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, we are highlighting ways to get involved in the #May1Strike, the Nepal Earthquake anniversary, and the anniversary of the Rana Plaza Factory Collapse.

 Immigration rights demonstrators rally in downtown Los Angeles 11 years ago.

How to Join the ‘Day Without Immigrants’ on May Day, Ariana Rosas Cardenas, The Nation, April 28, 2017 

 “When workers, immigrants, women, Muslims, black and brown, indigenous, queer and trans communities face exploitation, criminalization, incarceration, deportation, violence and harassment, we strike.”

This year’s May Day, an annual worker’s day strike held on International Worker’s Day, is expected to have the biggest turnout in over 10 years. Not only are immigrants and workers participating, but Native Americans, refugees, LGBTQ, and people of color are all joining to protest the Trump administration’s threats and attacks on minority communities.

Hundreds and thousands will be missing work, school, and shopping to show the impacts these combined communities and movements can have and to defy the hate and criminalization they are facing. This article highlights different events that are happening all across the United States.

Together with the Unitarian Universalist Association, UUSC has launched a joint campaign, Love Resists, to resist hate and create more welcoming communities. We’ve posted some more ways you can participate in May 1 events here!

Nepal’s earthquake disaster: Two years and $4.1bn later, Narayan Adhikari, Al Jazeera, April 24, 2017

It has been two years since the Nepal Earthquake, and only 5% of the houses that were destroyed have been rebuilt. The Nepal Earthquake destroyed close to 824,000 homes, which means over 800,000 families are still waiting for their homes to be rebuilt. Despite over $4 billion being donated and pledged for reconstruction efforts, only 12% of these funds have been used. A lack of government coordination and understanding, low participation among local groups, and overall lack of transparency have all contributed to slow recovery.

The article emphasizes that “the international community can bring about more lasting change by directing their support towards citizens and local organisations committed to solving the root problems of corruption and lack of information.”

UUSC is proud to be part of this international community that brings lasting change. We work with grassroots partners that are empowering survivors and protecting their rights as they rebuild their homes and lives. Read more about our work with two of these organizations!

It Has Been Four Years Since the Rana Plaza Factory Collapse—How Much Has Changed?, Michelle Chen, The Nation, April 24, 2017

Four years ago, Bangladesh’s Rana Plaza factory collapsed, killing more than 1,000 workers and fueling an outrage for labor reform needs in the garment industry. Despite this outrage, labor reforms have been slow to make. After hundreds went on strike at one of the manufacturing centers in Ashulia, labor activists and factory workers have been fired and accused of various acts by the same government that promised reforms and protections four years ago.

Wage theft and proper working conditions are some of the basic demands workers are asking for. Activists and workers that speak out are being punished, and at the end of the day, workers feel that large companies are only looking to make a profit. These workers currently only making $67 a month, and the raise they were asking for is still far below a livable wage.

International pressure has allowed for some regulations and improved working conditions, but without continued public pressure, workers are losing their right to organize – a detrimental effect on equal rights and protections. Without the ability to organize, there is also no structure to hold owners and bosses accountable.

The Good Buy, UUSC’s online store, recently published a blog with resources on how you can get involved in the Fashion Revolution campaign, a new movement to wake up people to the continued injustice in the garment industry.

Criminalization: Legalized Discrimination

Last month, I was privileged to attend the “Defend, Defy, Expand” conference in Philadelphia, organized by Mijente, BYP 100, the Undocublack Network, DRUM, and others, where we met leaders from Muslim, South Asian, Black, immigrant, Latinx, and trans communities, who are taking unprecedented action to build new alliances across multiple movements with the goal of advancing and expanding the concept of sanctuary. This means making our shared communities safer for all of us, in particular for those who are most at risk. At the heart of the expanded sanctuary concept is the need to end criminalization, a shared threat that extends across communities.

What is criminalization?

Simply put, “criminalization” refers to the stereotyping and treatment of whole communities as “criminal” or “terrorist,” rather than responding to the actions people take as individuals. The experience of being “criminalized” is something that at-risk communities – trans, undocumented, Muslim, and Black – have in common. For communities who directly encounter the immigration enforcement, criminal justice, and national security systems every day, the reality of this problem, and the need to combat it, are readily apparent.

How communities are criminalized

The Movement for Black Lives has brought national attention to the way in which Black neighborhoods are over-policed and subjected to unfair and invasive law enforcement tactics like “stop and frisk,” which violate constitutional rights and fuel mass incarceration. Similarly, Muslim people have faced racial profiling and invasive surveillance through various programs, including a notorious post-9/11 New York City Police Department program that infiltrated Muslim houses of worship with a network of informants and which was ultimately halted by court order because it violated civil rights protections.

