Trump Administration Celebrates Mother’s Day with Renewed Call to Separate Families

UUSC decries the new front opened in the Trump administration’s continued assault on immigrant families, as senior officials threatened the use of criminal proceedings and family separation at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Coming less than a week before Mother’s Day, the administration’s move is distinctly heartless. These policies will re-traumatize families who have made harrowing journeys across borders in the hope of finding safety – in many cases fleeing violence and instability in their home countries to which U.S. foreign policy has contributed.

In two speeches yesterday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions laid out the White House’s plan to prosecute migrants and asylum-seekers who cross the border without prior authorization. His remarks acknowledged the effect of this policy is to separate children from parents. A further result will be to criminally charge and imprison asylum-seekers – regardless of any lawful claims to international protection.

Sessions’ announcement formalizes practices that have already become routine at parts of the U.S.-Mexico border. A recent report by Human Rights First found that between April 2017 and January 2018, the Trump administration used criminal prosecutions regularly against asylum-seekers, in many instances resulting in family separation. The New York Times likewise found 700 cases of children being separated from adults at the border since October 2017.

These cruel practices have recently come under legal scrutiny. On March 9, 2018 the American Civil Liberties Union filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of immigrants and asylum-seekers who had been separated from their children or parents by U.S. authorities. UUSC’s longtime partner, the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES), who represent immigrants in family detention, submitted evidence to support the case.

Additionally, the administration’s plan also directly contravenes human rights under international and U.S. standards. The 1967 Protocol to the UN Refugee Convention – of which the United States is a party – forbids prosecuting asylum-seekers for unauthorized border crossing, out of a recognition that people fleeing danger often do not have a choice about when and how they enter national boundaries. The U.S. Refugee Act of 1980 likewise extended the right to petition for asylum to anyone in the United States, regardless of how they entered.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which guides UUSC’s work, enshrines the right to family unity as a bedrock principle of the global community. Article 16 reads in part: “The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.”

By willfully violating these human rights, the Trump administration continues its disgraceful record of denying lawful protection and humane treatment to people at risk. The negative consequences of these actions will be far-reaching.

As we celebrate Mother’s Day this Sunday, however, we are reminded that love is a powerful force too. We witness this in the strength of immigrant families, the resilience of people who risk their lives for their loved ones, and the courage of those who defy injustice. UUSC will continue to celebrate those ideals and work with our partners to defend and expand the rights of asylum-seekers and protect families fleeing danger.

Honduras TPS Cancellation Endangers Thousands of U.S. Residents

May 8, 2018: This post has been updated to reflect the total number of Honduran TPS holders as reported by the Congressional Research Service in January 2018.

The Trump administration announced plans today to terminate the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) designation for Honduras, exposing over 86,000 Honduran nationals living in the United States to possible deportation from a country that has been their home for almost two decades. This decision reveals the depths to which this administration will stoop in its effort to strip immigrants of lawful status – and underlines once again the importance of enacting a permanent legislative solution for TPS holders.

Honduras was first designated for TPS in 1999, due to the destruction caused by Hurricane Mitch. Since that time, Honduran TPS holders have started homes, businesses, and families in the United States, contributing to our shared communities over nearly twenty years. As many as 53,500 U.S. citizens are the children of Honduran TPS holders.

This latest TPS cancellation comes in the midst of a political crisis in Honduras that has left at least 16 people dead and directly threatened the safety of UUSC’s partners, as well as other human rights defenders. The recent violence has swelled the numbers of refugees fleeing the region, many of whom joined the caravan of asylum seekers whom the administration stranded at the San Ysidro border crossing between Mexico and the United States earlier this week.

With political conditions and public safety deteriorating rapidly in Honduras, the administration’s move to deport even more people to the country at this time shows a particular disdain for fundamental human rights.

As with the administration’s prior TPS terminations, this decision was heavily politicized. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen disregarded the substantial evidence of conditions in Honduras that warrant the extension of TPS. DHS has disregarded similar evidence of ongoing violence and instability in its moves to end TPS for other nations, including its own internal staff assessment of country conditions in Haiti.

Other evidence confirms that this decision had little to do with the original purpose of the TPS program – a non-partisan humanitarian initiative that has been renewed by both Republican and Democratic administrations. According to The Washington Post, White House officials intervened in the DHS decision when Honduras first came up for TPS renewal, reportedly trying to pressure Nielsen’s predecessor, acting secretary Elaine Duke, to end the TPS designation in November.

