Answering the Call for Solidarity and Action in Honduras

In early January I received an email that began with these words:

We are writing you on behalf of Padre Melo, the Jesuit priest who has accompanied the Honduran people for more than 20 years. He is appealing to the international community for an emergency delegation: “We need you to organize people who will accompany us, witness what is happening here, and share it with the world”.

The Honduras presidential election last November has widely been condemned as fraudulent. Since then, people throughout the country have poured into the streets in peaceful protests that the state has often responded to with lethal violence.

The hope of sending an international delegation to Honduras is that our presence will shine a spotlight on the struggle and amplify the voices of those who are being ignored and silenced. The Unitarian Universalist Service Committee has long been a champion of Honduran human rights groups, supporting our grassroots partners financially and working to lift up the stories and urgency behind their struggles. This brief journey of accompaniment is another way for our organization to show the Honduran people that they are not alone.

I decided almost immediately that I would answer Padre Melo’s call and join the emergency delegation, which departs Wednesday, January 24. While I have never been there before, I have heard of Padre Melo and the courageous work he and many other Hondurans are engaged in to advance fundamental human rights. I also know about the decades of financial and military support our own country has sent to the Honduran government, despite their many human rights violations. And, I believe that under the Trump administration, the thousands of people who try to flee the violence in Honduras are even less likely than before to find asylum here in the United States.

My desire to join the delegation is fueled by multiple interests. I’m driven by my commitment to human rights, as well as my sense of moral compromise as a U.S. citizen—knowing my own country has helped create the violence from which it refuses to shelter those who flee. But I am also compelled by my faith: by the core values of Unitarian Universalism that remind me, we are never really separate from one another. Our interdependent web links us to struggles for human rights and dignity, wherever they occur, and pulls us compellingly, relentlessly, to act as we are able to mitigate harm.

I believe in the power of prayer as a way to ground ourselves and to center our awareness on those who live daily in harm’s way. So, I ask you to pray for the people of Honduras, holding them in mind and heart, and also to act on your prayers and concern by speaking out for the rights of those most at risk.

I will have more to tell you on my return January 30, but for now, I hope you will join me on this journey in spirit, by learning more about what is happening and answering the call to support this critical human rights struggle yourself.

Take Action

Follow the instructions below to contact your Members of Congress and support the people of Honduras today.

  1. Call (202) 224-3121. This number will direct you to the Capitol switchboard.
  2. Ask to be connected to your senator or representative. The operator will direct your call to their office. Note that you will need to make three calls to reach all your legislators. Not sure who your senators or representatives are? Look them up here.
  3. A legislative assistant or answering machine will answer the phone. Give them this message, filling in your details:

“Hello, my name is ____ ____. I’m a constituent of [State and zip code]. I don’t need a response. I am calling to urge Senator/Representative [last name of member] to support credible, independent investigations into any and all claims of state-involvement in electoral fraud and violence during and since the November 26, 2017 elections. I also urge you to support all efforts to suspend U.S. police and military aid to Honduras immediately and ensure that any future aid meets human rights conditions under U.S. law. Thank you.

  1. Call again to connect with your other legislators, repeating steps 1-3.
  2. Invite your friends, family, and colleagues to join you in this action!

Thank you! 

Learn More

Trump Administration Continues Anti-Immigrant Assault with Decision to End TPS for Salvadorans

The Trump administration today escalated its assault on immigrant communities, canceling Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for nearly 200,000 Salvadoran nationals living in the United States legally for over 15 years. Salvadorans are by far the largest community of TPS beneficiaries in the country, and this move throws life into chaos for thousands who call the United States home, as well as for the estimated 192,000 U.S. citizen children of Salvadoran TPS holders.

UUSC calls on Congress to pass permanent protections for all long-term TPS holders, a solution that has already been introduced in the form of the Safe Environment from Countries Under Repression and in Emergency (SECURE) Act, developed in part through the efforts of UUSC’s partner the UndocuBlack Network. Meanwhile, local governments must expand sanctuary policies that hold the line against federal efforts to deport and criminalize our communities until we have won permanent status for all long-term TPS holders.

