Love Resists Deportation on the Capitol Steps

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!

Activists gather on the steps of the Capitol in protest of congressional inaction on TPS and the Dream Act.

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.

Activists await arrest.

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.

Trump’s Haiti TPS Decision is Disastrous – and Can Be Defeated

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.”

Heartless as the administration’s move may be, it is not surprising. Last night’s decision is the latest in a string of similar blows to programs that uphold the rights and safety of immigrants. In the past few months alone, the administration has terminated Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), the Central American Minors (CAM) program, and TPS protections for both Nicaraguan and Sudanese nationals.

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.

When DHS made an earlier determination about TPS last spring, senior officials reportedly instructed staffers to dig up stories of Haitian TPS holders committing crimes. Previous DHS Secretary John Kelly allegedly pressured Acting Secretary Elaine Duke to end TPS for Hondurans as well, earlier this month, as part of a broader push against the program.

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.”

Tell DHS: Hands Off Immigrants’ Social Media!

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is taking new steps to monitor and criminalize immigrant communities: they’re pro-actively gathering and recording social media information of all immigrants to the United States – including new immigrants, permanent residents, and naturalized citizens.

This data could be used to prosecute, deny benefits to, limit due process of, and even deport people. It may also affect those who communicate with immigrants on social media by including their conversations in government surveillance.

UUSC sent the comment below in response, urging DHS to rescind this rule. Join us to defend immigrants’ privacy at uusc.org/defend-privacy and submit your own public comment by Wednesday, October 18, 2017!

October 17, 2017

Mr. Jonathan R. Cantor
Acting Chief Privacy Officer
Privacy Office
Department of Homeland Security
Washington, DC 20528-0655

Re: DHS-2017-0038 – Notice of Modified Privacy Act System of Records

Dear Mr. Cantor:

The Unitarian Universalist Service Committee submits this comment for the public record to express our opposition to the Department of Homeland Security’s recent modification to the Privacy Act System of Records, published as docket number DHS-2017-0038 (the “proposed rule”). In particular, we are concerned by the new provisions on p. 43557, paragraph 1, column 1, to “expand the categories of records to include […] social media handles, aliases, associated identifiable information, and search results[.]”

We respectfully request that the agency withdraw this proposed rule. As a human rights agency with over 40,000 members and supporters across the United States, we believe this proposed rule threatens the rights and principles we and our partners work to uphold. Our chief concerns are as follows:

This proposed rule is discriminatory.

The proposed rule unfairly burdens naturalized citizens with a degree of surveillance that does not apply to birthright citizens. It thereby sets up a two-tiered system of citizenship, in violation of the principle of the equal protection of the laws.

The proposed rule would expose immigrants and others with Alien files to higher levels of surveillance and government scrutiny than other U.S. residents. This is a form of , i.e. subjecting some members of the community to an unjust presumption of suspicion.

This proposed rule chills free speech.

Information posted on social media may be misrepresented as “gang-related” and place an immigrant at heightened risk of deportation. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) frequently prioritizes deportation of immigrants based on alleged gang ties, and immigration agents have, according to several recent lawsuits, repeatedly misinterpreted hand gestures, tattoos, and colored clothing as symbols of gang membership.

Gang membership accusations are made and acted upon without due process or lawful conviction and on the basis of unreliable “gang databases.”[2] They are therefore particularly vulnerable to being informed by racial and ethnic bias.

This proposed rule threatens privacy.

While this new rule directly affects only publicly available information on social media, CBP and ICE agents have in the past asked immigrants to divulge social media passwords. We are concerned that the collection of information on social media accounts under this new rule, as well as the linking of online aliases to real people, could easily create more targets for future government efforts to obtain social media log-in credentials and other private information.

Government surveillance and data collection on such a scale may intrinsically be rife with potential for abuse, including stalking, data breaches, and other major invasions of privacy.[3]

This proposed rule will not make anyone safer.

The use of information on social media has not proven to be a valuable tool in screening for immigration benefits. DHS’s Office of the Inspector General found in a February 27, 2017 report that DHS pilot programs to collect social media information “lack criteria for measuring performance to ensure they meet their objectives.”[4]

Theories of “radicalization” that treat opinions and statements made on social media as reliable indicators of future violent or terrorist behavior have been debunked.[5] Violent acts are not reliably linked to specific ideologies, belief statements, or personality profiles, and vice versa.

This proposed rule threatens due process.

This new rule arrives at a time when Congress is considering options that would further undermine due process for lawful permanent residents, asylum seekers, and other immigrants. (See the “Criminal Alien Gang Member Removal Act” (H.R. 3697), e.g.)[6] Now is a particularly dangerous time to open more immigrants’ photos and personal information to potential misinterpretation as gang-related.

In these ways and others, we remain concerned that this proposed policy will encourage the use of unjust stereotypes about criminality and terrorism as a basis for government actions.

