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].

Partner Spotlight: Ursula Rakova

Keeping Carteret Island culture alive during climate-forced relocation

“We feel that climate change violates our rights to continue to live on the island that we were born on and that we are connected to.” – Ursula Rakova

The Carteret Islands of Papua New Guinea are among the frst communities on earth having to relocate because of climate change. Back in 2006, Carteret Island Elders began noticing sharp increases in sea surges, tides, and coastal erosion. Sea levels were rising, food sources were dwindling, and there was no formal relocation process or support system in place.

Tired of waiting for the government of Papua New Guinea to turn their talk about relocation into action, the Elders decided to create a support system of their own. They asked Ursula Rakova, the daughter of the matrilineal clan community and an environmental activist, to lead their community’s migration to higher ground.

Born on the tiny island of Han in the Carterets, Ursula is well acquainted with her community’s deep connections to their land. She explains,

“The islanders are connected to the islands. They were born there, they grew up on the island, and having to move means detaching themselves from the islands that they’re connected to. The islands are basically their identity. It’s their way of life.”

This deep connection is why Ursula puts migration with dignity, and keeping Carteret Island culture alive, at the forefront of her climate-forced displacement programs.

Responding to the Elders’ call to lead, Ursula founded the non-governmental organization Tulele Peisa, one of UUSC’s seven climate-forced displacement partners in the South Pacific. Tulele Peisa, which means “Sailing in the wind on our own” in the local Halia language, supports Carteret Islanders through all stages of relocation, from the first stages of the move to finding a new home and new employment in Bougainville, the resettlement destination in the Solomon Islands.

One way Tulele Peisa works to keep Carteret Island culture alive is local advocacy, for which UUSC is providing funding. This emerging project supports youth and community members, as they advocate for their rights and forge connections and relationships in Bougainville in advance of moving, which makes the move smoother and more comfortable. With UUSC’s support, Tulele Peisa is organizing youth and Elder speaking tours, and engaging Papua New Guineans and Bougainvilleans in lobbying to protect the rights of climate-displaced peoples and ensure that Carteret Islanders’ culture can thrive wherever they are.

Together with Ursula’s leadership and Tulele Peisa, UUSC is supporting migration with dignity for the Carteret Islanders facing severe climate change impacts they did nothing to create. Ursula’s migration strategy recognizes the importance not just of supporting Carteret Islanders as they leave their homes behind — but also of creating a new home that fits, as best it can, with their identity and way of life.

UUSC’s Environmental Justice and Climate Action Program focuses on assisting indigenous populations of the South Pacific and Alaska, regions that rely on coastal habitats and are facing severe climate change impacts with limited resources.

Workers Organizing for Welcoming Communities

Across the country, in cities large and small, people are organizing to build communities that are inclusive, embrace new members, and celebrate the diverse contributions and experiences of all their residents. Through our grantmaking and advocacy, UUSC has tapped into this energy to amplify these efforts.

A few weeks ago, I was fortunate to visit with two of our partners Greater Minnesota Worker Center (GMWC) and Rural Community Workers Alliance (RCWA). Both organizations are partners under Love Resists, UUSC’s joint campaign with the UUA, and deeply engaged in organizing workers to resist the criminalization of our neighbors based upon their identities and create safer, more just, and welcoming communities.

Building Welcoming Communities is Contagious

UUSC began partnering with GMWC in St. Cloud, Minn., last year, supporting the center’s “Resist and Persist” campaign. This effort seeks to advance human rights and social justice by “welcoming refugees and protecting undocumented immigrants and other vulnerable populations from deportations.”

I had to the opportunity to visit with incredible community organizers at GMWC in their St. Cloud office, including Ahmed, Mohamed, Sado, and Yasmin (starting left).

Thanks in part to GMWC’s outreach, the community of St. Cloud is becoming a friendlier place for immigrant and refugee communities. GMWC focuses primarily on organizing low-wage Latinx and Somali workers; however, their work extends beyond worker rights, enriching the lives of all St. Cloud residents by fostering a welcoming culture.

A great example of GMWC’s impact was their efforts to defeat a city council effort to reduce refugee admissions in the city. With the resolution defeated, GMWC’s next step was to advocate for the city council’s passage of a “Welcoming City” resolution, which inspired the nearby city of Willmar to do the same.

RCWA staff members and local workers meet to discuss their work to create a welcoming community.

RCWA Centers Welcoming Efforts on Immigrant and Worker Rights

From my first moment in Milan, Mo., there was an inescapable sense of community. Located in northeastern Missouri, the town is over two hours away from Kansas City, the nearest major city. The community has a tradition of self-sufficiency rooted in neighbors supporting neighbors. It is in this spirit that RCWA began organizing the town’s Latinx workers to address workplace issues, ranging from discrimination to low pay in 2013.

