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]

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.

Workers Organizing for Welcoming Communities

Across the country, in cities large and small, people are organizing to build communities that are inclusive, embrace new members, and celebrate the diverse contributions and experiences of all their residents. Through our grantmaking and advocacy, UUSC has tapped into this energy to amplify these efforts.

A few weeks ago, I was fortunate to visit with two of our partners Greater Minnesota Worker Center (GMWC) and Rural Community Workers Alliance (RCWA). Both organizations are partners under Love Resists, UUSC’s joint campaign with the UUA, and deeply engaged in organizing workers to resist the criminalization of our neighbors based upon their identities and create safer, more just, and welcoming communities.

Building Welcoming Communities is Contagious

UUSC began partnering with GMWC in St. Cloud, Minn., last year, supporting the center’s “Resist and Persist” campaign. This effort seeks to advance human rights and social justice by “welcoming refugees and protecting undocumented immigrants and other vulnerable populations from deportations.”

I had to the opportunity to visit with incredible community organizers at GMWC in their St. Cloud office, including Ahmed, Mohamed, Sado, and Yasmin (starting left).

Thanks in part to GMWC’s outreach, the community of St. Cloud is becoming a friendlier place for immigrant and refugee communities. GMWC focuses primarily on organizing low-wage Latinx and Somali workers; however, their work extends beyond worker rights, enriching the lives of all St. Cloud residents by fostering a welcoming culture.

A great example of GMWC’s impact was their efforts to defeat a city council effort to reduce refugee admissions in the city. With the resolution defeated, GMWC’s next step was to advocate for the city council’s passage of a “Welcoming City” resolution, which inspired the nearby city of Willmar to do the same.

RCWA staff members and local workers meet to discuss their work to create a welcoming community.

RCWA Centers Welcoming Efforts on Immigrant and Worker Rights

From my first moment in Milan, Mo., there was an inescapable sense of community. Located in northeastern Missouri, the town is over two hours away from Kansas City, the nearest major city. The community has a tradition of self-sufficiency rooted in neighbors supporting neighbors. It is in this spirit that RCWA began organizing the town’s Latinx workers to address workplace issues, ranging from discrimination to low pay in 2013.

Following the November 2016 election, many of RCWA’s members were concerned by damaging and dangerous rhetoric around immigration and worker rights. Determined to address the issue head on, the group expanded their efforts around making sure Milan is a welcoming community for all residents.

UUSC has supported RCWA’s continued advocacy for workers’ rights, as well as their organizing efforts to help community members overcome fear of immigration enforcement actions, which they are advancing in partnership with local allies.

Continuing our Support for Welcoming Communities

After witnessing our partners’ incredible impact on building welcoming communities, I was reminded of how this work truly is a process. As they reminded me, their successes have not occurred overnight. With that in mind, it remains as critical as ever to continue directing energy toward sustaining the nationwide momentum around building more welcoming communities. As UUSC works to advance human rights and social justice in 2018, our continued partnerships with grassroots groups leading this work across the country will be critical to our success.

As I joined our partners in meetings with their community members, the importance of this relationship was always at the forefront of their conversations. As one of the workers in Missouri said, “Thank God that there are good people … who are interested in opening our eyes to stand up for our rights and stand up with us against those who exploit us … we are really grateful to partner with UUSC.”

Reflecting on my trip, and looking to the year ahead, I cannot wait to see what these organizations will accomplish through their ever-evolving and deepening roles as builders of welcoming communities ­­– and I’m energized by the opportunity to continue supporting them in their efforts. Join Love Resists in this movement to learn more and check out our Sanctuary and Solidarity Toolkit,, which provides easy steps for taking action in your community.

Hurricane Harvey: Fear and Courage after the Storm

In early December, nearly four months after Hurricane Harvey wreaked havoc along the Gulf Coast, Kathleen McTigue of the UU College of Social Justice and I traveled to Houston, Tex. to meet with Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC) partners providing disaster relief and recovery assistance to those affected by the storm. In line with UUSC’s commitment to grassroots collaboration, our grants to these groups target community-based organizations reaching populations that struggle to access mainstream relief and services.

