Rights Reading

Our weekly roundup of what we’re reading in human rights and social justice! In celebration of U.S. Independence Day, this week’s Rights Reading includes articles on patriotic resistance, the legacy of Henry David Thoreau, #IStandwithLinda, and moral progress.

What It Means to Be a Patriot in the Trump Era, Katrina vanden Heuvel, The Nation, July 3, 2017

Heuvel provides an important reminder of why patriotic resistance is so important under the Trump administration. Patriotic resistance stems from a love for what this country stands for – the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness – and a moral obligation to protect those ideals. Protesting is not unpatriotic, rather, when it is in the name of human rights, it constitutes the highest act of patriotism. A true patriot is willing to question and resist the injustices of their government “to make sure the country lives up to its highest ideals.”

Across the nation, more and more people have taken action; people who used to be bystanders in our political system are standing up for human and civil rights at risk. We echo Heuvel’s inspiration at seeing an increasing number of communities across the world organizing for change. What makes America “great” is its commitment to a set of values, not to the leader of the moment. UUSC is as committed as ever to work for the rights of the oppressed, and we hope you will continue to join with us.

A Muslim activist referenced jihad and the right freaked out because they don’t know what it means, Jack Jenkins, Think Progress, July 7, 2017

“In these United States of America, if you sit back idly in the face of injustice, if you maintain the current status quo that not only oppresses Muslims, but oppresses black people inside our community and outside our community, undocumented people, other minority groups and oppressed groups, you, my dear sisters and brothers, are then aligned with the oppressor.”

Linda Sarsour, a co-organizer of the Women’s March on Washington, recently drew criticism for a speech she gave at the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) convention. Here, Jenkins provides the background and context to Sarsour’s words, which were a call to action against oppression at all levels, writing that, “Sarsour was clearly using the term jihad to promote speaking truth to power.”

The Washington Post explains further, “Jihad is a central concept in Islam, and the Arabic word literally translates as “struggle” or “striving.” While the word is indeed used by some to refer to a physical military struggle to defend Islam, most Muslims use it to refer to a personal, spiritual effort to follow God, live out one’s faith and strive to be a better person.”

Last month during the UUA General Assembly, UUSC awarded Sarsour with the 2017 Eleanor Roosevelt Human Rights Leadership Award at the UUSC Awards Gala in recognition of her activism and intersectional organizing work which has bridged communities and issues to build powerful movements. During her remarks, Sarsour urged Unitarian Universalists and people who share our values to be a beacon of light and courage to stand up to injustice, and, like Heuvel in The Nation article above, reminded us that “dissent is the highest form of patriotism.” We hope that you will continue to join us in resisting and expressing dissent to policies that undermine human rights throughout the world, including in the United States.

Henry David Thoreau, the original none, Richard Higgins, UU World, July 10, 2017

Higgins celebrates transcendentalist writer Henry David Thoreau, widely recognized as the founder of American environmentalism and champion of individualism. Thoreau’s political writings and actions are the embodiment of the idea of patriotic resistance as a mechanism of progress. This article is a sweeping look at how Thoreau’s philosophy, and, more importantly, his dedication to live by it, has transcended his era and continues to be essential to human rights activism, including for Unitarian Universalists.

Thoreau was baptized a Unitarian, but formally cut his ties to the church and denounced organized religion, though he remained “religious to the bone.” Ironically, today’s Unitarian Universalism is heavily influenced by Thoreau’s philosophy. In fact, as Higgins points out, Love Resists’ “Declaration of Conscience” echoes “Thoreau’s defense of the inviolability of the human conscience” in his famous essay “Resistance to Civil Government,” more commonly known as “Civil Disobedience.”

This year marks the 200th anniversary of Thoreau’s birth, and yet his legacy has never been more relevant: “His influence is . . . palpable in the post-Trump surge in political activism in America, which is indebted to his eloquent defense of the individual’s right to resist immoral laws.” We encourage you to read Thoreau’s writings and be inspired.