Today’s TPS decision is appalling, but unsurprising. It continues this administration’s harsh stance against immigrant communities, including those with legal status, as indicated by its recent decision to revoke TPS for Haitians and several other nationalities, as well as its ongoing efforts to tie passage of the Dream Act to border militarization and restrictions to diversity visa and family-based migration.

Terminating the status flies in the face of bipartisan consensus and reveals as starkly as ever this administration’s core objective of slashing documented and undocumented immigration pathways alike, regardless of the human toll. The TPS program for Salvadorans has been renewed by both Republican and Democratic administrations since it was first designated in 2001. Scholars have extensively documented that country conditions in El Salvador continue to warrant the extension of TPS.

UUSC’s work in Central America confirms this finding. In 2016, UUSC conducted extensive research among Salvadoran asylum seekers, alongside our partners at the Independent Monitoring Group of El Salvador. The stories they told further substantiate the widely reported facts that organized criminal networks operate with impunity in El Salvador, that state authorities are unable or unwilling to provide protection, and that gangs deliberately prey upon people with known U.S. ties, including recent deportees, meaning that deportation would be tantamount to a death sentence for many.

Meredith Larson, UUSC’s Director of Advocacy, stated, “UUSC continues to work in solidarity with immigrant communities in the United States in the fight for permanent status for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients and TPS holders, as well as with our partners in El Salvador, Foundation Cristosal, who are working to build new and lasting solutions to protect victims of organized violence. Working together across our shared continent, we can and will hold the line against attempts to endanger and tear apart our communities.”

An Interview With Rachel Freed, Vice President And Chief Program Officer

Carly Cronon spoke with Rachel Freed about her past work in human rights, what drew her to UUSC, and her most memorable moments with the organization thus far.

When and why did you first become involved in human rights work?

I grew up in a multicultural family and spent a lot of time visiting relatives in Southeast Asia, where I witnessed persistent inequalities and the dehumanization that went with it. It made me eager to develop my own understanding of how different political, social, economic and cultural forces shaped how and why people had certain rights over others.

Years later, a pivotal moment occurred during my junior semester abroad in India. I visited a rural fishing community that had been subject to fly ash pollution from a neighboring Exxon plant. Villagers in the community were mostly illiterate and had been told by the company that the fly ash was not harmful. In response to their concerns, the company-sponsored health clinics told villagers they were fine. This continued until a local nongovernmental organization working with a community member tested the water and found strains of harmful chemicals in the fish and streams.

Through outreach and education, the villagers organized the entire community, mobilized, and successfully demanded accountability. This experience helped me to understand the power of local communities and NGOs to catalyze vibrant and democratic social change movements.

What drew you to UUSC’s human rights work in particular?

My journey to UUSC was inspired by working with a UU congregation and community in a great struggle against injustice. When I graduated from law school, I worked for a civil rights firm in New York City, where the lead attorney humored my request to do pro bono work by connecting me to his UU congregation in Ridgewood, NJ. It was there that I met four passionate women who chose to spend their free time visiting detained asylum-seekers in detention centers. I offered to take one case, but then I started to get calls from the detention center on a daily basis.

There was one rather stark case I can remember – that of a Liberian refugee who escaped rebel forces during the reign of Charles Taylor, the former President and now convicted war criminal. After witnessing her siblings’ deaths, she fled the country and came to the United States. She lived here for almost seven years – just shy of the residency requirement to become a U.S. citizen – when a minor shoplifting incident landed her in detention, facing deportation. She had no representation, she suffered from severe post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and her kids had been taken into child protective services. My UU friends began to visit her each week to connect with her children’s government rep, and to help piece together the documents in her case. Next began our three-year journey together. It was quite a trek from Brooklyn to the middle of New Jersey, but my UU friends never failed to ferry me from the commuter rail, or deliver documents and do a visitation when needed. Eventually, we found the psychologist who had treated this woman in detention; he testified about her PTSD, and we were able to win the case. She was released and reunited with her children after nearly four years of living in the detention center.