Following the November 2016 election, many of RCWA’s members were concerned by damaging and dangerous rhetoric around immigration and worker rights. Determined to address the issue head on, the group expanded their efforts around making sure Milan is a welcoming community for all residents.

UUSC has supported RCWA’s continued advocacy for workers’ rights, as well as their organizing efforts to help community members overcome fear of immigration enforcement actions, which they are advancing in partnership with local allies.

Continuing our Support for Welcoming Communities

After witnessing our partners’ incredible impact on building welcoming communities, I was reminded of how this work truly is a process. As they reminded me, their successes have not occurred overnight. With that in mind, it remains as critical as ever to continue directing energy toward sustaining the nationwide momentum around building more welcoming communities. As UUSC works to advance human rights and social justice in 2018, our continued partnerships with grassroots groups leading this work across the country will be critical to our success.

As I joined our partners in meetings with their community members, the importance of this relationship was always at the forefront of their conversations. As one of the workers in Missouri said, “Thank God that there are good people … who are interested in opening our eyes to stand up for our rights and stand up with us against those who exploit us … we are really grateful to partner with UUSC.”

Reflecting on my trip, and looking to the year ahead, I cannot wait to see what these organizations will accomplish through their ever-evolving and deepening roles as builders of welcoming communities ­­– and I’m energized by the opportunity to continue supporting them in their efforts. Join Love Resists in this movement to learn more and check out our Sanctuary and Solidarity Toolkit,, which provides easy steps for taking action in your community.

Everything that Counts: Learning from our Nepal partners

“I can’t explain it in words.” This was a Srijanshil Mahila (Creative Woman) member’s first response when Michael Kourabas, UUSC associate director for program and partner support, and I asked about her experience during the 2015 earthquakes in Nepal. Although two and a half years have passed, it was evident from conversations we had with partners and community members that the effects are still with them today.

Throughout our week-long visit, we were granted many opportunities to listen and learn not only about the earthquakes’ destruction and injustices exposed but also the ways in which individuals, families, and entire communities tapped into their resilience and power to support one another.

Srijanshil Mahila member describes the value of Tewa livelihood trainings at their meeting space in Dharmasthali village.

Recovery and Resilience: The women of Srijanshil Mahila

Srijanshil Mahila is based in the Dharmasthali village of Kathmandu and made up of women from several districts. Although these women were working to help themselves and their communities as soon as the earthquake hit, the group officially came together about a year ago with support from UUSC’s partner, Tewa.

Shelter, waste disposal, and water scarcity are a few of the immediate issues that arose in earthquakes’ aftermath. Aftershocks and rumors of theft made people uneasy about returning to their homes, so families pitched tents and tarps outside or, when this was not an option, stayed together under the open sky. In Dharmasthali, forty women worked together, traveling to a nearby development to retrieve water for others. In an effort to create more sanitary conditions, some of the women also helped dig holes to dispose of human waste. Several women worked together with Tewa to improve this situation.

Like UUSC, Tewa strives to follow the lead of the communities it supports. In this spirit, they listened to and delivered on women’s requests for trainings relating to livelihood skills and sustainable income sources, such as sewing and soap-making, as well as leadership development, and sexual and reproductive health advocacy.

Srijanshil Mahila members were adamant that other women from the community be invited to participate in trainings, and many were able to combine what they gained from skill-building and leadership trainings to start their own businesses. Several women now run a tailoring shop, and another member runs a beauty parlor.

Fabrics and tailored clothing at sewing/tailoring shop

 

32-year-old Gauri Basnet (left) and 29 year-old Kabita Khatri learned sewing through Tewa and now run this tailoring shop

When UUSC assesses impact, we’re curious to learn about any unanticipated benefits resulting from our partner’s work. For example, have community members taken on any unexpected leadership roles? Exploring the unexpected benefits is often how we come to understand the compounding effects of our partnership. It illustrates how our support can expand over time.

“This was so fruitful for me,” explained a preschool teacher about her participation in Tewa’s leadership training. “I used to make the rules myself for my classes, but now we are working together to do this. There is a relationship between me and the staff that was not there before. I’m learning from them.”

“Politics are typically set up where women are expected to take the supporting roles, like treasurer or secretary. Now, we can fight for lead roles.”

With newfound supportive relationships and a greater sense of personal agency, some women have felt empowered to seek leadership enhancement trainings from Tewa, positioning themselves to run for office. One Srijanshil Mahila member remarked, “Politics are typically set up where women are expected to take the supporting roles, like treasurer or secretary. Now, we can fight for lead roles.”

Men feel the positive effects of these changes as well. Although initially some men were critical of the time and energy women devoted to the Tewa trainings and each other, several have begun asking how they can also receive trainings.

Read parts two and three of the series on our trip to Nepal, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter for real-time updates on newly published blogs and news from UUSC.