Congress should act now to pass the SECURE Act (S. 2144) and the related Liberian Refugee Immigration Fairness Act (S. 2275) in the Senate and the American Promise Act (H.R. 4253) in the House, in order to provide a pathway to permanent residency for long-term TPS holders, as well as former recipients of Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) – a similar protected status. These legislative solutions are increasingly the only plausible check on the administration’s reckless indifference to the human suffering its policies will cause.

Uncertainty in Honduras

Three months have passed since my colleague, Rev. Kathleen McTigue, answered this call from Padre Melo, joining an emergency delegation in a show of solidarity for Hondurans whose peaceful attempts at assembly following the November 2017 elections have been met with violence.

As an advocate for the dignity of all people and a supporter of UUSC’s human rights work in Central America, we wanted to share with you the conditions in Honduras. In short, the crisis triggered by the recent elections continues, and the circumstances around this humanitarian issue are important to understanding the United States’ responsibility.

Honduran security forces, many of which receive U.S. aid, are directly implicated in recent human rights violations stemming from the election. Events prior to the election led many Hondurans to question the integrity of the political process, including the Honduran Supreme Court’s abolition of constitutional term limits in 2015, enabling current president Juan Orlando Hernández to run for reelection.

An international emergency delegation marches in solidarity with Honduran citizens, February 2018.

When the election results were confirmed in December, protests continued around the country. The Honduran government has responded with a far-reaching crackdown on the rights to assembly and expression, declaring a state of emergency and imposing a public curfew. At least 1,351 people have been arrested as a result.

Since the election, Honduran security forces have committed severe human rights violations, including beatings, imprisonment, and the unjustified use of deadly force against protestors. Kathleen recounted her first-hand witnessing of such activities. According to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), at least 16 people have been killed by security forces, including two women and two children. Sixty people have been injured. OHCHR has documented Honduran military and police units shooting people fleeing and discharging live ammunition on bystanders.

This ongoing crisis is occurring amid existing political instability and human rights abuses in Honduras – problems in which the United States has long played a role. The United States has continued to provide significant military and security funding to the government of Honduras, despite its failure to end persistent human rights abuses, which included the assassination and intimidation of activists, journalists — including UUSC partner, Radio Progreso — indigenous and Afro-Honduran leaders, and human rights defenders.

These abuses have swelled a refugee crisis that has forced thousands of Hondurans to leave their homes, many of whom joined the migrant caravan that was stranded at the U.S.-Mexico border this week. This Sunday, May 6, the U.S. government is scheduled to reach a decision on extending the Temporary Protected Status program for Hondurans, which currently shields nearly 60,000 Honduran U.S. residents from deportation. If the Trump administration ends this program, even more people may be exposed to violence and danger in Honduras.

In the coming weeks, representatives from Radio Progreso will be speaking in Boston and across the United States to draw attention to this grave situation. Also, UUSC will join a Day of Prayer for Honduras in Washington, D.C., on May 18. Afterward, our staff will accompany Radio Progreso’s team as they return to Honduras to help ensure their safety. We’ll be sharing details about these events on Facebook and Twitter and hope you can participate in an event near you.

Thank you for joining us in solidarity with the people of Honduras.

UUSC Heads to the Capitol to Support Central American Immigrants

The fabric of immigration in the United States is frayed and in jeopardy of unraveling. Last month, we saw the latest in a string of appalling steps to trample the right to asylum as Attorney General Jeff Sessions, in charge of the nation’s immigration courts, announced he is reviewing whether or not sexual or domestic violence should qualify as persecution, and thus support a claim for asylum in the United States.

This action is yet another example of why Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC) and a group of our members recently went to the U.S. Capitol to meet with Members of Congress to pressure them to reject the Trump administration’s efforts.

Lobby Day participants post in anticipation of meeting with Senator Kamala Harris’ staff. Senator Harris represents California.

Violence and human rights abuses have forced thousands of Central Americans to flee their homes in recent years– with a marked increase in forced migration since 2014. The Trump administration’s policies leave Central Americans at risk of human rights abuses in their own countries, and when they arrive at the U.S. border in search of safety and security.