I share this story because it is about a few caring individuals and what they accomplished by offering their time and generosity and by organizing their community for a specific cause. This is what drew me, and continues to draw me, to UUSC – it is our collective approach and struggle for justice in this world—as inspired by our founders and continued onwards through the years.

What do you like most about your job?

At UUSC, we are lucky to work with some of the most remarkable human rights activists around the world – people who wake each day not quite sure of what their efforts may bring for their communities, but who continue on anyway because of their deep belief in love, equality, and humanity. We are able to draw tremendous strength and courage from our partners. I also feel incredibly fortunate to work with such talented, passionate, and committed colleagues – I learn so much from all of our staff on a daily basis.

What is one of your most cherished UUSC memories or success stories?

One of my most cherished moments occurred during my trip to Nepal a few months after the 2015 earthquake, while meeting with one of our partners focused on trauma resiliency. They were helping to train a cadre of local teachers working with rural Dalit youth who had received very little support since the earthquake. We were in a small classroom when one of the children began to break down – she had lost her mother during the earthquake and was struggling to take care of her little brother. One of the trainers immediately calmed her down, and they sat for a while, talking and focusing on her breathing and the present moment. She managed to calm down, stop crying, and soon was smiling and sharing with us her dreams for her brother and telling us about her hopes for herself. It was really moving. I felt proud to know that UUSC was able to help bring trauma resiliency skills to teachers serving Dalit children in a remote area that had been overlooked by larger recovery efforts.

What do you and your team look for in finding new UUSC partners?

UUSC’s approach is unique to most Western human rights organizations because we center the voices of communities and their values in our pursuit to advance human rights and transform unjust power structures. Our model focuses not on a community’s helplessness or lack of knowledge, but rather their assets and their solutions. Therefore, we generally look to partner with smaller, lesser-known organizations doing innovative work to transform and empower marginalized populations, often in the face of extreme and adverse circumstances. The process of selecting new partners involves working with those organizations to identify how UUSC’s financial and other resources can be best leveraged to further human rights on the ground. It also includes mapping stakeholders, identifying points of power, and thinking through how UUSC’s voice and prominence as a U.S.-based human rights organization can be used to instigate systemic change.

What is an upcoming UUSC initiative that you are particularly excited about?

I’m in the middle of packing my bags for a trip to Zagreb, Croatia to participate in a convening that brings together our partners in the Balkans who are helping to serve Syrian refugees. At this convening, our partners from Hungary, Serbia, Slovenia, Macedonia, and Croatia will be coming together to exchange information, build relationships, coordinate responses and collectively strategize on how to navigate the increasingly challenging political environments in which they operate. Our Balkans partners work in counties that have become increasingly hostile towards refugees, and their organizations are facing new government restrictions on their work. I’m excited to talk with them about their experiences and strategize ways UUSC can support their collective efforts during this critical time.

Global Compact for Migration Offers a Strong Signal for the Protection of Human Rights

             

L: Representatives from the Mission of Tuvalu to the UN and Palau’s Ministry of Immigration with Salote Soqo, UUSC’s Senior Program Leader R: Civil society groups meeting outside the conference venue

Delegations came together in strength and in unity to improve global governance on migration.

The stocktaking meeting for the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration which took place in Puerto Vallarta December 4-6, 2017 was “extraordinarily” positive. Extraordinary in the sense that during a time of rising nationalism and xenophobia around the world, there was great convergence amongst delegates to center the global compact on the protection of the rights of all migrants, and that the withdrawal of the United States from the compact did not seem to deter the spirit of the deliberations. What was seen instead was delegations coming together in strength and in unity to improve global governance on migration.

In addition to the unifying call for a human rights-centered compact that respects and empowers all migrants, other messages were loud and clear: the compact should be gender sensitive, respect migrant workers, protect children, counter xenophobia and the criminalization of migrants, encourage data-driven policies, ensure ethical business practices for migrants regardless of their status, uphold existing conventions and treaties, respect national sovereignty and above all else, increase the benchmark for addressing migration.

