Sessions’ Asylum Decision Recklessly Endangers Women and Children

The Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC) is outraged by Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ decision to refuse asylum to survivors of domestic abuse and gang violence.

In a 30-page ruling issued Monday, June 11 in the Matter of A-B-, Sessions revoked a previous grant of asylum to a Salvadoran survivor of domestic violence, overthrowing years of legal precedent recognizing intimate partner violence as potential grounds for asylum. In sweeping terms, Sessions declared, “claims by aliens pertaining to domestic violence or gang violence perpetrated by non-governmental actors will not qualify for asylum.”

This deplorable ruling means that untold numbers of individuals fleeing spousal abuse, criminal networks, or armed groups are now at greater risk of being returned to the hands of their persecutors. Indeed, the ruling is so broad it could be used to exclude victims of virtually any sort of persecution carried out by non-state actors.

In April, UUSC joined an amicus brief with the Catholic Legal Immigration Network (CLINIC) and eight other faith-based organizations calling on Sessions to uphold the Board of Immigration Appeals’ prior ruling. Legal experts submitted 11 additional amicus briefs and roughly 700 pages of documentation in support of the complainant’s case.

Sessions’ decision displays a willful ignorance of the reasons people flee their home countries. Survivors of domestic abuse and gang violence are often left with no choice but to flee when the state has proven unable or unwilling to protect them from persecution and harm. This past year, UUSC’s partner in El Salvador, Fundación Cristosal, filed six cases on behalf of 60 individuals with the Salvadoran Supreme Court, arguing the government had failed in its duty to protect their constitutional rights when they faced violence at the hands of non-state actors. Cristosal has spent years documenting the Salvadoran government’s systemic failure to protect victims of internal displacement by violence.

The ruling also reflects a disturbing trend by the administration to devalue women and LGBTQI individuals, evidenced earlier this year by the removal of critical language on reproductive rights and women’s rights from the State Department’s Country Reports on Human Rights Practices. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights reports that Honduras has an estimated 95% impunity rate for crimes against women. UUSC staff met recently with our partner, Foro de Mujeres Por la Vida, who described the structural barriers Honduran women face in obtaining justice or protection from the government, including failure to investigate or hold perpetrators accountable.

For UUSC’s partners throughout Central America who work with people forcibly displaced by criminal networks and domestic violence, Sessions’ decision is a major barrier to their ability to seek protection.

Unfortunately, this ruling merely reinforces the Trump administration’s broader anti-immigrant stance, including the “zero tolerance” policy announced last month, the continued cancellation of Temporary Protected Status for U.S. residents of countries recovering from disaster, and the end of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. UUSC will continue to resist and find ways to overturn these policies, working to protect the lives and safety of countless vulnerable people who are at risk.

Protect Children, End Family Separation

The Trump administration’s egregious immigration policies are tearing families apart. We must ensure the rights of children and parents are respected and our immigration system is allowed to ensure people at risk and in need can find permanent safety so that our families and communities are strong and successful. The President must fix the issues that his administration has created and needs to hear from us that we demand better.

Please fill out the form below to sign and send a message the White House and Secretary of Homeland Security telling them to protect children, end family separation, and stop human rights abuses in the name of immigration enforcement. You can review the draft letter at the bottom of this page, and will be able to edit and personalize it before sending.

Dear President Trump,

I am writing to voice my concern about your administration’s policy to tear families apart who are seeking refuge and protection in the United States.

I ask you to abandon the cruel, costly, and unjustified practice of separating families seeking protection at our borders, including those who are fleeing persecution in their home countries. Children belong with their parents in safe communities, not locked up in detention centers.

Your move to separate families through criminal prosecutions under the new “zero tolerance” policy is an affront to basic humanitarian principles. It also challenges the integrity of the U.S. immigration system and the moral identity of the United States, which has long been a haven for the persecuted. Seeking asylum should never be treated as a crime.

I also urge that you, Secretary Nielsen, and Attorney General Sessions visit Customs and Border Protection facilities, detention centers, and federal courts to speak firsthand with parents who have been separated from their children and hear and understand their stories.

