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.
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.
“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
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!
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.
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.
Yesterday, we learned that the Supreme Court would allow Trump’s “travel ban” to take effect while litigation challenging the executive order proceeds. The order bans travel to the United States from eight countries—six which are predominately Muslim. This is bitter news, and we are deeply disappointed by the Court’s decision.
Make no mistake: the Trump administration’s travel ban remains as legally and morally indefensible now as before. The current restrictions, announced in October, simply extend and expand the original “Muslim ban,” which has already been ruled unconstitutional by several appellate courts. As the President continues to espouse white supremacist rhetoric, he consistently makes his discriminatory and illegal motivations clear. However, we at UUSC are not deterred by his actions and will continue to build relationships that support and strengthen the work of our grassroots partners and other allies who are at risk under this Administration.
In the coming days, the Ninth and Fourth Circuits will hear challenges brought by the American Civil Liberties Union and allied organizations. Courts across the country have routinely struck the bans down as unconstitutionally targeting Muslims, and we look forward to a ruling on the merits of this case that will undoubtedly show that no one, not even the President, has the power to discriminate. UUSC has signed on to amicus briefs in these cases, reaffirming our commitment to welcoming immigrants and refugees and supporting them as they build their lives in the United States.
Saturday night, the Trump administration suddenly announced that it is pulling out of talks to develop the Global Compact on Migration (GCM) – a grave abdication of U.S. leadership and its moral obligations to the international community. The decision was the latest in a string of blows to multilateral efforts to address global injustices, including forced migration and climate change, and continued the government’s pattern of showing contempt for the rights and well-being of refugees and migrants.
Critically, the news came just two days before a key U.N. preparatory meeting in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico – part of ongoing discussions to develop the GCM. UUSC’s Senior Program Leader for Environmental Justice and Climate Action, Salote Soqo, who is currently in Mexico to attend the meeting notes that “with this decision, the United States has lost another opportunity to lead, to guide, and to contribute its rich migration history and experience to this global discussion.”
The United States continues to actively contribute to the underlying global injustices fueling displacement, even as it turns its back on efforts to protect their victims. For example, despite its intention to bow out of the Paris Agreement it remains among the world’s worst carbon emitters. Additionally, the people of Honduras – including UUSC’s partners at Foro de Mujeres por la Vida – struggle to defend their democratic institutions against a post-coup government and militarized security forces, both of which have received substantial U.S. support. The corruption, impunity, and violence of U.S.-backed actors have been a driver of forced migration from Honduras and many other countries across the globe for years. The decision by the U.S. government to withdraw from the global discussion on migration is appalling in light of this involvement.
The GCM promises to be the first truly comprehensive international framework addressing all forms of migration (including but not limited to forced displacement) from a perspective grounded in the human rights and dignity of people traveling across borders. It touches on nearly every aspect of our work to advance human rights, including our efforts alongside our partners to end the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya, to uphold the dignity and self-determination of peoples threatened with climate-induced forced displacement, to support migrants escaping persecution in Syria, to protect families fleeing violence in Central America, and to resist the criminalization of immigrant communities in the United States. UUSC has championed the aspirations of the GCM since its inception in 2016 and will continue to do so, with or without the U.S. government at the table.
UUSC calls for the immediate reinstatement of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Haiti and a permanent legislative solution, in the wake of the Trump administration’s callous decision last night to withdraw TPS from 59,000 Haitians in the United States. This decision is morally indefensible and blatantly at odds with current realities in Haiti. Congress has the power to extend protections for TPS holders by passing the SECURE Act and should act without delay.
Haitian TPS holders have spent years in the United States, building lives and enriching our communities. They are also the parents of an estimated 27,000 U.S. citizens. Just days before the start of the holiday season, the administration has thrown these families’ unity, futures, and lives into jeopardy. The U.S. State Department issued a warning in September to U.S. citizens about the dangers of traveling to Haiti that remains in effect as of this writing. Yet the administration proposes to deport the parents of 27,000 U.S. citizens to these very dangers.
Haiti is in no position to receive people who have been living in the U.S. for years. The country continues to grapple with the compounding effects of recent hurricanes, a cholera epidemic introduced by U.N. peacekeeping forces, a recent outbreak of diphtheria, a devastating 2010 earthquake, and ongoing political instability and economic dislocation wrought by decades of U.S. intervention. A program of mass deportation and the end of remittances from TPS holders, which provide a critical economic lifeline for the country, would be a further catastrophe.
UUSC and our Haitian partners are directly aware of the gravity of the injustices facing Haiti and the ongoing need for TPS. As Associate Director for Program and Partner Support Michael Kourabas wrote upon his return from a recent visit to our partners the Mouvman Peyizan Papay (MPP), with whom UUSC has collaborated on an innovative model for sustainable recovery called the EcoVillage project, “The structural disadvantages facing Haiti, particularly when experienced first-hand, can feel paralyzing… Both the enormity of the struggle and the sliver of hope are on display in the EcoVillages.”
While the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) claimed yesterday that its decision was based solely on a review of conditions in Haiti, its actions reveal it as part of a larger agenda of criminalizing immigrant communities.
This xenophobic agenda can be resisted and defeated. Last week, Members of Congress introduced the SECURE Act, which would enable TPS holders to become green-card holders after three years. UUSC’s partners at the UndocuBlack Network, along with allies from the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), Mormon Women for Ethical Governance, CASA and other organizations, joined with Senators Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen to introduce the Bill. Congress can and should pass this legislation immediately and protect 55,000 Haitian immigrants who are beloved members of our communities.
Once again this week, the administration used the enormity of its power to harm some of the most vulnerable communities in the United States; yet, the strength and leadership of our partners gives us hope that there is still time to sway the future. As the poet Langston Hughes once wrote: “I have such meager power/ Clutching at a moment, while you control an hour./ But your hour is a stone./ My moment is a flower.”