Undocumented immigrants meanwhile are being increasingly threatened with federal criminal charges for “illegal entry,” “illegal reentry,” and other crimes that are related solely to immigration status, and which already make up a majority of federal criminal prosecutions nationwide. The current administration has even started threatening to lock up immigrant parents on “human trafficking” charges if they hire a coyote, or smuggler, to bring their children to the United States—even though this is often the only way for asylum-seekers and others to reach safety, since criminal networks control most of the border crossings.

Grassroots organizations like the Queer Detainee Empowerment Project describe the way in which transgender and gender non-conforming people are often profiled and harassed by police on the false assumption that they are sex workers. Stereotypes and prejudices about trans people as “dangerous” has likewise been central in recent attempts to roll back trans civil rights through various state “bathroom bills.” One recent ad campaign, funded by an anti-LGBTQI hate group in Texas, depicts trans people as sex offenders who will use gender inclusive bathroom policies to attack women and girls.

Trans people also face exceptionally high rates of housing and employment discrimination, which forces many into poverty and homelessness and leads, in turn, to what advocates describe as “crimes of survival.” These are offenses like loitering or public urination that while technically criminal offenses, are almost impossible to avoid for people who are denied a decent place to live and a chance for lawful employment.

Persecuting at-risk communities

The cruelest irony of criminalization is that it treats as dangerous the very people who are often most at risk. Black Muslim immigrants, including the large Somali refugee community in the United States, endure stigmatization as potential “terrorists” and “criminals” due to intersection of their multiple identities. Yet, they are themselves at grave risk of suffering terrorism and violence in the form of hate crimes for precisely this reason. Earlier this year, a group of white supremacists plotted to bomb an apartment complex because its residents were Somali immigrants. Fortunately, the plot was foiled before it could be carried out, but it is a terrifying reminder of the potential for violence set off by government policies that stereotype and stigmatize whole communities.

Politicians and lobbyists have long exploited the rhetoric of criminalization, often because there are powerful interests with a stake in maintaining systems of mass incarceration, detention, and deportation. For example, criminalization benefits the private prison industry; airlines that contract to carry out deportation flights; and international telecom companies that rely on the cheap labor of English-speaking deportees to work in call centers. The Trump administration has carried this discourse to a fever pitch, demanding a national “stop-and-frisk” policy on the campaign trail and creating an office to monitor crimes committed by “illegal immigrants,” as if offenses are somehow worse when committed by undocumented people than when they are done by citizens.

Why should we resist and take action against criminalization?

Criminalization is a threat to our values as people of conscience. We resist the criminalization and stigmatization of whole communities because we believe that every individual has worth and dignity as an individual. This means that we all have the right to be judged on the merits of our actions, not on the basis of stereotypes about our identities. Not only is this a minimal requirement of fairness, it is also crucial to the right to due process.

For those of us, like myself, who grew up in privileged settings where federal agents and law enforcement were not a daily feature of life, the concept of “criminalization” is not always intuitive. Meeting community leaders who are on the front lines of the struggle for dignity and sanctuary, has shown me why it is so important to gain a clearer understanding of this term and resist efforts to legalize discrimination. Confronting criminalization and ending it is key to creating communities that will be genuine sanctuaries for all.

Asylum-Seeking Families at Risk Under Trump’s Aggressive Immigration Policies

In just over a month, the new administration has executed a multi-pronged assault upon refugees and asylum-seekers who need humanitarian protections that the United States can and must provide.

Legally, people who are on U.S. soil, and meet the definition of a “refugee” should be granted asylum protections. This means that they face or fear persecution if they were returned to their country of origin based on their race, nationality, religion, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group.

98% of CAM applicants report exposure to danger in communityThe U.S. has seen a dramatic rise in asylum claims in the past decade, largely fueled by escalating violence and widespread international gang activity that has created a deadly crisis in El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala, often referred to as the “Northern Triangle” of Central America. Families seeking asylum have fled the region at incredibly high rates. From 2008-2014, asylum applications increased over 1,000% in the countries that neighbor the Northern Triangle and rose 370% in the United States.

In FY2016, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) apprehended nearly 60,000 unaccompanied minors and 77,857 families nationwide, most at the southwestern border. Many of these families were Central Americans seeking asylum in the United States. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service reports conducting nearly 100,000 credible fear screenings of asylum seekers in FY2016, with extremely high granting rates: nearly 80% of people that pundits and critics call “illegal immigrants” have a credible fear of persecution in their home country.

