Update 12/8/22: The Biden administration has now appealed Judge Sullivan's ruling, backtracking yet again on their promises to protect asylum rights. While the outcome of the litigation is not yet clear, the administration's decision increases the odds that Title 42 will remain in effect past its currently-scheduled end date.

Challenging Injustice, Advancing Human Rights

The Unitarian Universalist Service Committee advances human rights through grassroots collaborations.

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Midterm Voter Guide

Congressional elections are almost upon us. What should human rights-conscious voters be looking for?
People of diverse demographics waiting in line to vote with a backdrop of nation's capitol

November 3, 2022

With the congressional midterm elections around the corner, voters may be wondering about their candidates’ positions on the core human rights issues of UUSC’s work. As nonpartisan advocates, we don’t endorse any particular candidates for office, and we hold all elected officials to the same high standard of promoting human rights—regardless of the party they support or the promises they have made in the past. However, we also know that many key human rights issues are likely to come before the next Congress when it takes office in the new year, no matter who’s elected. Voters should keep these in mind when they cast their ballots in November. 

Below, we share some updates on the vital legislative issues that will confront the 118th Congress relating to UUSC’s human rights objectives, as well as some resources to find out more about candidates’ positions on these issues. We hope this list provides a good jumping-off point for voters to research their options in November; it is by no means exhaustive of the important factors to weigh in deciding how to vote. 

Migrant Justice: Supporting a Path to Citizenship and Opposing Title 42

Congress needs to move quickly to secure a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. With a federal appeals court recently declaring DACA to be “illegal” and sending the program back down to a hostile district court judge, the future of hundreds of thousands of immigrant young people is in legal jeopardy. The only way for DACA recipients to have permanent status and peace of mind is for Congress to act. It is long past time to enact the Dream and Promise Act or something similar—with no anti-immigrant poison pills attached—that would ensure a path to citizenship for DACA and TPS holders. 

We also need to hold our elected officials to account if they fail to protect and support our nation’s asylum system. The right to seek asylum is not only guaranteed under U.S. and international law, it is also a basic human moral obligation. It is one of the precious few provisions under law that prevents people from being forcibly returned to the danger of persecution. Despite its life-and-death importance, however, the U.S. government has largely set the asylum right aside under a pandemic-era policy known as Title 42. This shameful policy remains in place due to a court order, separate from any legislation. But Congress must at least refrain from trying to extend Title 42, as some senators recently attempted to do

Voters can find out more about their candidates’ and elected leaders’ stances on these issues by looking at whether they voted in favor of the Dream and Promise Act the last time it was brought to the House floor (if so, that’s good!), and seeing whether or not they co-sponsored legislation that would extend Title 42 (if so, that’s bad!). 

Climate Justice: Opposing Backroom Fossil Fuel Industry Giveaways

This past summer, Congress took historic climate action when it passed the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA)—marking the first time a major federal climate bill of any sort had made it through the U.S. legislative process. UUSC and our allies, while welcoming the positive aspects of the bill, also warned against its many dangerous and harmful concessions to fossil fuel interests, especially since the worst impacts of these carve-outs are likely to fall on Indigenous, Black, and Brown communities in Louisiana, Alaska, and and other frontline climate-affected areas worldwide.  

As if these harmful concessions weren’t enough, though, Senate leadership also made a backroom deal with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) in order to ensure its passage. In short, they pledged to change the permitting process for new fossil fuel projects before the end of the fiscal year, in exchange for Manchin’s vote in favor of the IRA. These permitting “reforms,” however innocuous they may sound, would have the effect of vastly speeding up construction of new oil and gas projects, worsening climate impacts and exacerbating environmental injustice. Worse still, Manchin’s proposed bill would specifically greenlight a gas pipeline in his own state that courts had previously blocked due to its harmful environmental impact. 

Climate advocates succeeded in persuading the Senate to drop these provisions from government spending legislation and say no (for now) to the backroom “side deal.” But Manchin’s underlying bill, the “Energy Independence and Security Act”—or some similar permitting reform measure—could come back in the 118th Congress. Voters should look into their candidates’ stance on permitting reform and oppose any further legislative give-aways to planet-heating oil and gas interests. 

International Justice: Supporting Accountability for Burma’s Genocidal Military

The Burmese military committed a genocide against the Rohingya people of their country in August 2017, and in every legislative session since then, UUSC and our partners have urged Congress to enact long-overdue sanctions—embodied in the BURMA Act—to hold Burma’s brutal military to account. After that same military then seized power in a violent coup last year, and began waging relentless war against their own civilian population, the case for passing these measures should be even more obvious. But Congress has nonetheless continued to drag their feet. 

Now, the BURMA Act has a new chance for passage as an attachment to the National Defense Authorization Act—the annual must-pass spending bill that funds the U.S. military. The House has already added the BURMA Act to this bill as a rider, and passed it through the lower chamber. All we need now is for the Senate to do their part. Support from key senators—particularly Idaho’s Jim Risch—would be instrumental in getting this bill over the finish line. (UUSC supporters can take action anywhere in the country here; if you are from Idaho, you can specifically take action by contacting your junior senator here). 

Regardless of whether the BURMA Act passes in this session, however, the votes that candidates and legislators have taken on its provisions can tell us a lot about how supportive they will be of the Burmese people’s human rights in the future. Check out the results of a previous roll call vote on the BURMA Act—from the 116th Congress—to see whether your candidate has taken action to support this vital accountability measure and shown their support for international justice.

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