Rights Reading

Our weekly roundup of what we’re reading: a few select articles from the front lines of human rights that we don’t want you to miss. This week’s Rights Reading highlights articles on sanctuary, sustainability, and the Paris Agreement.

White People, It’s Time to Prioritize Justice Over Civility, Tauriq Moosa, The Establishment, May 9, 2017

Photo of justice statue

One of the hallmarks of white privilege is the option to be uninformed on and indifferent towards issues of oppression. In the name of “civility” and a backwards sense of fairness, the media has been giving white supremacists a platform on television to express their hate speech. However, this show at fairness actually undermines the platform of people of color fighting for true equality, giving them less airtime and raising white supremacists’ “concerns” to the same level as the concerns of those who are actually oppressed. Whether it’s in an effort towards equal airtime or boosting viewership, the media and white moderates’ uninvolved attitude thus promotes a more passive sense of fairness than an active move towards justice.

Moosa makes a strong argument for how the disaffected white majority can be even more harmful than hate groups. Just because white supremacists can make themselves look presentable and can express their views in a civil manner does not make their rhetoric valid or worthy of a platform in mainstream media.

Not Just Cities: We Can Become a Sanctuary Nation, Robert Greenwald and Angel Padilla, The Nation, May 9, 2017

Trump has called for a crackdown on undocumented immigrants, pushing for law enforcement everywhere to report even the smallest of misdemeanors to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). This is just one example of the alarming move towards the criminalization of marginalized communities that has been happening under the Trump administration.

“Sanctuary” is a term being used a lot lately, but it doesn’t just have to apply to cities. Communities all across the United States can engage in sanctuary practices to protect immigrants. There are many ways that individuals can get involved, such as coming together to push sanctuary laws, going with immigrants to ICE check-ins, staying vigilant and spreading the word about potential ICE raids, and working with grassroots organizations to advocate for immigrant rights.

UUSC recently called on Massachusetts to pass legislation that would would end “287(g) agreements” whereby local law enforcement personnel are authorized to perform a variety of federal immigration enforcement functions, including questioning people about their immigration status, arresting them for immigration violations, and place them in deportation proceedings. Read the press release here.

You can also read our Expanded Sanctuary blog series to learn more.

White House Advisors Postpone Paris Climate Deal Meeting, Andrew Restuccia, Politico, May 8, 2017

Yet again, Trump’s meeting with advisers to discuss the United States’ involvement in the Paris Agreement has been postponed. His advisers are in disagreement on this issue. Trump is expected to make a decision soon on whether the United States will withdraw from the Paris Agreement, a potential step that is being condemned worldwide.

During his election campaign, Trump stated his intent to withdraw the U.S. from the climate deal. Already under his administration, we have seen an increase in policies and government appointments that favor big business interests over the safety of the environment and the public. Withdrawing from the Paris Agreement is a dangerous step in the wrong direction for environmental policy and foreign relations. UUSC is watching the White House closely for further developments. Read our latest statement on Trump’s “Energy Independence” Executive Order.

The Dark Side of Fashion We Never Talk About, Rachel Selvin, Refinery29, May 8, 2017

Do you know the environmental footprint for what you’re wearing right now? It’s probably larger than you think. The process to manufacture and distribute clothing requires a high amount of energy and resources. While often overlooked, the fashion industry is one of the leading contributors to environmental pollution and resource depletion in the world.

Selvin discusses pioneering new biotechnologies to cut down on the environmental cost of fashion, but it isn’t just manufacturers who need to think more sustainably. Consumers need to be conscience of what they’re really buying, and how much. Cutting down on how many new clothes you buy and making sure that that your clothing is sustainably sourced are two great ways to reduce your personal environmental footprint.

The Good Buy, UUSC’s online store, is a great option for buying sustainably sourced products, and you’ll also be helping to fund UUSC’s human rights efforts.

Rights Reading

Our weekly roundup of what we’re reading: a few select articles from the front lines of human rights that we don’t want you to miss. This week’s Rights Readings covers immigration events, from an unjust deportation of a mother and her son to May Day protests around the world.