Refugees from the Northern Triangle

In 2014, the Obama administration created a limited refugee resettlement program allowing some children in the Northern Triangle to apply for refugee protections and be reunited with a parent who is a legal resident in the United States. The program was touted as saving children the dangerous journey through Central America and Mexico, and allowed them to seek asylum at the U.S. border. Since November 2014, there have been nearly 11,000 applications for the program and approximately 1,800 children have been reunited with their parents here in the United States with either refugee status or humanitarian parole. UUSC researchers spent the last year conducting research about how to make the Central American Minors In-Country Refugee Processing Program (CAM) even more effective and have direct testimony from CAM participants about the need for this life saving pathway to safety.

The children who use CAM are in imminent danger at the hands of gangs and corrupt police where they live. When asked why they applied for refugee status, CAM applicants have shared reasons like:

  • “I received threats from a gang member. Before that, two friends of mine who played on the same soccer team in which I played appeared dead . . . he told me that if I did not want something to happen to me or be killed, I should leave the neighborhood.”
  • “My fear sometimes is that my baby will get sick at night . . . no one leaves and if they leave they have to be accountable for where they go to the gangs. . . [my baby] suffers from epilepsy and I have to go for treatments in San Salvador, when we go we try to do everything fast, to return early . . . it is very difficult to live constantly with fear.”
  • “I am afraid to leave the house now because gang members meet outside my house . . . My family and I are in danger . . . if we do not give the [rent] they are going to kill one of us . . . you cannot live in peace.”

However, President Trump’s January 27, 2017 executive order suspending all refugee resettlement for 120 days likewise suspended CAM. While a handful of CAM refugees who had already been granted refugee status have been able to fly to the United States in the weeks since the 9th Circuit Court stayed the presidents’ executive order, the administration has effectively halted refugee processing. This avenue to refuge is now closed for thousands of Central American children who may have to begin their application almost from scratch when and if CAM is reinstated.

Part of the border wall in Nogales, Mexico.
Part of the border wall in Nogales, Mexico.

With the refugee program halted, children will need to travel through Mexico to seek asylum at the U.S. border. There, too, the administration appears poised to cause immense harm to asylum-seeking families and children. DHS Secretary Kelly’s recent memos indicate that the department will:

  • Extend the border wall to make entry into the United States more difficult.
  • Deport asylum-seekers to Mexico or place them in U.S. detention centers while they await a decision on their case, placing families in inhumane prison-like conditions that we know causes lasting harm.
  • Strip protections for unaccompanied children that are guaranteed by law and charge parents with “human trafficking” for bringing their children to the United States.

Alarmingly, reports from El Paso, Texas, indicate that CBP agents have already turned asylum-seekers back from official ports of entry, denying them even the chance to make their asylum claim.

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.

The Resistance Prevented Puzder From Becoming Labor Secretary, The Nation, John Nicols, February 15, 2017

Last Wednesday, Andrew Puzder, Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Labor, withdrew his nomination due to mounting public pressure, opposition, criticism, and most of all, resistance. Puzder, the CEO of CKE Restaurants, a parent company to many fast-food chains, has a bad reputation when it comes to worker’s rights. He has never advocated for increasing the minimum wage despite increasing overtime hours, has a history of sexist behavior, and allegations of 30 years of domestic abuse from his ex-wife. Trump’s nomination of Puzder was a disappointing blow to many workers across the country, especially after a campaign full of promises to increase wages. He is, as Elizabeth Warren stated, “the opposite of what we need in a labor secretary.”

Puzder’s reputation, opposition from republicans, but mainly resistance movements, were the perfect combination to put pressure on Puzder to step down. Labor activists and worker’s rights groups rallied and continued to gain momentum and build support for the worker’s right movement.

If you’re passionate about worker’s rights, join our partner, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), on their Return to Human Rights Tour. The march begins March 16 in Gainesville, Florida and will go through 12 cities, ending in Columbus, Ohio at the headquarters of Wendy’s on March 29.

This is What a Day Without Immigrants Looks Like, Colorlines, Kenrya Rankin, February 16, 2017

Photo of immigrants and allies at a protestIn response to the administration’s executive orders, “Muslim bans” and increasing ICE raids, immigrants and allies organized “A Day Without Immigrants” as an act of resistance and solidarity. Restaurants, businesses, and immigrant workers across the country stayed home from work and some even kept their children home from school. The main goal for this day was to show Americans the many ways in which immigrants contribute to society. Convenience stories to high end restaurants across the country closed their doors to show solidarity with their workers and the immigrant community.

Check out the rest of the article to see some amazing photos that captured this day.