Two such groups in Houston include Living Hope Wheelchair Association and Fe y Justicia Worker Center. Living Hope works at the intersection of immigration and disability rights, and Fe y Justicia (“Faith and Justice”) protects the rights of “second responders,” the mostly low-wage, immigrant workers performing a bulk of the city’s post-hurricane reconstruction work.  We also met with Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services (t.e.j.as.), an environmental justice organization working with the predominantly low-income, minority neighborhoods along the Houston Ship Channel.

Throughout the trip, we were reminded that natural disasters exacerbate existing inequalities. We also felt the heightened sense of fear among certain populations, particularly undocumented immigrants, in today’s political climate. Yet, even in the face of such daunting challenges, we also witnessed the courage and dignity of countless individuals still fighting for the rights of those worst affected by Harvey.

Exacerbated Inequalities: “We were already living in a disaster situation.”

Natural disasters around the world have demonstrated that low-income households and communities of color are disproportionately affected by extreme weather. Many of these communities reside in high-risk living conditions to begin with, whether due to the quality of their housing, poor infrastructure, or proximity to flood waters and pollution. In Houston, Harvey merely intensified these struggles.  Structural barriers to accessing relief and services make longer-term recovery more difficult for the poor, racial minorities, immigrants, and those living with disabilities.

Living Hope Wheelchair Association works primarily with undocumented immigrants suffering from spinal cord injuries, most of which resulted from workplace accidents or crime. Its modest office consists of two rooms and a storage unit for medical supplies and a handicap-accessible vehicle. Many members are on constant medication, in regular pain, and in some cases, require dialysis, but very few have medical benefits. As Pancho Argüelles, Living Hope’s Executive Director, put it, “We were already living in a disaster situation with respect to health care, housing, transportation, and undocumented status,” before Harvey. After the storm, the organization’s members needed to replace electronic wheelchairs lost to flood waters, repair houses and wheelchair ramps, and raise financial assistance to cover medical, transportation, and basic living expenses.

Fear on Top of Fear

For the approximately 600,000 undocumented people living in Houston, limited access to medical benefits and health insurance, coupled with fear and mistrust of immigration authorities, have made them one of the most vulnerable populations after the storm. The majority of Fe y Justicia Worker Center’s constituency consists of undocumented immigrant workers. In the face of continued anti-immigrant political rhetoric and crackdowns by local police and immigration agencies, people have been scared to seek even the assistance and benefits for which they are eligible. This fear, on top of existing language and other accessibility barriers, has magnified needs and vulnerabilities after Harvey. Whether it is medical care for a sick child, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) benefits, or wages due, people must conduct a mental calculus to assess the risk of claiming their rights.

Alberto Luera, Fe y Justicia Worker Center Board member

Fear and insecurity also leave people prone to abuse. In numerous cases, tenants have been afraid to push back against landlords who have failed to ensure safe living conditions or unfairly evicted residents at short notice. This additional layer of fear has also had a chilling effect on activism. Living Hope’s members are now less willing to travel for state-level advocacy through hostile counties between Houston and Austin out of fear that police may inquire about their immigration status. And while the storm has increased media interest in people’s stories and highlighted important needs and concerns, speaking to journalists and publicizing identifying details creates serious risks.

A Toxic Tour

The Houston area is home to the largest petrochemical complex in the United States and the second largest in the world. On our second day, t.e.j.a.s. took us on a “toxic tour” of various municipalities between Houston and Baytown, Tex. along the Houston Ship Channel, a key transport route for petrochemicals and other goods into the Gulf of Mexico. The torrential rains and ensuing floods from Harvey resulted in “a stew of toxic chemicals, sewage, debris and waste” that disproportionately impacted nearby neighborhoods, comprised primarily of low-income people of color. A long stretch of oil refineries, chemical plants, waste processing facilities, and other industrial plants borders the ship channel. Homes, schools, parks, and playgrounds, including Hartman Park shown here, sit in close proximity to many of these facilities, regularly exposing residents to harmful chemicals.

Mural in children’s playground at Hartman Park.