Progress Never Just Happens—We Must Always Fight for It, Sara Pevar, The Establishment, January 20, 2017

While this article is a throwback to Trump’s inauguration, it remains a powerful reminder that we cannot be complacent if we want to see change. If we are, the result may be immoral leadership that perpetuates fear and hate.

Pevar does more than to call us to action in this article. She makes us take a hard look at how we view history and progress. She criticizes the naive assumption that people today are more moral, progressive, and accepting than the people of the past. This perception is not only false, but also dangerous, because it can lead people to assume that their problems will be solved by the natural progression of time, rather than through their work and participation.

Although progress is natural, it is not inevitable, and it definitely “does not move in a straight line.” Pevar provides the struggles for racial and gender equality as examples—both have gone through periods of forward momentum and experienced extreme push back for centuries. Pevar argues that, instead of people naturally improving, progress is actually the result of individuals’ continued resistance to the status quo and their struggle to defend rights they see being violated, and of individuals inspiring others into action, generating movements. “If we assume that social problems solve themselves when society is ‘ready,’ then we erase from history all the people and movements who dragged society kicking and screaming into readiness whether it liked it or not,” she writes.

“Which side are we on?”: H.3033 and 287(g) agreements

On May 8, UUSC Vice President and Chief Program Officer Rachel Freed testified on a panel before the Joint Committee on the Judiciary at the Massachusetts State House in support of H.3033, a bill designed to end 287(g) agreements in Massachusetts by preventing state and local funds from being used to enforce federal immigration laws. The panel supporting H.3033 was organized by the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition (MIRA) and included UU Mass Action Executive Director Laura Wagner and Bishop Felipe Teixeira of the Franciscan Order of Saint Joseph Cupertino. Support for H.3033 was high with over 30 speakers supporting the bill and only three in opposition, including Bristol County Sheriff Hodgson who infamously offered to send his inmates to build the U.S.-Mexico border wall without pay.

The hearing came one day after Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed SB4 into law, a vehemently anti-immigrant bill criminalizing cities that want their law enforcement to focus on “safety” and not immigration. SB4 prohibits Texas law enforcement from practicing “sanctuary” policies and allows authorities to question someone’s immigration status based on racial profiling. The bill is now facing lawsuits from civil rights organizations.

287(g) agreements are one of the main ways that local and state law enforcement agencies become empowered to serve as an arm of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and are granted authority to identify and hold undocumented immigrants for deportation. These agreements deputize police and sheriff officers to act as immigration agents and provide them with minimal training before authorizing them to perform immigration-related duties. . Implementation of the program is entirely funded by the local agencies themselves rather than the federal government.

In addition to using local resources to support federal aims, 287(g) agreements do not make communities safer. In her testimony, Freed pointed out that “When police and sheriffs become immigration agents, victims and witnesses of crime, including victims of domestic violence, are less likely to come forward to cooperate with law enforcement. Deputizing police to act as ICE agents in our communities opens the door to racial profiling and other civil rights abuses and undermines public safety by decreasing trust in police. Let’s not use already stretched local resources to do ICE’s job for them.”

Passing H.3033 and ending 287(g) agreements is an important first step for the state, but also not enough. This is why many Massachusetts communities are rallying behind immigrants and are focusing on getting involved at the local level.

UUSC continues to work in coalition in Massachusetts to support these efforts as well as to pass groundbreaking state legislation like the Safe Communities Act (S.1305 and H.3269). The Safe Communities Act would set a new standard for pro-immigrant state legislation. It both goes further to restrict local agents’ participation in immigration enforcement and also prohibits state law enforcement agencies and the Mass. Registry of Motor Vehicles from allowing federal access to their data, limiting their ability of the federal government to use that data for the purpose of a Muslim registry or another tracking system based on religion or national origin.

Freed ended her testimony posing a question to the Mass. legislature and Governor Baker: “Which side are we on? Are we going to be complicit with President Trump’s anti-immigrant agenda? Or will we take a bold stand to defend and protect our communities from it?”

Update as of May 24, 2017: H.3033 was reported out favorably from the Joint Committee but the planned vote was indefinitely postponed” today. UUSC is closely following the legislation to see where Massachusetts lands.