Family separation and detention is not a solution. It does not make the United States safer or stop people from seeking protection at our borders. Honoring the asylum process is one of the core ways the U.S. government recognizes its legal and moral obligations to people fleeing danger and is recognized under U.S. law and international conventions to which the United States is a party.

Thank you in advance for your attention to this matter. I will be following this issue closely and look forward to your reply.

Sincerely,

[signed]

Trump Administration Celebrates Mother’s Day with Renewed Call to Separate Families

UUSC decries the new front opened in the Trump administration’s continued assault on immigrant families, as senior officials threatened the use of criminal proceedings and family separation at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Coming less than a week before Mother’s Day, the administration’s move is distinctly heartless. These policies will re-traumatize families who have made harrowing journeys across borders in the hope of finding safety – in many cases fleeing violence and instability in their home countries to which U.S. foreign policy has contributed.

In two speeches yesterday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions laid out the White House’s plan to prosecute migrants and asylum-seekers who cross the border without prior authorization. His remarks acknowledged the effect of this policy is to separate children from parents. A further result will be to criminally charge and imprison asylum-seekers – regardless of any lawful claims to international protection.

Sessions’ announcement formalizes practices that have already become routine at parts of the U.S.-Mexico border. A recent report by Human Rights First found that between April 2017 and January 2018, the Trump administration used criminal prosecutions regularly against asylum-seekers, in many instances resulting in family separation. The New York Times likewise found 700 cases of children being separated from adults at the border since October 2017.

These cruel practices have recently come under legal scrutiny. On March 9, 2018 the American Civil Liberties Union filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of immigrants and asylum-seekers who had been separated from their children or parents by U.S. authorities. UUSC’s longtime partner, the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES), who represent immigrants in family detention, submitted evidence to support the case.

Additionally, the administration’s plan also directly contravenes human rights under international and U.S. standards. The 1967 Protocol to the UN Refugee Convention – of which the United States is a party – forbids prosecuting asylum-seekers for unauthorized border crossing, out of a recognition that people fleeing danger often do not have a choice about when and how they enter national boundaries. The U.S. Refugee Act of 1980 likewise extended the right to petition for asylum to anyone in the United States, regardless of how they entered.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which guides UUSC’s work, enshrines the right to family unity as a bedrock principle of the global community. Article 16 reads in part: “The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.”

By willfully violating these human rights, the Trump administration continues its disgraceful record of denying lawful protection and humane treatment to people at risk. The negative consequences of these actions will be far-reaching.

As we celebrate Mother’s Day this Sunday, however, we are reminded that love is a powerful force too. We witness this in the strength of immigrant families, the resilience of people who risk their lives for their loved ones, and the courage of those who defy injustice. UUSC will continue to celebrate those ideals and work with our partners to defend and expand the rights of asylum-seekers and protect families fleeing danger.

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.

Nepal TPS Cancellation Underlines Need For Congressional Action

Nepal TPS Cancellation Underlines Need For Congressional Action

The Department of Homeland Security moved today to cancel Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Nepal, exposing nearly 9,000 Nepali residents of the United States to possible deportation. This decision comes just after the three-year anniversary of a devastating 7.8 magnitude earthquake that took the lives of nearly 9,000 people and damaged 14% of the housing stock in the entire country, prompting the government’s initial TPS designation in June 2015.

UUSC condemns the administration’s callous revocation of legal status to a vulnerable population. We call on Congress to enact a permanent legislative solution for TPS holders, in the form of the American Promise Act of 2017 (H.R. 4253) and the SECURE Act (S. 2144).

After three years of stalled recovery efforts, Nepal remains in a state of humanitarian crisis brought on by the 2015 earthquake. Two years after the disaster, only 3.5 percent of damaged homes in the country had been rebuilt. A recent UUSC staff visit to Nepal confirmed that, for our grassroots partners, the effects of the earthquake are still a daily reality.

When recovery efforts have been made, they have far too often prioritized the development goals of international donors over the needs of impacted communities. As a result, these efforts have in many cases magnified existing inequalities. UUSC’s partners at the Lawyers’ Association for the Human Rights of Nepalese Indigenous Peoples (LAHURNIP) note that recent development projects in Nepal are actually fueling the displacement of indigenous peoples, rather than helping them rebuild.