The Trump administration has been dismantling the nation’s immigration policy, protections, and practices for more than a year. Limiting the right to request asylum in this country is only one part of a xenophobic campaign to criminalize immigrants and impede immigration overall, as shown by recent actions that have drastic and negative consequence for asylees, refugees, Temporary Protection Status (TPS) holders, and Dreamers, among other communities.

Recent evidence of Trump’s crackdown on immigration

Reports by independent NGOs working on the border show a major spike under this administration in criminal prosecutions of asylum-seekers—merely for crossing the border. Punishing people for seeking refuge is a violation of human rights and is often compounded by unnecessary family separation, prolonged detention, and wrongful deportation. Asylum-seekers, particularly Central Americans who cross at the U.S.-Mexico border, are in the vice grip of harm any way they turn.

Making our voice heard to our elected officials

UUSC and our supporters have a long history of joining immigrant rights coalitions and activists to protest family detention, support the rights of asylum-seekers, and most recently, decry the end of the protections for Dreamers and TPS holders.

 Recently, UUSC members and staff met with Members of Congress and their staff and stressed Congress’s power to enact legislation that can make a difference and the positive impact that constituent visits can have on the political process.

The conversations focused on two asks:  Funding in the FY2019 appropriations bill and protecting TPS holders from deportation via the SECURE Act (S. 2144) in the Senate and the American Promise Act in the House (H.R. 4253).

Lobby Day participants meet with Congressman Bill Keating, who represents Massachusetts’ 10th Congressional District

Congress has tremendous power to do good through appropriations. The UUSC delegations asked Members for assurance that they would use their authority to support immigration, denying funds for uses that are dangerous and counter to human rights, such as additional border enforcement, while ensuring that refugee-related accounts are fulling funded.

UUSC supporters also discussed the strong racial implications underlying administration positions on other programs that overlap the asylum policies, including Trump’s steps to end TPS for immigrants whose countries still are by definition not in conditions acceptable for their return, such as Haitians who came here following the 2010 earthquake.

By canceling TPS for Haitians, Salvadorans, and other foreign nationals who were provided refuge amidst turmoil and natural disasters in their home countries, the Trump administration risks of increasing instability, which is likely to drive migration further. Current legislation in the House and Senate aims to mitigate these effects: The American Promise Act provides TPS holders with a path to permanent status, while the SECURE Act offers qualified TPS holders with permanent legal residency as well as protects longtime holders of Liberian Deferred Enforced Departures (DED) from deportation.

Next steps

The United States has legal and moral obligations to provide safe haven to those fleeing persecution, violence, and war. The Trump administration’s immigration policies are an affront to basic humanitarian principles, and UUSC is committed to protecting and expanding immigrant rights.

In the coming weeks, UUSC will work to further engage individuals around these issues, including launching an action that allows people to sign and send a message to Congress echoing the asks of the Lobby Day. We hope that you will join us and ensure that U.S. government does not forget our historical values and continues to honor its obligations to people fleeing danger.

An Interview with Adanjesús Marín, Director of Make the Road PA

During a recent site visit to our partner Make the Road PA (MRPA), in Reading, Penn., UUSC sat down with MRPA’s Director, Adanjesús Marín, to talk about their work to organize and defend immigrant communities in Pennsylvania.

UUSC: How has Make the Road PA’s work and/or strategies shifted in the past year?

Adanjesús: With ever increasing attacks at the federal level, Make the Road PA has had to shift from centering aspirational, offensive campaigns to largely focus on defense, especially around immigration reform and DREAMers. We built a network of neighborhood-based committees focused on defensive work.

We also see a strong need to take coalition work to a much higher level and last year founded the #PaResist coalition and currently lead the #PaResist steering committee. Last year, the coalition led over 150 direct actions across state of Pennsylvania.

Educating members on their rights has never been more important so we’ve been dedicating lots of energy to Know Your Rights workshops, materials, and community outreach. We have also made it our mission to center intersectional organizing and solidarity building across movements.

UUSC: What does immigrant rights defense look like in this moment?

Adanjesús: In a word, multi-tiered. We have to organize and fight on the local level against things like 287g deputizing local police to be ICE agents, we have to stave off statewide legislative attacks seeking to further criminalize immigrants and that create a more hostile environment, and at the federal level [we have] dedicated a lot of resources and mobilization capacity around the fight to protect DREAMers. In our communities, we educate members on how to avoid ICE interaction and how to achieve the best possible outcome when ICE interaction is inevitable.

