Rights Reading

Our weekly roundup of what we’re reading includes a few select articles from the front lines of human rights that we don’t want you to miss. This week’s Rights Reading covers abuses in Burma against the Rohingya, the latest on Trump’s travel ban, and the life-saving work of one of our partner organizations. 

UN report details ‘devastating cruelty’ against Rohingya population in Myanmar’s Rakhine province, UN News Centre, February 3, 2017

“The Government of Myanmar must immediately halt these grave human rights violations against its own people, instead of continuing to deny they have occurred, and accepts the responsibility to ensure that victims have access to justice, reparations and safety.”

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) released a flash report detailing human rights abuses that have been taking place in Burma against the Rohingya minority Muslim population. This report is based on over 220 interviews and testimonies collected since October 2016, though this kind of violence has been taking place for decades. Kidnapping, rape, killings, forced displacement, and houses being burned down are detailed in the report. The widespread discrimination and violence against the Rohingya are systemic and most likely considered a crime against humanity. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has also expressed serious concern and have called the abuses against children “totally unacceptable.”

The report concludes that the government must take action and do more to stop these human rights abuses.

Court Refuses to Reinstate Travel Ban, Dealing Trump Another Legal Loss, The New York Times, Adam Liptak, February 9, 2017

Last week, James Robart, a federal district judge, blocked aspects of the latest executive orders to ban refugees and migrants from seven majority Muslim countries. This decision was upheld unanimously by the Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit. The decision was based on a lack of evidence that suggests acts of terrorism would increase and that the United States would be unsafe. The decision, while temporary, is predicted to be go to the Supreme Court, which is currently still operating without the ninth Justice. This could result in a tie decision, which would leave the 9th circuit decision in place.

The travel ban, which restricted refugees from seven countries and temporarily halted even visitors from those countries, has had the effect of approximately 60,000 canceled visas. Hundreds of individuals and families are now able to resume canceled flights and be reunited with their loved ones. This court ruling had no effect on other parts of the executive order, such as the decreased number of refugees that will be admitted, which the Trump administration reduced by more than 50%.

UUSC applauds the decision by the 9th circuit. Read our full statement here.

19,444 gallons of water in the desert: how volunteers save lives at the US border, The Guardian, Carrot Quinn, February 9, 2017

No More DeathsWater jugs left in the desert for migrants crossing the US-Mex border, a humanitarian aid organization and UUSC partner, delivered nearly 20,000 gallons of water throughout the desert along the U.S.-Mexico border last year. No More Deaths, a primarily volunteer-run organization, is able to run solely on volunteers – volunteers that hike for hours in the heat or in the cold along migrant trails, leaving water, food, clothing, and other supplies in certain spots.

It is not uncommon for volunteers to find human remains during their drop-offs. An estimated 6,029 bodies have been discovered in Arizona along the border since the 1990s. This month alone, volunteers have already come across five human remains. The number of deaths that have occurred are likely much higher than the estimates, as many disappearances have never been resolved.

No More Deaths is literally saving lives from risk of dehydration and starvation. Many who cross the border, or have attempted to cross the border are fleeing extreme violence in the Northern Triangle region. The situations are so desperate that many children and minors attempt this journey alone.

Read more about UUSC’s migrant justice work and details about the continuing efforts of our partner organizations in the United States to advocate for the rights of asylum-seekers once they arrive at the end of their perilous journeys.

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.

What Do Trump’s Executive Orders Really Mean? Part 1/3

Trump and administration at press conferenceThis 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 two and three.

President Trump climbed the rostrum at the Department of Homeland Security on Wednesday, January 25 to a 19th century abolitionist anthem, “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” which includes the lyric, “let us die to make men free.” Far from promising freedom, however, the new President pledged only detention, deportation, and family separation on an unprecedented scale. The orders issued on Wednesday in the name of public safety and border security—the first of several anticipated executive actions targeting refugee and immigrant communities —threaten to fulfill the worst expectations for Trump’s presidency and to bring his horrifying campaign proposals into reality.

There was no mistaking the intent behind the President’s toxic rhetoric Wednesday, which cast undocumented people as violent criminals and implied collective guilt on their part purely on the basis of race and national origin.

Trump’s executive orders will separate families and sow terror among immigrant communities through mass deportation.

The orders call for the hiring of 10,000 additional Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers, empowered to:

  • Conduct mass deportations with the broad mandate to “execute […] the immigration laws of the United States against all removable aliens.”
  • Enable federal officers to deputize state and local law enforcement to act as federal immigration agents, effectively creating an even more extensive deportation force.
  • Call for federal grants to be stripped from “sanctuary” jurisdictions that refuse to comply with or assist federal enforcement efforts.

The orders will likewise reinstate the notorious Obama-era “Secure Communities” program, under which state and local police held undocumented people in county jails on ICE detainers, to be later picked up by federal authorities and deported. “Secure Communities” was eventually retired in 2014 due to public outcry, as it effectively exposed any undocumented person who encountered local police—even for a minor offense, such as a broken taillight—to detention, deportation, and separation from their loved ones. The program not only tore families apart, but ironically, it also made communities less secure, by eviscerating trust of law enforcement agencies among the undocumented.

UUSC stands in solidarity and partnership with immigrants and refugees regardless of what comes next, so that the lyrics that accompanied the President’s speech Wednesday may be something other than a cruel irony… Let us strive to make all people free!

Read parts two and three in our series on Trump’s executive orders and their effect on criminalizing undocumented immigrants.