By Josh Leach on December 16, 2019
In a matter of days, Congress will end its session in Washington, D.C. Many of our elected representatives will return to their home districts, where they will spend the holidays with loved ones. At the same time they are doing so, thousands of immigrants and asylum-seekers will remain stranded in deadly conditions across the border, or at risk of separation from their families in the United States, because of the policies of our government. As we enter the holiday season, our members of Congress should take action to protect migrant families. Here are two things they can do now.
Create a path to permanent residency for immigrants with TPS
Right now, hundreds of thousands of long-term U.S. residents are waiting anxiously for a court decision that will decide their ability to remain in the United States. The Trump administration has attempted to cancel Temporary Protected States (TPS) for more than 400,000 people on U.S. territory facing unsafe conditions in their home countries; now, a temporary court order is all that is preventing these terminations from going into effect. If this order is lifted, all these individuals face the prospect of deportation and separation from their loved ones.
Congress has the power to prevent this nightmare and create permanent stability for these families—many of whom have lived in the United States for decades. The House of Representatives has already passed model legislation, the American Dream and Promise Act (H.R. 6) to establish a path to permanent residency for immigrants with TPS and similar statuses. So far, however, the Senate has failed to consider this bill.
That is why UUSC is asking our members and supporters around the country to write letters to your senators this holiday season, asking them to take up and pass permanent protections for TPS holders. Recognizing that many people will be new to the issue of TPS, we have put together educational resources in collaboration with the Massachusetts TPS Committee and UUs for Social Justice, for congregations and communities hoping to learn more about TPS, and to hone their ability to write impactful and informed letters.
These materials include instructions for how to host a screening and discussion of a documentary film, The Last Dream, which was created in part by UUSC’s partner the National TPS Alliance—a grassroots coalition of TPS holders representing 13 nationalities. The Last Dream tells the true story of children, many of whom are U.S. citizens, facing the prospect of separation from their TPS holder parents. Some would have to become the primary caregivers for their siblings, if the TPS terminations go through.
These children have as much right to be safe and home with their families for the holidays as any member of Congress. Our leaders have both the ability and the obligation to defend their future.
Stop funding abusive policies that are returning people to danger
TPS holders are not the only migrants at risk of human rights violations this holiday season. Because of recent Trump administration policies, including the cruelly-misnamed “Migrant Protection Protocols” (MPP), also known as Remain in Mexico, and the unlawful practice of “metering,” thousands of other families are being forced to wait in Mexico for a chance to apply for asylum in the United States.
Some of these individuals have already expressed their fear of persecution in their home countries to U.S. authorities, but are nonetheless forced to stay across the border while they attend asylum hearings, in accordance with MPP. Others, including Mexican nationals, are simply turned away at the border and added to indefinitely long “waitlists.” This is a direct violation of international law forbidding automatic “pushbacks” of people seeking humanitarian protection.
The dangers these families face in Mexico almost defy imagination. A recent report by well-regarded human rights monitors has documented more than 600 cases of people subjected to MPP who have been kidnapped, raped, tortured, or otherwise violently attacked, while waiting for their asylum hearings in Mexico. This includes more than 100 cases of kidnappings or attempted kidnappings of children. The U.S. policy of forcing individuals to make repeated trips to the border for asylum interviews directly adds to this danger, as they must draw unwanted attention to themselves as migrants in order to do so.
The MPP and “metering” policies, along with the new and related practice of deporting asylum-seekers to third countries that are not their homes, are being implemented by the executive branch. The legislature still has the ability to end these unlawful practices, however, with the power of the purse. As Congress continues to debate measures to fund the government for Fiscal Year 2020, they should eliminate any funding that would be used to return or trap asylum-seekers in danger.
In order to send this message to our leaders, migrant shelters who work at the U.S.-Mexico border are asking all of us to use the symbolic image of shoelaces this holiday season, including in any decorations we put up, or in place of a ribbon on wrapped gifts. They have put together this suggested text to explain why and suggest we share this with our social media posts and gifts:
US officials take shoelaces from asylum seekers so that they don’t harm themselves in detention. But then they send families with children back to dangerous and unfamiliar Mexican border towns. There, human traffickers and cartels target these families for extortion and trafficking because no shoelaces means no local connections. The “Remain in Mexico” policy delivers families into the hands of cartels and traffickers #unintendedties
The ability to stay together with one’s family and be safe from persecution are human rights. They are also the essence of the values many in our society pay tribute to each holiday season. If these words are to be more than lip-service, our government must stop telling families in danger that there is no more room at the inn. As you prepare for the holidays, we hope you will take action and ask your representatives to protect migrant families.
Photo Credit: Jessica Gamble, Neighborhood Unitarian Universalist Church, Pasadena, CA
About UUSC: Guided by the belief that all people have inherent worth and dignity, UUSC advances human rights globally by partnering with affected communities who are confronting injustice, mobilizing to challenge oppressive systems, and inspiring and sustaining spiritually grounded activism for justice. We invite you to join us in this journey toward realizing a better future!