T.e.j.a.s. staff explained that childhood asthma and other respiratory ailments affect a significant portion of the local population. A 2007 University of Texas School of Public Health study reported that children living within two miles of the ship channel had a 56 percent higher incidence of leukemia than those ten miles away. In 2016, the Union of Concerned Scientists and t.e.j.as. published a report finding higher levels of toxicity from chemical exposure in east Houston than more affluent west Houston neighborhoods. Indeed, to us, the pollution was visible and palpable. In some areas we visited, the air smelled, and almost tasted, sickly sweet.

In the first week after Harvey, damaged oil refineries and facilities released over two million pounds of hazardous substances into the air. Flood waters also triggered the release of thousands of gallons of spilled petroleum. Neighborhood residents experienced headaches, sore throats, eye irritation, and nausea at greater rates than usual. While air and water pollution has been a longtime point of contention for frontline communities, Harvey magnified the problem.

Unidad Park, complete with a picnic area, skate park, children’s playground, and baby swings. Industrial buildings can be seen in the background.

Needs and Opportunities

In the face of these overwhelming challenges, t.e.j.a.s. and Living Hope both emphasized that Harvey brought not just urgent needs but rare opportunities. The storm has provided a chance to draw increased national attention to underreported problems. Local civil society is using Harvey as a catalyst to raise awareness, build coalitions, and call for reforms to address the structural reasons low-income and minority communities are so adversely impacted by disasters in the first place. Living Hope explained that it is using services and campaigns to build organizations and movements toward long-term change. It has activated its members, raised its voice, and reached a new level of visibility.

As recovery continues, UUSC is proud to support organizations working to address the needs of underserved communities following Harvey. We are especially grateful to the generous donors who made this work possible. Six months after the hurricane, thousands of people are still unable to return home or rebuild their lives in parts of Texas. But among those most affected by the storm, we are encouraged and inspired to see people overcoming fear and adversity with dedication, strength, and courage toward a just recovery for their communities.

Syma Mirza is a consultant supporting the Rights at Risk portfolio.

Trump Administration Continues Anti-Immigrant Assault with Decision to End TPS for Salvadorans

The Trump administration today escalated its assault on immigrant communities, canceling Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for nearly 200,000 Salvadoran nationals living in the United States legally for over 15 years. Salvadorans are by far the largest community of TPS beneficiaries in the country, and this move throws life into chaos for thousands who call the United States home, as well as for the estimated 192,000 U.S. citizen children of Salvadoran TPS holders.

UUSC calls on Congress to pass permanent protections for all long-term TPS holders, a solution that has already been introduced in the form of the Safe Environment from Countries Under Repression and in Emergency (SECURE) Act, developed in part through the efforts of UUSC’s partner the UndocuBlack Network. Meanwhile, local governments must expand sanctuary policies that hold the line against federal efforts to deport and criminalize our communities until we have won permanent status for all long-term TPS holders.

Today’s TPS decision is appalling, but unsurprising. It continues this administration’s harsh stance against immigrant communities, including those with legal status, as indicated by its recent decision to revoke TPS for Haitians and several other nationalities, as well as its ongoing efforts to tie passage of the Dream Act to border militarization and restrictions to diversity visa and family-based migration.

Terminating the status flies in the face of bipartisan consensus and reveals as starkly as ever this administration’s core objective of slashing documented and undocumented immigration pathways alike, regardless of the human toll. The TPS program for Salvadorans has been renewed by both Republican and Democratic administrations since it was first designated in 2001. Scholars have extensively documented that country conditions in El Salvador continue to warrant the extension of TPS.

UUSC’s work in Central America confirms this finding. In 2016, UUSC conducted extensive research among Salvadoran asylum seekers, alongside our partners at the Independent Monitoring Group of El Salvador. The stories they told further substantiate the widely reported facts that organized criminal networks operate with impunity in El Salvador, that state authorities are unable or unwilling to provide protection, and that gangs deliberately prey upon people with known U.S. ties, including recent deportees, meaning that deportation would be tantamount to a death sentence for many.

Meredith Larson, UUSC’s Director of Advocacy, stated, “UUSC continues to work in solidarity with immigrant communities in the United States in the fight for permanent status for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients and TPS holders, as well as with our partners in El Salvador, Foundation Cristosal, who are working to build new and lasting solutions to protect victims of organized violence. Working together across our shared continent, we can and will hold the line against attempts to endanger and tear apart our communities.”