work of humanitarian agencies or not. When the government penalizes people for living out their religious commitments, it compromises the freedom of every person in the country to live and believe as they choose. 

UUSC will continue to be in solidarity with people and organizations of good will—both faith-based and secular—who are working for the dignity and rights of people in migration. You can learn more and support our work by signing up for our email list or making a donation. Your solidarity makes it possible for UUSC and our partners to advance rights in migration throughout the Americas.

Image credit: UUSC

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