We strongly urge you to heed these concerns and rescind the new rule.

Respectfully,

Joshua Leach
Associate for Programs, Research and Advocacy
Unitarian Universalist Service Committee
jleach@uusc.org

[1] National Public Radio, “Undocumented Teens Say They’re Falsely Accused Of Being In A Gang,” August 17, 2017. http://n.pr/2zlDdp9; Vice News, “How ICE Uses Secret Police Databases to Arrest Immigrants,” August 28, 2017. http://bit.ly/2wMa4FT

[2] Ali Winston, The Intercept, “Vague Rules Let ICE Deport Undocumented Immigrants as Gang Members,” February 17, 2017. http://bit.ly/2lt0jGw

[3] Upturn, “Civil Rights, Big Data, and Our Algorithmic Future,” 2014. https://bigdata.fairness.io/database-abuse/

[4] DHS OIG, “DHS’s Pilots for Social Media Screening Need Increased Rigor to Ensure Scalability and Long-term Success,” February 27, 2017. http://bit.ly/2yJ94TK

[5] Faiza Patel, Meghan Koushik, Brennan Center, “Countering Violent Extremism,” March 16, 2017. https://www.brennancenter.org/publication/countering-violent-extremism

[6] https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/115/hr3697

Immigrants have the same rights to free speech and privacy as everyone. No one should feel they are the targets of profiling, monitoring, and unreasonable suspicion by the state. We must raise our collective voices against this far-reaching rule. Tell the government: Respect the privacy and safety of immigrants by keeping out of their social media.

The U.S. Has A Moral Responsibility to Support Refugees

UPDATE: On Wednesday, September 27, 2017 the White House officially announced to Congress that it will set the refugee admissions cap to a historic low of only 45,000 in FY2018. In response, UUSC calls on Congress to do everything in its power to raise the cap to at least 75,000. The administration’s efforts to shut the door on refugees as part of its xenophobic political agenda do not diminish the moral responsibility of the United States to provide refuge for those fleeing violence and persecution. We continue to stand with refugees, their families, and their communities and will continue to fight for their rights.

UUSC condemns the White House’s threats to cut the refugee admissions quota to a historic low of less than 50,000 and urges the administration to institute a refugee admissions quota of no less than 75,000 in FY2018. At a time when the world is in the midst of the largest global migration crisis on record, any decision to reduce the refugee admissions cap would be an affront to the moral responsibility of the United States to provide a safe-haven for those fleeing violence and insecurity.

Lowering the admissions level is not factually grounded and represents yet another example of the Trump administration’s attacks on refugee and immigrant communities that include the Muslim ban, supporting the RAISE Act, and the decisions to end the Central American Minors (CAM) and the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals (DACA) programs. Despite what the administration claims, these attacks on refugee and immigrant communities do not promote national security or the economy. They are only designed to further the Administration’s nativist political agenda. As recent leaks have revealed, the administration appears to recognize that there is no justification for reducing the quota and has even gone so far as to actively suppress evidence about the contributions refugees make to our economy in order to justify their plans to reduce refugee admissions.

It is also important to note that news of the administration’s potential cuts to the refugee quota came the same week that the Supreme Court rejected part of a Ninth Circuit decision temporarily halting Trump’s executive order commonly called the “Muslim ban.” This ruling means that refugees will no longer be protected from the ban, even if they have a preexisting agreement with a resettlement agency. While the lower court ruling regarding extended family members still applies, the Supreme Court will hear arguments on the Muslim ban on October 10. In response, UUSC has signed onto an amicus brief calling on the Supreme Court to affirm the previous holdings of the Ninth and Fourth Circuits and block the ban from being enforced.

In recognition of the pattern of attacks on refugee and immigrant communities coming from the White House, it is critical that we take action in solidarity with refugees and immigrants. We encourage you to join us in supporting #NoMuslimBanEver, a national month action of online and in person events leading up to the Supreme Court hearing.

Please check our website, Twitter and Facebook accounts regularly for updates on how you can continue to join us to support refugee and immigrant communities and resist the Muslim ban.

 

ICE Moves to Destroy Records of Abuse

The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) has provisionally approved a request by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to destroy records related to detainees, which include, “incidents of sexual abuse and assault, escapes, deaths while in agency custody, telephone rates charged to detainees, alternatives to detention, logs and reports on status of detainees and detention facilities, and location and segregation of detainees.”

UUSC sent the following comment in response, urging NARA to deny this request:

The Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC) is gravely concerned by reports that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) seeks to destroy records pertaining to the sexual abuse, death, and solitary confinement of people in ICE detention. These documents provide a crucial evidentiary basis for future efforts to expose ICE abuses, hold the agency accountable, and offer a truthful historical reckoning of the nature of U.S. immigration enforcement. In light of the agency’s persistent failure to properly report and investigate human rights abuses, it would be grossly irresponsible to allow ICE to eliminate evidence of its own misconduct.

