UUSC Condemns Shameful Raid on Migrant Desert Camp

UUSC is extremely disturbed by last week’s raid on the humanitarian aid camp operated by No More Deaths (NMD), a Tucson, Ariz.-based group with whom we partner. NMD provides life-saving food, water and medical care for people making the dangerous journey through remote parts of the Arizona desert on foot, and the raid on their camp represents a reprehensible disregard for the lives of migrants and refugees by the current administration.

On a day when temperatures surged over 100 degrees, U.S. Border Patrol descended on NMD’s aid camp with a helicopter, fifteen trucks and thirty armed agents in an unprecedented show of force. Four patients receiving medical care were arrested, and countless others in need of aid were prevented from doing so by a mobile checkpoint that had been set up at the entrance to the camp.

Since its founding in 2003, NMD has had a good working relationship with the Tucson Sector of Border Patrol. In 2013 the groups agreed in writing that their camp would be respected as a medical facility. The raid marks a disturbing shift in U.S. government policy and violates not only this agreement but international humanitarian law and International Red Cross standards that prohibit government interference with aid centers.

Many of those who make the unauthorized crossings through the Mexico-U.S. border in Arizona are refugees escaping extreme violence and instability in Central America. When people are fleeing for their lives, the merciless desert terrain and the threat of arrest will not deter them from seeking safety in the United States. The aid camp is an essential tool to prevent loss of life—human remains are found on average once every three days in this area—and the raid is a targeted attack on the migrants and refugees who seek its services.

UUSC been in solidarity with NMD since 2015 and is currently funding a series of reports that exposes Border Patrol’s anti-humanitarian policies and practices which have created a crisis of migrant death in the desert. We continue to support NMD in their mission, and we call on the Trump administration to direct Border Patrol to immediately comply with the law and stop obstructing humanitarian aid.

Deportations to Iraq Reflect “New Low of Cynicism and Immorality”

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) launched raids earlier this week targeting Iraqi communities in Tennessee and Michigan, resulting in over 200 arrests of immigrants with prior deportation orders, many of whom are members of Iraq’s Chaldean Christian and Kurdish minorities. While attorneys and advocates race to secure emergency relief, these individuals are now at imminent risk of deportation to ongoing conflict, humanitarian crisis, and the threat of persecution in Iraq.

UUSC strongly condemns any forced returns to Iraq while the country is still at war and the government cannot or will not ensure the safety of its citizens. Not only do such returns violate the obligations of the U.S. under international law, but it is a particularly callous move in light of its own contributions to conflict, instability, civilian casualties, and human rights violations in Iraq over the past fifteen years.

The way in which the resumed deportations to Iraq were negotiated likewise reflects a new low of cynicism and immorality for this administration. Iraq was one of seven Muslim-majority countries included in the original version of Trump’s notorious “travel ban.” Its removal from the list in the second version of the ban is believed to be due in part to Iraq agreeing to resume receiving deportees again from the United States.

In short, despite the fact that Trump’s Muslim Ban has been repeatedly halted in the courts for being flagrantly discriminatory, it is still being used as political blackmail to coerce other governments to process removals to some of the most dangerous places in the world. 

The specific targeting of Christian and Kurdish Iraqi communities by ICE shows that everyone is endangered by this administration’s reckless xenophobia and Islamophobia, whether they are Muslim or not. Trump defended his Muslim Ban when it was first announced as a sign of his support for Christians in Iraq and Syria, who have faced genocidal violence from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Now that same ban is leading to the deportation of Iraqi Christians directly into the hands of their persecutors.

Threats to the human rights and civil liberties of our Christian, Arab, and Muslim neighbors are unacceptable. UUSC opposes any and all deportations to active conflict zones or ongoing sites of persecution and stands in solidarity with the Iraqi immigrant communities in this moment of peril.

The Philippines Face Martial Law and Threat of Rape

On May 23, 2017, President Duterte declared martial law on the Philippines’ island of Mindanao, in response to an escalation in hostilities between government forces and the Maute group, a terrorist organization allied with the Islamic State. Shortly after the declaration, Duterte suspended habeas corpus, which requires a person be released from police custody unless lawful grounds are shown for their continued detention. He also warned that he may expand martial law to the Visayas, the region hardest hit by 2013’s Typhoon Haiyan and home to most of UUSC’s grassroots partners in the Philippines, if not nationwide.

In the days following the declaration, Duterte reassured the military that “he alone” would be responsible for the consequences of martial law, going so far as to tell them, “If you have committed rape, I’ll take responsibility for it.” He also reminded troops in Mindanao that, under martial law they can arrest anyone and enter anyone’s home without a warrant and he ordered the use of lethal force against anyone who resists. Warrantless arrests have already begun at checkpoints in Mindanao and there are reports of escalating human rights violations in the region.

There are good reasons to be especially concerned about the return of martial law in the Philippines. During the ten-year imposition of martial law under former President Ferdinand Marcos, there were thousands of human rights violations, including arbitrary detentions, torture, disappearances, and extrajudicial killings. Duterte has already promised that his version of martial law would mirror Marcos’. Given the extent to which Duterte has previously disregarded human rights and overseen the degradation of the rule of law in the Philippines, there is no reason why we should not take him at his word.

An anti-martial law protest on May 24, 2017.

Human rights groups in the Philippines, including a number of UUSC’s partners, have been outspoken in their opposition to the return of martial law despite the risk that such resistance entails. Shortly after the declaration, there were anti-martial law protests across the country, and on May 30, JustPeacePH, an international platform for peace in the Philippines, issued a statement renouncing martial law in Mindanao. UUSC joins our Philippines partners and allies in opposing the return of martial law to the Philippines and the continued erosion of the rule of law and respect for human rights under President Duterte.

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.