In a day of frantic tweets, a senator pleaded with Trump to stop a deportation. It didn’t work, Samantha Schmidt, The Washington Post, May 4, 2017

Senator Robert Casey Jr., a Democrat from Pennsylvania, pleaded with Twitter users to advocate against a mother and her five-year-old son’s imminent deportation that would likely lead to their death. After witnessing the murder of her family members in Honduras, the mother was being threatened and chased by gang members. She and her son fled to the United States seeking asylum, and they have been held at Berks County Detention Center for the past 18 months. Senator Casey, along with thousands of other Twitter users, tweeted at Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and President Trump, pleading for this family. Despite the public uproar, the mother and her son were deported.

They are the first of 14 families who have been held at Berks long-term. The other families also come from Central America and face similar situations – they are seeking asylum here in the United States. Though Senator Casey was not able to stop this specific deportation, he has written letters to DHS, signed by 13 other senators, asking for the release of four other families currently being held at Berks.

UUSC has followed this case closely and continues to demand justice now for the mothers and children detained at Berks and for all vulnerable asylum seekers fighting for their rights. Read more here! 

May Day Marches and Protests Around the World, Alan Taylor, The Atlantic, May 2, 2017

Crowds gather in the Philippines for May Day
Crowds gather in the Philippines for May Day

From Los Angeles to New York, Moscow to Manila, hundreds of thousands of people from all over the world rallied for May Day, or International Workers’ Day, to stand up for worker’s rights. The protests ranged from peaceful to forceful. In France, anti-riot police officers threw tear gas at youth who were targeting them with firebombs. In Los Angeles, pro- and anti-Trump supporters were separated by police tape. In many cities, whether protests were peaceful or violent, many were arrested as they marched. Thirty-one total cities all over the world are highlighted in this great photo-journalistic piece covering May Day events.

UUSC joined the May 1st coalition in Chelsea, Mass. Marching alongside other members of the faith community, unions, the Movement for Black lives and many others, staff joined the movement, protesting the criminalization of immigrants and communities of color, policies that threaten the planet, and economic inequality. 

Five Big Questions for the Future of the Immigrant Rights Movement, Marisa Franco, Truthout, May 2, 2017

This year’s May Day was one of the biggest since 2006, largely in part because the Trump administration has focused so much energy on deportation and the border since the election. The immigrant movement has changed in multiple ways. The anti-immigrant movement has grown more militant, more intergenerational, and unapologetic, while the other side has become intersectional, increasing connections across racial and cultural ties, and LGBTQ groups, emphasizing opposition to over policing and criminalization. Grassroots movements are also focusing more on local organizing rather than focusing on federal legislation, which was more common 10 years ago.

Franco poses some important questions about next steps and strategies and how that will shape and effect this movement on both sides. Questions around exponentially increasing engagement, not just within the immigrant community, but with allies outside; how to highlight the impact immigrants have on our economy while still holding the importance of their humanity; the targets of the movement; and finally, how we ought to be approaching this as an intersectional movement.

Read more about the immigrant rights movement in the first of our three-part Expanded Sanctuary blog series.

Defining Sanctuary Cities – and Why that Definition Must Expand

Part one of our Expanded Sanctuary blogs looks at the meaning and limitations of sanctuary cities. 

“When I hear the word ‘sanctuary,’ I envision a place that is safe for everyone — regardless of citizenship status, gender, religion, or any other marker that deems one ‘other’ in this country…I envision self-sustaining, well-resourced communities with strong bonds and networks of people who call on each other in times of need.” – Janaé Bonsu, Black Youth Project 100

Today, cities like Chicago, Boston, and New York are proudly re-affirming their commitment to being sanctuary cities for undocumented immigrants in the face of threats to their federal funding from the Trump administration. But what does it actually mean to be a “sanctuary city,” and what does it not mean?

