Hopes and Dreams in Honduras

This week, Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC) staff met with one of our newest partners in Honduras at our office in Cambridge. Ely Castro Rosales, a member of the Jesuit-led radio station Radio Progreso, gave an unforgettable firsthand account of the unfolding human rights crisis in Honduras and the complicity of the U.S. government.

As my colleagues Gina Collignon, Leigh Meunier, and I prepare to join Radio Progreso in Honduras this Saturday, as part of an international accompaniment delegation organized by the SHARE Foundation, Castro Rosales’ story is an inspiring example of courage in the face of repression.

As a journalist and human rights defender, Castro Rosales has been involved in justice struggles in Honduras since the 1980s. He currently serves as a regional coordinator for an activist coalition, which is mobilizing against the constitutionally suspect second term of the ruling government in Honduras. As he told us on Tuesday, he became a “social fighter” at age 13 and remained one ever since.

During a U.S. speaking tour to raise awareness of the growing human rights crisis in Honduras, UUSC partner Ely Castro Rosales shares the stories of lives lost due to the violence and corruption, and a message of hope that the international community will take action.

Radio Progreso, where Castro Rosales is on the news team, is one of the few voices in the media in Honduras who offer critical and independent reporting on human rights issues. They work closely with UUSC’s other partner in Honduras, Foro de Mujeres Por la Vida, who air a program each week on Radio Progreso, and who will also be meeting with the accompaniment delegation next week.

During his presentation Castro Rosales spoke about the threats facing democracy in Honduras, including the violence Honduran police and military forces have committed against peaceful protestors. UU College of Social Justice Director Rev. Kathleen McTigue witnessed some of this suppression first-hand during her solidarity visit to Honduras in January.

Since that time, threats to political and civil rights in Honduras have continued. As UN Special Rapporteur Michel Frost recently concluded, after a visit to Honduras from April 29 to May 12, human rights defenders and journalists—like our partners—remain especially at risk of being criminalized and attacked.

Castro Rosales’ presentation left no doubt that this violence is driven in part by the role of the United States and its allies in the region. It has been previously reported that the United States has funded and trained police units implicated in the recent human rights violations. Castro Rosales showed us photos of tear-gas canisters deployed against Honduran protesters that were manufactured in Pennsylvania.

According to Castro Rosales, Honduran police and military also receive support from the government of Colombia. This often originates from the United States as well, as the country has long sponsored efforts by the Colombian government to train security forces in Central America – despite the Colombian military’s own documented role in human rights violations against its people. The U.S. government is making it harder for people to stay in Honduras, even as it moves to deter them from seeking asylum elsewhere and to deport more Hondurans to danger.

These policies, and the violence they stoke, force more people to flee Honduras in search of safety. Mexican authorities reported a 78% increase in the number of Hondurans traveling through Mexico in February 2018, compared to just before the November 2017 election, according to the Washington Office on Latin America.

As Castro Rosales led us to reflect on our government’s culpability, however, he also made it clear that it is possible to reverse these policies. The United States can end its military and security aid to Honduras. And Congress can protect Honduran immigrants—including 86,000 Temporary Protected Status holders—from mass deportation to unsafe conditions.

What I will try to carry with me most from our talk with Castro Rosales, especially as we travel to Honduras this week, was his quiet bravery. “We are full of hopes and dreams,” he told us at the close of his presentation. “We are in this because we believe it is possible to get better conditions for all our people.”

His words invite my colleagues and me to join the delegation to Honduras not with fear, but with faith. As Radio Progreso begins its editorial segment, “Our Word” each week: Porque creemos en la necesidad de la transformación de la realidad (Because we believe it is necessary to transform reality). At UUSC, we too believe that it is necessary – and possible – to remake our shared world for the better.

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.

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.

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

Read more about Kathleen’s experience in Honduras here.

U.S. Withdrawal from Global Compact on Migration is a Failure of Leadership

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.