These are all overlying principles that we must support when it comes to governing all forms of migration, including climate-forced displacement. UUSC hopes that states will adopt these principles in earnest as they develop domestic and regional policies and we encourage states to combine compassion with urgency and diligence as they embark on this historic momentum.

The high number of non-state actors that turned up at the meeting and their engagement since the inception of the global compact has also been encouraging. From faith leaders to labor unions, and other civil society groups, like UUSC – our engagement with state delegations has made this process inclusive. Perhaps it was the scenery that made this meeting so pleasant or probably the fact that we were only a few weeks away from the holidays, but this is the standard that we hope the negotiations will adopt moving forward into 2018 and beyond.

Celebrating International Migrants Day with a Call to our Philanthropic Allies

In 2000, the United Nations General Assembly designated December 18 as International Migrants Day. This day recognizes that international migration is a growing phenomenon in our world and calls us to reaffirm and uphold the human rights of migrants and refugees.

In early December, UUSC Senior Program Leader for Environmental Justice and Climate Action, Salote Soqo, participated in a stock-taking meeting for the Global Compact for Migration – an international mechanism for advancing a more unified approach to the needs of migrants. “The meeting was extraordinary,” Soqo says, “in the sense that in a time of rising nationalism and xenophobia, there was great convergence amongst delegates around centering the global compact on the protection of the rights of all migrants.” The meeting sent a strong signal that the Global Compact — and the international community’s collective actions on migration — must be centered on human rights.

David Boseto, of UUSC Partner Ecological Solutions, and boat driver Muku in Wagina, Solomon Islands

This International Migrants Day, celebrate with UUSC as we issue a new resource, Community-Led, Human-Rights Based Solutions to Climate-Forced Displacement: A Guide for Funders. UUSC is calling more funders to engage directly on the issue of climate-forced displacement and to incorporate human rights-based approaches to amplify the voices, advocacy, and solutions of frontline communities.

Climate change is advancing rapidly and placing people’s human rights at risk. According to Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre and Norwegian Refugee Council’s Global Report on Internal Displacement: GRID 2017, in 2016, 24.2 million people were newly internally displaced by natural disasters. It is likely that 200 million people will be displaced by climate change by 2050.

“Climate impacts exacerbate existing inequities in society.”

Climate-forced displacement is having severe impacts on human rights. Climate impacts exacerbate existing inequities in society. A majority of disaster-related displacements occur in low- and lower-middle income countries and disproportionately affect small island developing states, according to the Global Report on Internal Displacement. The spectrum we have developed outlines human rights at risk and key concerns for frontline communities, from the tipping point at which communities decide they must consider radical adaptation measures, through migration or resettlement.

→    The right to self-determination must be at the core of relocation planning.

“Frontline communities have the most appropriate solutions to these challenges.”

While frontline communities have the most appropriate solutions to these challenges, these communities receive the smallest share of funding and are sidelined by state and international decision makers. Trends in financing favor climate change mitigation over other approaches. No reliable mechanisms exist for community organizations to access international funds directly. Indigenous communities face additional hurdles accessing funds from national governments — and it is even more difficult for unrecognized tribes.

Our guide offers concrete steps funders can take to advance community-led, human rights-based solutions to climate-forced displacement by:

  • Assessing how climate-forced displacement relates to a current strategy or portfolio
  • Effectively partnering with grassroots communities working on issues along the climate-forced displacement spectrum
  • Advancing a human rights-based approach to climate-forced displacement
  • Acting as a bridge and network builder to amplify the voice and impact of grassroots communities

Love Resists Deportation on the Capitol Steps

On Wednesday, December 6, I joined more than 180 people who were arrested on the steps of the U.S. Capitol, in what organizers reported to be the single largest immigrant-led act of civil disobedience of the Trump era. United We Dream, CASA in Action, and the Center for Community Change organized us to came to Washington to demand a clean Dream Act and permanent protections for Temporary Protected Status (TPS) holders, sacrificing a bit of our freedom to halt a xenophobic agenda that threatens the freedom of millions. Together, we told Congress that the pending loss of status for 59,000 Haitian TPS holders and 700,000 Dreamers is an emergency and that the time to act is now, before the December 22 spending bill deadline.

