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.

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.

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.

UUSC Responds to Violence in Las Vegas

This morning I awoke to news that at least 50 lives were lost and hundreds more injured due to senseless gun violence in Nevada. My heart goes out to all who are directly affected by last night’s shooting—the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.

There is still much to learn about the situation, but make no mistake — this act was preventable, and as the community mourns and recovers, we must support them with a renewed vow to stop violence in all its forms. Additionally, if you are in the Las Vegas area and interested in helping directly, I encourage you to donate blood if you are able.

UUSC works across the world to dismantle systems of oppression and uplift and affirm the inherent worth and dignity of all, to ensure that people can live safely and securely. To live a life free from the fear of violence is an issue of human rights. We join in solidarity with all those afflicted by this and other forms of violence.

Updated “Muslim ban” Still Discriminatory, Still Indefensible

Update as of October 27, 2017:

On Tuesday, October 24, the Trump administration announced a new 90-day freeze on refugees from 11 countries: Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Mali, North Korea, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen—nine of which are majority Muslim countries. The Muslim-majority countries accounted for nearly 45% of the refugees admitted to the United States in FY2017. Coupled with the new restrictions on visa applicants from eight of these countries announced this week, this latest order bars most of the people and nationalities impacted by Trump’s January 27 travel and refugee ban. This freeze is a “Muslim Ban” by another name and remains as discriminatory and unjustifiable as ever.
———-

Sunday night the Trump administration announced new travel restrictions, which will indefinitely ban the vast majority of people from seven nations – Chad, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen – from entering the United States, and halt entry for certain Venezuelan government officials and their families. These restrictions extend and expand the original “Muslim ban,” which several courts have already declared unconstitutional. They are also a transparent attempt to sidestep legal challenges to the ban as the Supreme Court prepares to hear challenges in Trump v. Int’l Refugee Assistance Project and Trump v. Hawaii.

We are not deceived by superficial changes in policy. The fact that the administration’s restrictions now include a handful of non-Muslim-majority countries does not remove their unlawful character. As Judge Derrick Watson reaffirmed in Hawaii v. Trump: “It is a discriminatory purpose that matters, no matter how inefficient the execution.”

Additionally, it is cold comfort that Sudan has been removed from the list of barred countries. Last week the administration rescinded Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Sudanese nationals, despite ongoing food insecurity and violence in the country,  continuing its pattern of exclusion and nativism against the Sudanese by other means.

Every day the refugee and travel bans remain in effect, this administration denies safety to some of the world’s most vulnerable people, many who have been displaced by U.S. foreign policy. The United States continues to bankroll a Saudi war in Yemen that has resulted in thousands of civilian deaths and is reportedly planning a further expansion of unlawful drone strikes in Yemen, Libya, and Somalia – three countries targeted by the ban. For the U.S. government to bar safe travel and refuge to the victims of its military actions is particularly shameful.

Regardless of shape-shifting, the Trump administration’s travel and refugee bans remain as legally and morally indefensible now as before.

Regardless of shape-shifting, the Trump administration’s travel and refugee bans remain as legally and morally indefensible now as before. They are a straightforward violation of the Constitution’s promise of religious freedom and equal protection under the law. Trump’s own words have revealed time and again that his actions are intended to discriminate against Muslims.

UUSC will continue to take action to oppose this and similar Executive Orders, whether by again joining as amici in the litigation or, along with our partners at the Arab American Civic Council and the Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative, endorsing the #NoMuslimBanEver campaign. Learn more the campaign and get involved at nomuslimbanever.com.

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.