Federal immigration raids net many without criminal records, sowing fear, The Washington Post, February 16, 2017

Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers are disregarding long-held rules and standards on who to arrest and where. Immigrants have been victims of racial profiling and arrested outside churches where they are seeking sanctuary; leaving domestic violence proceedings; outside of supermarkets, and arrested without having a criminal record.

Last week, nearly 700 immigrants were rounded up in a series of ICE raids that took place all over the country, inciting a new degree of fear in immigrant communities. Families are refusing to leave their homes and some have stopped sending their children to school for fear of being picked up. Despite ICE’s claims that they are only arresting those with dangerous criminal records, close to 200 of those that were arrested last week had no criminal record whatsoever.

Read more about the Muslim ban, ICE raids, and other events in our blog Rights, Rulings, and Raids: Unpacking recent events.

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.

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 articles include disturbing news from Burma, holiday celebrations from families in detention, and the dismantling of a problematic registry program. Next week, we’ll be taking a break from Rights Reading for the holidays.

At immigration detention center, every child has same Christmas wish: freedom, Ed Pilkington, The Guardian, December 21, 2016

“I knew I couldn’t trust my own government in Honduras, that they wouldn’t protect us. But we came here to the United States of America thinking that this was the home of human rights, that we would find protection here. I never dreamed we would be treated this way.”

Christmas drawings from children held in detention at Berks County Detention Center.

Nearly 20 children will be spending their second Christmas in a row locked up in the Berks County Detention Center, near Berks, Penn. These children, ages two to nine-years-old, were asked what they wanted for Christmas. The wish lists had typical requests that kids would want: toys, dolls, electronics, and other gadgets; but there was one item on the list that every child wanted: to be out of detention. Whether it was to spend time with a loved one outside of detention, to be out of the Berks center, or just freedom, these children expressed the desire to be released from behind bars.

The mothers and children have fled from the Northern Triangle, a region in Central America that is considered to be the most dangerous of the world. These families have come to the United States fleeing gang violence and death threats that have become rampant in this region only to be detained for an indefinite amount of time. Immigrant groups and other advocacy groups, including UUSC, argue that there is no reason why these families should not be released, and in fact, studies have shown the psychological and emotional damage that prolonged detention has on children. These advocate groups and families are even more anxious now with the new administration threatening to deport them immediately.

For more information on the impact detention is having on families, read UUSC’s report, “No Safe Haven Here, a mental health assessment of women and children held in U.S. immigration detention.

Aldea, one of our advocacy partners, has put together an amazing Berks advent calendar, where you can take action and support these children at Berks. Help spread the word and bring hope to these families.

Obama to Dismantle Visitor Registry Before Trump Can Revive It, The New York Times, J. David Goodman and Ron Nixon, December 22, 2016

“We refuse to build a database of people based on their constitutionally protected religious beliefs.”

We’re excited to share an update and victory to one of our previous Rights Reading articles, about the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (Nseers), a visa-tracking program that would essentially be used to register Arabs and Muslims. UUSC, along with 200 other organizations, signed a letter to President Obama asking him to abolish this program. We’re happy to report that the Obama administration has officially dismantled this program in preparation for the incoming administration, which has suggested a revival of this program or something similar to it.

Not only is Nseers controversial, the Department of Homeland Security also found it to be “redundant, inefficient, with no added security”. In addition, there were no terrorism convictions as a result of Nseers.

This announcement follows news of a powerful pledge from hundreds of technology companies, including Facebook and Google, declaring “they stood in solidarity with Muslim Americans and immigrants and would not use their skills for the ‘new administration’s proposed data-collection policies.” We encourage you to read the full statement.

Militants in Myanmar Spur Army Reprisals, Refugee Flight, Syed Zain Al-Mahmood, Wall Street Journal, December 23, 2016

“Despite living in Rakhine state for generations, Rohingya Muslims are seen by many in the country not as fellow citizens but as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.”

Rohingya refugee breaks down during protest.

United Nations officials are claiming that a genocide is unfolding in Rakhine State in western Burma against the ethnic Rohingya Muslim minority. Radical, nationalist monks and their political allies in government have convinced millions that Muslims in general, and the Rohingya in particular, are a threat to their religion, their families, and their nation. Concentration-like camps have been built and entire villages are under attack. Recent satellite imagery shows that at least three have been burnt to the ground.

Tens of thousands of Rohingya are risking their lives to get out of the country as fast as possible. UUSC is working directly with our partners on the ground in Burma, as well Rohingya leaders and other allied groups who are fighting to document the truth and get food and aid to those in desperate need.