“We will not forget the original dreamers: our parents, our grandparents,” said Denea Joseph, a leader with UndocuBlack. “We will not be complicit.”

On behalf of UUSC and Love Resists, I was honored to join this action, which included Dreamers, labor leaders, immigrant activists, educators, and faith leaders of all traditions. Luis Gutiérrez (D-IL) and Judy Chu (D-CA), two current members of Congress and long-standing advocates for immigrant rights were arrested alongside us. Cheering us on were thousands of Dreamers and supporters, chanting encouraging words to remind us: We believe that we will win!

Activists gather on the steps of the Capitol in protest of congressional inaction on TPS and the Dream Act.

An honor to be arrested with you

On December 5, the day before the action, UUSC’s partners the UndocuBlack Network and the National Korean American Service & Education Consortium (NAKASEC), an ally organization, held a joint press conference in front of the Capitol as part of their Black-AAPI (Asian American Pacific Islander) Immigrant Day of Action. The inspiring conference featured four members of Congress and directly impacted activists. All spoke to the urgent need to pass a clean Dream Act and a TPS solution – and, in particular, to ensure that neither comes at the expense of other immigrants. “We will not forget the original dreamers: our parents, our grandparents,” said Denea Joseph, a leader with UndocuBlack. “We will not be complicit.”

Their example and that of many others helped me to find my courage the next day. As a first-time participant in civil disobedience, I felt no small amount of trepidation, but I was  inspired by the Dreamers who I know have risked far more in other acts of peaceful protest and found enormous strength in the people around me. I was in the company of veteran leaders from across the immigrant rights movement. In the pen next to mine was Gustavo Torres, the executive director of CASA de Maryland, the largest immigrant rights group in the state and an important figure for years in the campaign for immigration reform. Becky Belcore from NAKASEC, one of the lead organizers of the 22-day Dream Action Vigil that Love Resists joined in September, was there as well. Shaking hands across the metal traffic barrier, I told Becky it was an honor to be arrested with her.

“We see you, we love you”

A particularly unforgettable moment from Wednesday’s action came as we – the more than 180 of us arrested – were being led away by the police. An organizer from United We Dream leaned out of the crowd and called to us. “Thank you for sacrificing yourself for our rights. We see you, we love you, we see you, we love you.

These words moved me more than I can say, especially in that moment. At the same time, I realized that I was not really worthy of them—my detainment was only for about two hours. And while I had to return to a police station the next day to submit my fingerprints and a pay cash fine, I was safe and on a train back home to Boston the same day.

Between the minimal freedom that I parted with, and the freedom that is taken from the thousands of people held in immigration detention, or who are deported from their loved ones, there is no real comparison. To contemplate the risks that so many others have taken to travel across borders, to live and work without papers, to seek asylum from persecution, is to understand that my own ‘sacrifice’ weighs very lightly in the balance.

Activists await arrest.

We cannot continue to deny Dreamers and TPS holders this opportunity. It is their futures, in some case their existence itself, that are on the line. Staring up at the Capitol Dome from the steps where we sat, a line from Yeats came back to me: Tread softly, because you tread on my dreams.

As the next few weeks unfold, members of Congress may be tempted to waiver in their support for our immigrant communities. They may ask whether the Dream Act cannot wait until another time, or whether it really needs to be “clean” (i.e., with no anti-immigrant riders). This is because they are seeing through the eyes of privilege, with the myopia of power. As politicians who make many legislative decisions, they can afford to accept “compromises” and delays. But this process has a cost and we must recommit ourselves to supporting communities and individuals who would be directly and irreparably harmed by this inaction.

In the coming days, I invite others to join me in reflecting on this injustice, and to ask if we cannot perhaps give a little bit more for a clean Dream Act than we already have. When every hour is threatened for some of us, we all can devote a few minutes to writing to our local paper. When some of us are being silenced, we must all raise our voices to our legislators to defend our shared community. Let us dare to give more for freedom, and ensure that all of us have the chance to celebrate that right and live without fear.