 

Rights, Rulings, and Raids: Unpacking recent events

The past two weeks have been an emotional roller coaster of partial victories and terrifying setbacks for immigrants, refugees, and their allies. While we have felt confusion and fear, for the work ahead we need clarity and hope.

This series aims to put recent events in context by looking closely at positive signs for the future, some of our deepest challenges, and the work that remains.

The “Muslim ban” order is defeated (for now)

The Trump administration’s notorious “Muslim ban” has been handed a series of well-deserved defeats in the courts over the past two weeks. On February 3, a district court judge in Washington issued a temporary restraining order that forbids the Trump administration from implementing the ban. Later that week, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that decision. On February 13, a district court in Virginia issued a similar ruling. And yesterday, the government announced that it would not appeal the Ninth Circuit’s decision, effectively conceding defeat. While litigation on the constitutionality of the ban will proceed in the Washington State district court, the administration is signaling that it has all but abandoned its defense of the original order.

This was a great, if temporary, victory for refugees, immigrants, and advocates, including UUSC. Every day that the government is prevented from carrying out the executive order is a day that family members can reunite in the United States, refugees can continue to reach safety, and our founding principles are shielded from the administration’s assault on due process, equality before the law, and religious freedom.

Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Building in San Francisco, CA
James R. Browning United States Court of Appeals Building
Hope for the future

The fight against the ban is far from over. The administration claims to be working on a new draft of the executive order, which will accomplish many of the same invidious ends but be less vulnerable to legal challenge. Moreover, if the order is voluntarily rescinded by the president without being decisively thrown out by the courts, there is no guarantee that it won’t be revived.

The good news is that the Ninth Circuit’s 29-page decision reaffirmed three fundamental principles of our democracy that will continue to serve as a roadblock to similar executive orders in the future. They offer a firm position from which to challenge all efforts to sneak discriminatory orders past the courts, regardless of the specific form these will take.

  1. The president’s control over immigration and national security is not absolute.

While the executive branch has considerable discretion in matters of foreign policy and immigration, it is still subject to the constitution. In its brief, the government argued that the president’s travel ban was “unreviewable” by the courts. However, the judges flatly rejected this claim, saying that it “runs contrary to the fundamental structure of our constitutional democracy.”

The president does have latitude to restrict immigration in the interests of national security, but it must be based on an actual analysis of the risks involved. It cannot serve as a blanket cover for discrimination or for violations of human rights. At this point, the government has not provided sufficient evidence that the refugee and immigration programs the executive order assailed pose a genuine security risk.

  1. Everyone has constitutional rights, even if you are a non-citizen and/or undocumented.

One of most the important sections of the U.S. Constitution is the 14th Amendment, which states that the government shall not, “deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” While non-citizens are not afforded the same rights as citizens, courts have long held that there are limited constitutional protections for all people in the United States, regardless of immigration status.

The government tried to deny this fact in defending its travel ban, arguing that only U.S. citizens could raise constitutional challenges. The judges sharply dismissed this assertion, thereby reaffirming a fundamental civil rights principle.

  1. Discrimination, even when disguised, is still illegal.

In defending its actions, the government tried to assert that the travel ban had nothing to do with the president’s oft-repeated demand for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.” This runs contrary to Trump’s own campaign website, as well as to a close advisor stating that Trump himself called it a “Muslim ban” and asked for guidance on “the right way to do it legally.”

In fact, Trump’s expressed intention to discriminate against Muslims on the campaign trail does matter greatly to this case, even if the administration now argues that no such intention existed at the time of the order. As the Ninth Circuit’s decision states: “[C]ircumstantial evidence of intent, including the historical background of the decision and statements by decisionmakers, may be considered in evaluating whether a governmental action was motivated by a discriminatory purpose.” (Emphasis added).

Finally, a law or regulation that is “facially neutral” may still be harmful and discriminatory against a particular group of people, and thus unconstitutional. For the same reason that states cannot get away with attacking minority voting rights through “poll tax” laws that don’t specifically use words like “race,” “black,” or “white,” the president likewise is not permitted to target Muslims, simply by avoiding the use of specific terms in his executive orders.