Further, this ongoing crisis was exacerbated last summer by catastrophic flooding over a third of the country, which displaced more than 460,000 more people and destroyed tens of thousands of homes.

These conditions more than justify the renewal of TPS, which is intended to ensure that foreign nationals in the United States are not sent back to countries that cannot safely receive and reintegrate them.

Today’s cancellation is the latest in a series of decisions to end protected status for nationals of vulnerable nations, including Sudan, Nicaragua, Haiti, El Salvador, and Liberia – some of whose nationals had Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) status in the United States, a program similar to TPS.

Evidence continues to mount that these cancellations are biased, unfounded, and in some cases motivated by racism. Documents obtained last week by the National Immigration Project revealed that in cancelling TPS for Haiti in November 2017, DHS likely ignored its own internal staff assessment of conditions in the country. Coupled with the President’s vulgar and derogatory remarks about people from TPS-designated countries in January, it is plain the administration is betraying the letter and spirit of the TPS statute in order to serve an anti-immigrant agenda.

UUSC expresses its solidarity with the Nepali community in the United States and the people of Nepal, in the face of this new threat to their human rights. The U.S. government should remember the words of Nepali poet Bhupi Sherchan: this land is mine as well as yours…

Syria TPS Decision Provides Needed Relief, But Not Nearly Enough

The Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC) welcomes reports that the Trump administration has decided to renew Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for nearly 6,000 Syrians living in the United States, while expressing dismay and consternation that this provision will not cover Syrians arriving after August 1, 2016.

In the lead up to this decision, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) had the option of re-designating Syria for TPS, rather than merely renewing. A re-designation would have allowed more recent Syrian arrivals to apply for the status. In previous extensions, TPS for Syrian nationals has been re-designated as well as renewed.

It is difficult to imagine a country that more directly fits the criteria for re-designation than Syria. It is in the midst of an ongoing civil war that has generated the world’s largest contemporary refugee crisis and taken the lives of at least 400,000 people. The new administration’s refusal to take the step of re-designation is impossible to reconcile with DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen’s admission that “the conditions upon which Syria’s designation was based continue to exist.”

The failure to re-designate Syria also provides further disturbing evidence that the administration grounds its TPS decisions in xenophobia and bias, rather than the individual country assessments that Congress intended when it created the TPS program in 1990.

In November, the Trump administration ended TPS for 59,000 Haitian nationals, despite the country’s ongoing natural disaster recovery and recent disease outbreaks. In early January, they likewise announced the end of TPS for nearly 200,000 immigrants from El Salvador, in the midst of extreme violence and other major social disruptions in that country. The NAACP has filed a lawsuit charging that the TPS decision for Haiti was racially motivated, citing abundant evidence of the administration’s prejudice against TPS holders.

As with these other TPS decisions, DHS’s refusal to re-designate Syria did not occur in a vacuum. President Trump campaigned on a pledge to institute a “Muslim Ban,” and his rhetoric on both the campaign trail and in office has made Syrian refugees a frequent target of fear-mongering.

Further, last week marked the one-year anniversary of the administration’s failed attempt to implement a discriminatory ban on refugees and travelers from Muslim-majority countries, including Syria. Despite being struck down by multiple courts, the Trump administration continues to impose new versions of the order on Syrian nationals, including new restrictions announced Monday that will make it harder for refugees from Syria and ten other countries to reach safety in the United States.

The administration’s political and biased use of TPS bodes ill for immigrant communities whose futures depend on DHS renewal decisions later this year. These include Nepal in April, Yemen in July, and Somalia in November. All of these countries are sites of ongoing recovery efforts from recent natural disasters or devastating armed conflicts to which the U.S. government has directly contributed.

UUSC urges the administration to honor the humanitarian purpose of the TPS program, rather than wield it as a nativist, political cudgel. In the meantime, Congress should act to pass permanent legislative solutions for long-term TPS holders, who are all members of our shared community.