Adanjesús Marín attending a MRPA rally.

 UUSC: Can you talk a bit about a particularly impactful story or experience that a community member has shared with you recently?

Adanjesús: One of our Comité de Defense leaders’ husband had an interaction with local police who racially profiled him while driving in a city known to work with ICE. He was able to successfully implement the tactics he learned and role played in his wife’s Comité de Defense, not only confidently refusing to answer questions but handing the officer the Make the Road PA that explains that the card carrier refuses to answer questions without an attorney present. He was also able to ask if he was under arrest or free to go and the incident ended with him walking away freely. He has since used his experience to inform others in the community of the value of knowing his rights and best tactics.

UUSC: How are you sustaining grassroots momentum in this moment?

Adanjesús: Our organization has always been centered on our members. We have a structure of committees that are run by our member leaders and organizers. They are Comité de Defensa/Defense Committee, Comité de Mujeres/Women’s Committee, Comité de Lucha, Amor y Rabia/LGBTQ+ Committee, Comité de Padres/Parent’s Committee, and Juventud en Camino/Youth Committee. These committees meet every week and give members the opportunity to learn about current events and plan actions to build power in their communities.

For our members who are also leaders, we developed a training program to bring them all together and teach critical analysis, as well as strategy and tactics. Our next semester will be taught by the leaders that were students earlier this year.

We also have ongoing street outreach, sending our organizers into the community to speak to people about our organization and how they can get more involved.

UUSC: What are some ways that UUs can support the work and organizing efforts of MRPA or other similar groups?

Adanjesús: UUs can best support us by standing with us in direct actions, insisting on our inclusion on discussions that affect our community, providing financial support, and abiding by the Jemez Principles [for Democratic Organizing].

Nepal TPS Cancellation Underlines Need For Congressional Action

Nepal TPS Cancellation Underlines Need For Congressional Action

The Department of Homeland Security moved today to cancel Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Nepal, exposing nearly 9,000 Nepali residents of the United States to possible deportation. This decision comes just after the three-year anniversary of a devastating 7.8 magnitude earthquake that took the lives of nearly 9,000 people and damaged 14% of the housing stock in the entire country, prompting the government’s initial TPS designation in June 2015.

UUSC condemns the administration’s callous revocation of legal status to a vulnerable population. We call on Congress to enact a permanent legislative solution for TPS holders, in the form of the American Promise Act of 2017 (H.R. 4253) and the SECURE Act (S. 2144).

After three years of stalled recovery efforts, Nepal remains in a state of humanitarian crisis brought on by the 2015 earthquake. Two years after the disaster, only 3.5 percent of damaged homes in the country had been rebuilt. A recent UUSC staff visit to Nepal confirmed that, for our grassroots partners, the effects of the earthquake are still a daily reality.

When recovery efforts have been made, they have far too often prioritized the development goals of international donors over the needs of impacted communities. As a result, these efforts have in many cases magnified existing inequalities. UUSC’s partners at the Lawyers’ Association for the Human Rights of Nepalese Indigenous Peoples (LAHURNIP) note that recent development projects in Nepal are actually fueling the displacement of indigenous peoples, rather than helping them rebuild.

Further, this ongoing crisis was exacerbated last summer by catastrophic flooding over a third of the country, which displaced more than 460,000 more people and destroyed tens of thousands of homes.

These conditions more than justify the renewal of TPS, which is intended to ensure that foreign nationals in the United States are not sent back to countries that cannot safely receive and reintegrate them.

Today’s cancellation is the latest in a series of decisions to end protected status for nationals of vulnerable nations, including Sudan, Nicaragua, Haiti, El Salvador, and Liberia – some of whose nationals had Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) status in the United States, a program similar to TPS.

Evidence continues to mount that these cancellations are biased, unfounded, and in some cases motivated by racism. Documents obtained last week by the National Immigration Project revealed that in cancelling TPS for Haiti in November 2017, DHS likely ignored its own internal staff assessment of conditions in the country. Coupled with the President’s vulgar and derogatory remarks about people from TPS-designated countries in January, it is plain the administration is betraying the letter and spirit of the TPS statute in order to serve an anti-immigrant agenda.

UUSC expresses its solidarity with the Nepali community in the United States and the people of Nepal, in the face of this new threat to their human rights. The U.S. government should remember the words of Nepali poet Bhupi Sherchan: this land is mine as well as yours…