What happens next?

The “Muslim ban” executive order is one piece of a multi-pronged assault on immigrant and refugee communities. At the same time that advocates have been celebrating the temporary defeat of one executive order, the effects of two others are being felt in communities across the country, in the form of terrifying raids and restrictions on asylum-seekers that threaten the safety of us all.

Part two of this series will examine ongoing consequences of the immigration executive orders at the U.S.-Mexico border and in cities across the country.

 

UUSC Applauds 9th Circuit Ruling Blocking Trump’s Travel Ban

Protesters carrying, "No Ban" banner at No Muslim Ban march on the Capitol in Washington D.C. February 4, 2017

We will continue our work to oppose unlawful, discriminatory policies that reinforce hatred and xenophobia.

UUSC applauds yesterday’s decision by the 9th Circuit as both an important step toward protecting and supporting communities denied entry to the United States for no reason other than their country of origin and religion, and a crucial reaffirmation of the judiciary’s ability to act as a check on executive abuses. We will continue our work to oppose unlawful, unnecessary policies that reinforce hatred and xenophobia.

“It is not an overstatement to say that people’s lives are saved every day that these executive orders are restrained, especially when we’re talking about kids in an in-country refugee processing program,” said Amber Moulton, UUSC’s researcher, who has spent the past year studying ways to strengthen the government’s Central American Minors (CAM) In-Country Processing Program, which is now under threat by the administration’s actions. “We are grateful that the decision means that refugees in need of safe-haven will continue to be able to resettle in the United States in the coming days and weeks,” she continued.

We cannot rely on the courts alone to defend our rights and the rights of our neighbors. We need to make our voices heard as people of conscience.

 

While pivotal, the 9th circuit ruling is still a partial victory at best. It buys time for thousands of people whose lives would be upended or threatened by the administration’s “Muslim Ban”, but future court rulings could still reinstate the executive order in whole or in part. We cannot rely on the courts alone to defend our rights and the rights of our neighbors. We need to make our voices heard as people of conscience.

Join UUSC in Future Action to Defend Critical Human Rights

In response to concerns about how the Trump Administration is likely to proceed on these critical human rights issues, UUSC has launched a collaborative campaign with affected community groups, the Unitarian Universalist Association and the UU College of Social Justice. The campaign’s Declaration of Conscience is the first step to state, in the strongest possible terms, our joint commitment to our values in these troubling times.

This campaign will support community protection and self-defense strategies that expand the definition of “sanctuary” beyond the traditional focus on resisting the deportation of undocumented immigrants, to include policies and tactics that also align with the struggles of other marginalized populations who will be distinctly vulnerable under the Trump administration.

By signing the Declaration of Conscience, you join us in affirming our core values and declaring our willingness to put them into action. We encourage you to read the full declaration here and add your name to join us in this effort.

What Do Trump’s Executive Orders Really Mean? Part 3/3

photo of wall on the nogales borderThis series looks at the recent executive orders on immigration the Trump administration signed. Many, however have been left wondering what the actual impact of the new executive actions will be in practice. We hope this three-part executive order series of what we know so far will be helpful in finding answers. Click here to read parts one and two.

Trump’s executive orders will likely result in the return of asylum-seekers from Central America, Africa, Haiti, and elsewhere to persecution and possible death.

Trump’s orders call for the completion of a physical barrier along the U.S.-Mexico border as well as a variety of increased enforcement and surveillance mechanisms. The authority for such a “wall” already exists on paper, in the form of the 2006 “Secure Fence Act,” and there are already 650 miles of fencing along parts of the U.S.-Mexico border. Additionally, Trump’s orders call for the hiring of 5,000 additional Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents.