At a basic level, self-declared sanctuary cities publicly refuse to cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in the detention and deportation of undocumented immigrants under most circumstances. However, beyond that, a common definition does not exist; rather, there are different levels of protection for immigrants bundled together under the catch-all term “sanctuary,” with some cities only doing the bare minimum and others providing maximum protection within the boundaries of the law.

Yet the greatest limit of sanctuary cities lies in racist policing practices, which affect both immigrants and U.S. citizens of color. How can a city call itself a sanctuary city if unarmed black men are being shot by the city’s police? What about a sanctuary city that doesn’t ask for immigration status, but does charge undocumented immigrants for driving without a license, resulting in a misdemeanor and their fingerprints being sent to the FBI and ICE? How can we applaud a sanctuary city that has arrest and ticket quotas for crimes of poverty like fare evasion on public transit, and then balances their budget off the backs of its poorest residents, mostly Black and Brown?

Now that the courts have blocked the President’s Executive Order to defund sanctuary cities, cities with a vision to create an environment that is safe and welcoming for all must do more. All of those scenarios are examples of “criminalization.” The best way to build a broader, more inclusive kind of sanctuary city is by listening to the solutions proposed by those most directly impacted by criminalization, who understand intimately what real, lasting change needs to look like.

In an earlier blog post, we took a deeper look at how “criminalization” is used to justify racial bias and inequality by treating entire communities as criminal, or potentially criminal. Criminalization is both symbolic and literal: it works through repeated stereotypes (we all know who is automatically associated with terms like “illegal,” “terrorist,” or “drug dealer”) and through actual arrests that create criminal records (although Black people use marijuana at a similar rate as white people, they are up to eight times more likely to be arrested for it depending on which state they live in).

Criminalization is grounded in “nativism” – a xenophobic nationalism that seeks to protect not only traditional power and wealth, but also white, straight demographic dominance in the United States. Criminalization and discriminatory policies use the same tools towards the same ends whether their target is race, religion, sexual orientation and gender identity, poverty, mental illness, or any other status that pushes groups of people to the margins of society. As Marisa Franco of Mijente explains, “In order to ‘make America great again,’ some of us will have to die, some of us will have to be pushed out, and some of us will have to be silent, malleable, and complacent.”

One clear example is the dozens of state bills introduced in recent years to prevent the fabricated threat of “Sharia law,” a set of Islamic codes guiding moral practice, from being implemented in U.S. courts. Anti-Muslim hate groups claimed that radical Muslims aimed to take over the justice system, but the bills’ originator, attorney David Yerushalmi, suggested an ulterior motive: “If this thing passed in every state without any friction, it would not have served its purpose.” It needed to attract controversy to render Muslims more suspect in the public eye. Notably, as Muslim Anti-Racism Organizer Manzoor Cheema explains, “80 percent of these laws were introduced by legislators that also introduced anti-gay marriage laws, anti-abortion laws, voter suppression laws, anti-immigrant laws, and right-to-work (anti-union) laws.”

Similarly, North Carolina’s infamous anti-transgender bathroom bill of 2016, HB2, also included provisions that revoke workplace discrimination protections based on race, religion, sex, and age. HB2 was a profoundly intersectional bill, raising to light how justifying oppression against one community opens the doors for oppression against all people treated as “other.”

The alt-right advances intersectional politics of hate. The only way to resist is through intersectional politics of love. What does this look like and how can we advocate for this? Stay tuned for our next blog post in this series: Out Intersectional Strategy: Expanded Sanctuary.

UUSC Condemns Trump’s Praise of Philippine President Duterte

On April 29, the White House reported that President Donald Trump had a “very friendly conversation” with President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines, whose brutal and illegal “war on drugs” has resulted in nearly 9,000 extrajudicial killings in less than one year. President Trump “enjoyed the conversation” so much that he invited Duterte to visit the White House. UUSC, together with our partners on the ground in the Philippines, condemns this shameful invitation.

Though praised by President Trump, Duterte’s campaign of extrajudicial killings is effectively a war on the urban poor amounting to crimes against humanity under international law. In addition to thousands of murders, more than 1 million people have “surrendered” to authorities in order to avoid being killed. The cruel drug war has also led to more than 50,000 arrests and exacerbated a problem of gross overcrowding in Philippine jails. Just days ago, a “secret jail” was discovered in the Manila District Police Station, where detainees arrested on purported drug charges were allegedly tortured.