The government’s arguments in favor of destroying these documents are deeply flawed. UUSC rejects the claim put forward by federal appraisers, for instance, that retaining records of sexual abuse is unnecessary because “ICE creates annual reports on incidents of allegations of sexual abuse or assaults of individuals in ICE custody.” ICE has shown time and again it cannot be trusted to properly investigate its own officers and their actions. In April, UUSC’s partners at Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC) filed a civil rights complaint on behalf of victims of sexual abuse and assault in ICE detention. CIVIC found that between May 2014 and July 2016, ICE received on average more than one complaint of sexual abuse per day. Yet the agency investigated a mere 2.4% of the total. CIVIC also documented cases of retaliation and silencing of victims who reported abuse. In one instance, a woman was confined in solitary for over a week after she filed a harassment complaint against an officer.

ICE’s request to destroy documents comes at a time, moreover, when the agency is already under justified scrutiny for its lack of openness and transparency. After ICE announced plans for a massive deportation raid last week called “Operation Mega,” shortly after the termination of DACA, and then seemed to change course in the aftermath of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, immigrant rights groups mobilized nationwide to lodge Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests at every ICE field office, demanding clarity about the agency’s plans and tactics. Danny Cendejas of the Detention Watch Network declared: “ICE is an agency that regularly lies and actively hides information from public view.” UUSC’s partners at CIVIC and Grassroots Leadership agree, providing numerous examples of this pattern of deception in previous ICE raids. The UndocuBlack Network, also a UUSC partner, also have a pending FOIA request with the Department of Homeland Security, which houses ICE, to expose its decision-making process regarding the fate of 50,000 Haitian immigrants with Temporary Protected Status (TPS).

Plainly what is needed is to shed more light on a secretive agency whose decisions daily impact the lives, freedom, and dignity of millions of non-citizens. To allow ICE to eliminate records of possible human rights violations at its own hands as early as 2023 (and at a rate much faster than other federal agencies) would be a dangerous step in the wrong direction. The thousands of people who pass through immigration detention each year without trial or due process deserve better. The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) should reject ICE’s request and ensure the preservation of these documents for future generations.

Innovation Fellowship Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is the UUSC Human Rights Innovation Fellowship?

The UUSC Human Rights Innovation Fellowship is a one-year $25,000 grant, awarded to individuals or organizations, designed bring about systemic change by creating, nurturing, or spreading an innovation in the areas of UUSC’s work. These innovations may be technological or financial products or apps, pathbreaking applied research, advances in corporate accountability, legal arguments, methods of mobilization, or methods of community outreach.

What is the theme for 2018 fellowship?

The theme for the 2018 fellowship is resisting criminalization. The fellowship should address a major challenge facing individuals and/or communities who are criminalized in the United States. Criminalization refers to policies and practices that stigmatize, scapegoat, and profile whole communities as “criminal” or “terrorist.” UUSC’s primary goals in this campaign are to advance community protection strategies and expanded sanctuary, decriminalize poverty, and advance restorative justice.

Who can apply for the fellowship?

Individuals or non-profit organizations with an innovative project that is relevant to the fellowship’s theme can apply. In addition, advocacy organizations, academic institutions, research centers, grassroots organizations, and UUSC partners may apply for the fellowship. However, UUSC partners’ proposed innovations must be separate from ongoing grants. Collaboration by applicants is encouraged.

Applications must be submitted in English.

APPLY NOW!

What are the assessment criteria for the fellowship?

  1. Alignment with UUSC approach and values: The application must reflect UUSC’s values and be compatible with UUSC’s approach to environmental justice and climate action.
  2. Impact: The project must positively impact or benefit marginalized communities in terms of scale and/or scope.
  3. Competency of applicant: The individual or organization must demonstrate clarity and rigor in assessment of the social problem and theory of change of the innovation.
  4. Applicant’s track record: The applicant must have a demonstrated track record that indicates knowledge, competency, and experience in the fellowship’s thematic area.
  5. Creativity of innovation: The application will be judged by the extent to which the project is new, different, or timely.

What is the selection process?

The online application forms will be reviewed by UUSC, with input provided by UUSC supporters. After the initial review, we will conduct a face-to-face interview in person or over Skype or Zoom. The final selection will be made by UUSC.

What are the key dates and timeline of the fellowship selection process?

Applications open: November 2017

Applications close: January 2018

Awardees announced: April 2018

Can I reach out to UUSC to inquire about the status of my application?

Unfortunately, due to time constraints, UUSC will be unable to respond to questions regarding an application’s status until April 2018 when the fellowship is awarded. Please e-mail any questions at that time to innovation @ uusc.org.

What do the fellows receive?

Fellows will receive a maximum grant of $25,000.

APPLY NOW!