By Josh Leach on September 10, 2020
Welcome to our recurring feature on the UUSC blog. Every other week, we review key policy developments affecting UUSC’s work and our partners. This includes a look at Congressional negotiations, legislation moving on Capitol Hill, new regulations and other forms of executive action. We pay special attention to places where UUSC and our partners are having an impact—and where our members can help make progress happen.
Protection denied for South Sudanese immigrants: The Trump administration announced its decision on September 3 to extend Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for South Sudanese nationals for an additional 18 months. This move promises much-needed relief to the small number of South Sudanese immigrants who currently benefit from the program in the United States. However, the administration failed to issue a new TPS designation for the East African country, which is in the grip of civil war and a humanitarian crisis. As a result, as many as 2,500 South Sudanese immigrants who arrived in the United States after the date of the prior designation will be unable to apply for protection. They remain under the shadow of possible deportation to one of the world’s most dangerous places. This latest denial of humanitarian relief—the final TPS decision expected under the current presidential term—underscores the pressing need for Congress to create a path to permanent residency for TPS holders. Black Lives Matter means guarding the rights and safety of all Black people, including Black immigrants from South Sudan. As a powerful recent op-ed by a Cameroonian refugee, Chris Enow, reminds us, securing justice for Black immigrants in the United States is inseparable from the struggle to end all forms of anti-Blackness and white supremacist violence.
On the subject of TPS..: In related news, the administration has taken another step to close avenues to permanent residency for immigrants on temporary status. Last week, the Trump administration announced a policy change that would prevent TPS holders who have traveled abroad from adjusting their status to a green card—which provides a pathway to citizenship. While TPS on its own never included a path to permanent residency (which is why we need Congress to take action to create such a path), previously TPS holders—like other categories of immigrants—could apply for a green card if they otherwise qualified for the status under family preference or other pathways, and if they had been admitted back into the country after foreign travel. The Trump administration’s new policy memo needlessly treats TPS holders in an unfair way, despite the fact that thousands of TPS holders have lived in the country for decades. TPS holders are also the parents of an estimated 250,000 U.S. citizens. By barring pathways to adjustment of status based on family reunification, the administration is cruelly keeping families apart and denying fair treatment to U.S. citizens born to TPS holders. The administration should immediately rescind this policy change, and Congress should pass the Dream and Promise Act (H.R. 6) into law.
DHS “black sites” shut down, but expulsions continue: The administration’s brutal treatment of people fleeing danger is also evident in their so-called “Title 42” policy, which enables Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials to expel asylum-seekers and unaccompanied children from the country without due process. As discussed in previous updates, DHS in the course of executing this policy held children in a network of undisclosed locations throughout the country—secret “black sites” where they were denied access to attorneys and deported without a hearing. In an important legal victory, federal judge Dolly Gee ruled on September 4 that this practice violates the Flores Settlement—a binding legal agreement governing the treatment of immigrant children in U.S. custody. However, Judge Gee’s ruling did not extend to the expulsions policy as a whole. While DHS will be barred from detaining children at hotels starting on September 15, “Title 42” expulsions of unaccompanied children and asylum-seeking adults are expected to continue. The peril of expelling refugees without due process was underlined last week when Nicaraguan activists, who had survived torture at the hands of their country’s government, were sent back into danger under the Title 42 rule. As seven members of Congress wrote in a September 3 letter to the White House, expulsions of Nicaraguan torture survivors “demonstrate the human cost of your administration’s four-year effort to dismantle the U.S. asylum system[.]” The fight goes on to end the expulsion practice in its entirety, as it violates U.S. and international law governing the treatment of refugees.
Hurricane Laura lays bare multiple policy failures: The devastation caused by Hurricane Laura—the latest major storm to hit the Gulf Coast—underscores the increasing danger and potency of natural disasters due to climate change, as well as the failure of U.S. authorities to ensure the prompt and safe evacuation of people in the storm’s path. Particularly concerning are reports that ICE detention centers continued to hold people in custody despite severe flooding from the storm, leading to unsanitary and life-threatening conditions. ICE has the authority to release people in its custody through its parole power. It is unconscionable that during a time of global pandemic, ICE continues to hold thousands of people in detention around the country. Major storm events further emphasize the need to promptly free people from prisons, jails, and detention centers where their lives are at risk.
Meanwhile, as the country is battered by climate impacts, the Trump administration is falsely touting its environmental legacy. These late-stage efforts at green-washing do not disguise the fact that this administration has reversed key policy gains on limiting carbon emissions, opened protected Indigenous territories to oil and gas extraction, rolled back regulations that ensure public participation in major infrastructure projects, and permitted extractive industries to dump higher levels of neurotoxins and other dangerous pollutants into the environment. These forms of ecological destruction disproportionately harm the same working-class and BIPOC communities hit hardest by natural disasters. Congress and the executive branch must work to overcome—not exacerbate—these patterns of environmental racism, including by passing the BREATHE Act. Learn more about how to support this visionary legislation, which addresses environmental injustice as well as many other forms of structural racism, by downloading UUSC’s BREATHE Act Toolkit—a companion to our webinar series with Side With Love—on how to deepen our alignment with the Movement for Black Lives.
About UUSC: Guided by the belief that all people have inherent worth and dignity, UUSC advances human rights globally by partnering with affected communities who are confronting injustice, mobilizing to challenge oppressive systems, and inspiring and sustaining spiritually grounded activism for justice. We invite you to join us in this journey toward realizing a better future!
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