UUSC’s partners in the Philippines, including the National Association of Social Work Educators, Inc. (NASWEI), Visayas Primary Health Care Services (VPHCS), and the Philippine Association of Community Resiliency Model Skills Trainers (PhilACTS), are working tirelessly to document instances of extrajudicial killings and provide human rights and trauma resiliency trainings to community leaders and members of civil society. President Trump’s actions over the weekend seriously undermine these efforts.

“Our partners, some of whom are risking their lives to empower and protect their communities, deserve better than an American president who fawns over authoritarianism and condones state-sanctioned murder,” said Michael Kourabas, UUSC’s Associate Director of Program & Partner Support, who recently visited the Philippines.

“President Trump’s invitation to Duterte is despicable and does not reflect the values of our country,” said former Congressman and UUSC’s President and CEO, Tom Andrews. “The United States must take a stand against power and oppression and protect the human rights and inherent dignity of all people.”

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 we are highlighting the importance of intersectionality – and some various groups that are leading this charge!

Protest groups to unite as “The Majority” for massive actions across the country on May 1, Aaron Morrison, Mic, March 23, 2017

woman holding an american flag during a protest 

Over 50 partners, comprised of refugee, LGBTQ, Black, Latino, immigrants, and other minority groups are coming together from April to May to launch protests all across the United States. These groups, known as The Majority, are calling the April to May events “Beyond the Moment,” inspired by Dr. King’s “Beyond Vietnam” speech, in which he first addressed the importance of intersectional work rather than focusing only on civil rights.

Since the inauguration of Trump, there have been weekly protests around indigenous rights, climate change, women’s rights, refugee and immigrant rights, and other issues. The Majority emphasizes that supporters of the “Beyond the Moment” movement think and go beyond this  current administration in order to effect lasting change.

Among some of the groups that make up The Majority are Mijente and Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights, UUSC partners doing amazing work.

Arab Americans lead the charge for US civil liberties, Massoud Hayoun, Al Jazeera, March 20, 2017

Arab American community leaders are working with other minority groups that are being threatened by the current administration. The working-class, people of color, women, and other groups are showing a united front in the midst of increasing threats and violence. Leaders in the Arab American community understand that social justice must be won in unity with other oppressed groups, as the struggles in one group are linked with another.

Trump’s presidency has stressed the need and importance of deepening and strengthening intersectional work. The administration has brought to light a history of this kind of work. One of several examples of intersectional work highlighted in this article is the work of Arab American Action Network (AAAN) in Chicago, an organization that works on racial profiling. AAAN works closely with teachers unions to make schools sanctuary schools for both undocumented and Black students.

As Rashad al-Dabbagh, founding director of Arab American Civic Council, a UUSC partner, states, “There’s no way we’d be able to survive without unity. That’s why it’s important to work together with all of our communities – Latinos, Asians, LGBT groups, African Americans, Indigenous peoples. Our struggles are linked. Right now, we’re at a point in history where we cannot afford to work alone.”

Read more about UUSC’s work with Arab American Civic Council here.

Texas UU coalition fights bills hostile to immigrants and transgender people, Elaine McArdle, UU World, March 28, 2017

Last February, on Legislative Action Day, 240 Unitarian Universalists from Texas met with legislators to advocate for reproductive, immigrant, refugee, and economic justice. This event was organized by Texas UU Justice Ministry (TXUUJM), a UUSC partner that organizes a statewide network of UU congregations.

One of the actions was to oppose a Sanctuary City Bill, which would affect immigrant communities. TXUUJM has a longstanding history of working with immigrant communities. TJUUJM has also been working with the transgender community and is working against a bill that prevents transgender people from choosing which bathroom they prefer to use. UUSC is proud of the wide-ranging and intersectional work that TXUUJM and other Unitarian Universalists are doing in Texas.