Rights Reading

Our weekly roundup of what we’re reading in human rights and social justice! In honor of World Refugee Day on  June 20, this week’s wrap-up includes articles about how technology is helping to address the crisis, climate refugees in Somalia, and education access for refugee children.

The current humanitarian crisis is the largest since World War II. UUSC is dedicated to fighting for the human rights of refugees. Learn more about our partner organizations working in Croatia to provide humanitarian aid for and protect the rights of refugees.

Refugee hackathons and 3D printing: apps for the world’s displaced people, Tazeen Dhunna Ahmad, The Guardian, June 20, 2017

Although humanitarian aid provides refugees access to the essentials, like food, clothing, and shelter, refugees also need access to opportunities to improve their situation. This is where technology comes in and has helped “to transform conditions and empower more than 22 million refugees worldwide.”

The majority of refugees have mobile phones, which has made travel and global communication easier. However, it’s tech initiatives, like the ones Ahmad highlights in this article, that are really helping to create education and employment opportunities for refugees. Ahmad shares the story of, Admir Masic, a former refugee who is now an associate professor at MIT, who recently launched a global hub, Refugee ACTion Hub (ReACT), to provide refugees with education. 3Dmena, another tech partnership, is providing refugees with access to prosthetic limbs, “custom-built and cheaper” due to advances in 3D printing technology.

Hackathons and other tech-centric competitions provide refugees with an innovative platform to solve the problems their communities face and to find job opportunities – from solving water leakages on camps to employing refugees to take on a backlogged recycling system.

It’s rare to find stories about refugees that aren’t grim. Technology and the opportunities it brings for human creativity and collaboration can change the conversation.

Amid Drought, Somali Pastoralists Watch Their ‘Sources of Life’ Perish, Samuel Hall Research Team & Ashley Hamer, News Deeply, June 20, 2017

The number of climate refugees is growing, and is set to grow at a higher rate as the impacts of global warming accelerate. Despite this, efforts to address climate forced displacement have been lacking and even avoided, meaning climate refugees “remain on the fringes of humanitarian support.”

Due to drought in the Horn of Africa, over 739,000 people have been forced to leave Somalia since November. Most are pastoralists who have watched their livestock die of starvation and dehydration and who have no other means of livelihood. Climate forced displacement can have, and already has had, a global ripple effect of economic disparity and violence, namely because of the damage that displacement does to families and communities. Addressing the needs of climate refugees will not only save hundreds of thousands of lives now, but can curb the more widespread conflicts that will likely come in the future.

UUSC has highlighted climate refugees as a marginalized group who are not receiving the help they need, even within the sphere of humanitarian aid providers. This is why our Environmental Justice portfolio is focusing its resources on communities at high risk of climate forced displacement.

What we owe refugee children, Elias Bou Saab, Gulf Times, June 22, 2017

Fifty-one percent of the world’s refugees are children, and without access to education, there are concerns that this group will be a “lost generation” growing up without the skills needed to rebuild their communities or to thrive. Saab, former Lebanese education minister, points out the benefits education access has for children: “Education is also a vital instrument for combating violent extremism, which can capture the minds of young people with no hope for the future. And school attendance is essential for children’s welfare, because it gives them access to basic healthcare services and protects them from the horrors of child labour and prostitution.”

World leaders have recognized the need to educate refugee children, but efforts on the part of host countries to provide education haven’t been enough. Education access has been delayed by poor organization, violence, and strained resources. Saab signifies how important it is that governments and organizations meet their monetary pledges – which many have not – but also calls on them to step up their funding for programs that make remote and online education possible. No child should grow up without an education. Visit the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to learn more.

Expanding Sanctuary in Our Schools

In our final post of the Expanded Sanctuary series, we look at how criminalization impacts young people in the school system. Read parts one and two.

Desk and chair with red apple on the desk.

Sanctuary Schools?

“We can’t say, ‘hey don’t let ICE on your campus’ and not call out over-policing of people of color on […] campuses. We can’t celebrate local police who might consider not working with ICE but who over-police and won’t make those same proclamations for other communities of color.”

Marisa Franco, director of Mijente quoted in The Nation

As the impact of Trump’s immigration policy and xenophobic rhetoric are felt across the country, including in our schools, a growing number of communities are pressing their local school districts to adopt sanctuary and “safe zone” policies to protect undocumented students. At a minimum, this means refusing to share data about a student’s immigration status with federal authorities, preventing Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) from entering school facilities, and other tried-and-true strategies.

Policies that criminalize people disproportionately impact youth of color, LGBTQI students, Muslim students, and youth with disabilities or cognitive differences. So long as school districts rely on excessively harsh discipline and the presence of law enforcement on campus, they will continue to place their immigrant students at risk.