  • The erection of a complete “wall” on the border would undoubtedly force more people in need of livelihood and safety to attempt even more perilous border crossings, by sea or tunnel, that would place their lives at risk. It will also make it far more difficult in practice for asylum-seekers to petition authorities for refuge. The southern U.S. border is already among the most heavily patrolled, monitored, and militarized national frontiers in the world—a fact that has forced many desperate migrants and refugees to employ increasingly hazardous means to cross the border, resulting in thousands of deaths and disappearances in the borderlands.
  • Trump’s executive orders direct authorities to detain every migrant and asylum-seeker until their removal proceeding is completed. This eliminates the discretionary power of border agents to release some people when they deem appropriate (a practice that has been misleadingly dubbed “catch and release”). Such a policy will result in a massive expansion of the detention system, even as it runs up against the fact that the detention of children in family units has already been ruled unlawful multiple times in federal courts.
  • Asylum-seekers will most likely see their claims for protection rejected at far higher rates under the impact of these executive orders. The executive branch will try to remove people at an ever faster rate and reduce the burden on limited bed space in the detention centers. Asylum-seekers at the border already have to navigate an arcane screening process that is fundamentally lacking in due process. Their fates rest in the hands of asylum officers who can judge their claim for protection to be unfounded and order their return, without the asylum-seeker ever having a chance to present their case before an immigration judge.

As president, Trump has broad discretion to issue guidance to asylum officers in making credible fear determinations, and the orders include the alarming instructions to judge fear claims in “a manner consistent with the plain language” of applicable law—which in this context, means that asylum-seekers from Central America (whose lives are often in danger at the hands of criminal networks and corrupt state actors back home, but who may not fit the narrow refugee definition) will be excluded from protection in the U.S. and sent back, possibly to their death.

With these executive orders, President Trump has signaled his reckless and callous disregard for the lives, futures, and families of our immigrant neighbors and siblings. UUSC will resist these depraved efforts to undermine the values of this country and of the world community.

What Do Trump’s Executive Orders Really Mean? Part 2/3

woman behind fenceThis series looks at the recent executive orders on immigration the Trump administration signed. Many, however have been left wondering what the actual impact of the new executive actions will be in practice. We hope this three-part executive order series of what we know so far will be helpful in finding answers. Click here to read parts one and three.

Trump’s executive orders massively expand the definition of “criminal alien,” effectively making it a crime just to be undocumented.

As described in our first blog in this series, Trump’s new executive orders make plain that the administration considers any undocumented immigrant a suitable target for deportation. After green-lighting this broad deportation push, however, the order also calls for the prioritization of immigrants who have been caught up in the criminal justice system. At first glance, this mirrors the Obama administration’s “Priority Enforcement Program” (PEP). PEP already applied an extremely broad definition of criminality that often swept in immigrants who had committed only minor offenses and innocuous immigration violations. However, Trump’s priority categories are vastly expanded even beyond the PEP. These “criminal” categories will now include:

  • Immigrants who have been charged with a criminal offense but whose cases have “not been resolved”— meaning that the administration will effectively assume automatic guilt for any undocumented person who lands in a court room or is charged by the police;
  • Immigrants who have “committed acts that constitute a chargeable criminal offense.” This could include virtually every undocumented immigrant who crossed the border without permission at some point in the past, as “illegal entry” and “illegal reentry” are technically chargeable as federal crimes.
  • Immigrants who have given false social security numbers to an employer or have driven without a license, both of which could be charged as crimes, but which are a daily necessity for people who live here without documentation and who must work and transport themselves in order to survive.

The executive orders also direct the Justice Department to devote more resources to “the prosecution of criminal immigration offenses,” which include such harmless immigration violations as “entry at an improper time and place” and “reentry of a deported alien.” Such non-violent immigration violations already make up the majority of all federal criminal prosecutions nationwide, but senior Trump administration officials, including Jeff Sessions, have long signaled a desire to prosecute these offenses even more extensively.

In these ways and others, Trump’s executive orders effectively criminalize undocumented people purely for their immigration status. Furthermore, the focus on deporting immigrants who encounter the criminal justice system—even those who are not ultimately convicted of any crime— will particularly harm Black, Brown, and Muslim immigrants who are most vulnerable to racial profiling, false arrest, and any overbroad deployment of police powers.

Read the first and final posts in our series on how Trump’s executive orders on the completion of a border wall will gravely impact asylum-seekers.