While traditional sanctuary policies are a crucial first step, they do not address the larger problem of criminalization. Even in districts where schools have pledged to provide a level of sanctuary by not sharing student information with immigration authorities, a juvenile delinquency record can have serious consequences, including in any later contact with ICE, and schools that rely on the criminal justice system for discipline leave their undocumented students vulnerable.

This is why the concept of sanctuary must expand. In schools, this means implementing disciplinary practices that are grounded in restorative justice and respect young people’s ability to develop and learn from mistakes, rather than practices of exclusion and punishment that limit their futures.

The school-to-prison pipeline

School policies in the United States reflect larger social and political trends resulting in mass incarceration and over-policing. Students today, particularly students of color, often face a disciplinary system that would have been unthinkable twenty or thirty years ago. The presence of uniformed police has become routine on many campuses, and officers increasingly use criminal penalties to enforce school discipline.

These practices display a pattern of structural racism. Nationwide, more than half of students who are arrested at school or referred to law enforcement are people of color. Many arrests are for things that child development experts would regard as normal kid behavior. In one district in Louisiana, the Southern Poverty Law Center documented 562 school arrests in one year, many of them for such harmless and age-appropriate behavior as “yelling in the hallways.” One eighth-grader was allegedly arrested and detained for six days for throwing skittles on the school bus. 80% of those arrested were Black, even though Black students make up only 42% of the student body.

Referrals to law enforcement are one manifestation of the turn toward harsh discipline and “zero tolerance” in our schools; increasing use of out-of-school suspensions and expulsions are another. These practices cut short children’s education, erode their self-esteem, and place them into unstructured and unsafe environments that can ultimately lead to arrest or removal proceedings, what advocates call the “school-to-prison pipeline.”

Intersections with other forms of discrimination

Discrimination based on disability, race, and youth intersect to magnify a child’s vulnerability. In many cases, children are criminalized simply for displaying symptoms of their disabilities. The Center for Public Integrity reports a case in which an 11-year Black student with autism was handcuffed and criminally charged after kicking a trash can at school. Police on campus are rarely trained to know how to work with children with cognitive differences and frequently resort to violent forms of physical restraint and seclusion that can have devastating consequences for a child.

Gender nonconforming and LGBTQI students also disproportionately bear the brunt of “zero tolerance” policies. The Gay Straight Alliance Network (GSAN) notes that, while LGBTQI youth make up about 6% of the population, they represent 15% of people in juvenile detention. Many queer youth report being penalized for not conforming to gender roles in school dress codes (such as boys bringing nail polish to school or wearing hair extensions) or blamed for their own bullying.

By a cruel irony, many of the anti-bullying provisions that schools have adopted in recent years to protect LGBTQI students from harassment actually increased their criminalization. The Advancement Project, Alliance for Economic Justice, and GSAN note in a joint report that in some cases, LGBTQI students have been expelled or suspended on anti-fighting or anti-bullying grounds even though they were defending themselves from violence. Such zero-tolerance policies often fail to recognize that students who are labeled as “bullies” may have been victims of violence themselves. Many “aggressive” students engage in negative survival strategies because the long-term failure of responsible adults to protect them from harm has left them with few options.

Solutions and a path forward

Zero tolerance and “anti-bullying” policies can deprive young people of a meaningful chance to learn from their mistakes. These systems do violence to their humanity and disregard their capacity to grow and learn. Providing real sanctuary in a school setting requires more than barring ICE officers at the door. It means reducing or eliminating a school’s reliance on all forms of law enforcement to maintain student discipline and replacing them with restorative practices that allow students to recognize harms they may have caused and to learn to do better. It means creating schools that perceive the worth and dignity of all students and the inestimable contribution each can make to the school environment.

Helpful practices to counter criminalization at school can be found in The Advancement Project’s Model School Discipline Policy and a joint report by The Advancement Project, GSAN, and the Equality Federation Institute called Power in Partnerships: Building Connections at the Intersections of Racial Justice and LGBTQ Movements to End the School-to-Prison Pipeline. Some guiding principles include:

  • Deferring wherever possible to restorative practices, rather than punishment, to address student misbehavior. These could include peer mediation, behavior coaching, anger management, or classroom peace circles, among others.
  • Ensuring that children who face serious disciplinary consequences have full due process and the resources they need to keep up with the curriculum.
  • Curbing the use of subjective disciplinary categories that lend themselves to unfair enforcement, such as “disorderly or disrespectful behavior.”
  • Reallocate funding dedicated to school police and surveillance to support staff, such as guidance counselors, social workers, nurses, and restorative justice facilitators.