Celebrating New Partnerships to Advance Economic Justice

UUSC partners with over 80 organizations across the world to protect and advance human rights. In this three-part series, I will highlight a few of our newest partners and the projects we’re supporting across our focus areas: Economic Justice, Environmental Justice and Climate Action, and Rights at Risk.

Our Economic Justice Program strives to protect the rights of low-wage workers in the United States who face discrimination and human rights violations in the workforce, including immigrants, Muslims, and people of color. We partner with worker centers to strengthen protection mechanisms, improve working conditions, and respond to violations. In Central America, through the sale of Equal Exchange fair trade coffee, chocolate and other products, we support small farmer co-operatives to build sustainable livelihoods and advance human rights of other cooperative groups, particularly the rights of women, youth, and indigenous people. I’m excited to share with you three of our newest partnerships and projects that we’re currently supporting to advance economic justice.

Greater Minnesota Worker Center: Resist & Persist Campaign

The Greater Minnesota Worker Center
(GMWC) is “a coalition of low wage workers, community and labor activists, academics, and progressive clergy and laity to support low wage workers to build power, improve working conditions, and raise wages for workers and to improve the quality of life in Greater Minnesota.”

UUSC has partnered with GMWC, on their “Resist and Persist” (R&P) Campaign, a new project designed to provide added support to refugee and undocumented immigrant workers in Minnesota.

In the first few months of Trump’s presidency, GMWC has seen how anti-immigration policies and sentiments have already added to the marginalization of refugee and immigrant populations in Minnesota. One of the primary goals of R&P is to engage local communities in sanctuary practices by educating workers on their rights, creating a support network within the state, and engaging in legislative advocacy that protects the rights of refugees and immigrants. Another goal of the project is to provide low-wage immigrant and refugee workers with the knowledge, skills, and resources to organize for better working conditions.

“GMWC believes that we should not jeopardize the safety and security of people who have fled their homeland and have sought sanctuary in our shores due to a well-founded fear of persecution based on ethnicity, race, religion and other factors.” UUSC has partnered with GMWC to support the R&P Campaign because we share this belief. Learn more about GMWC and their innovative work here.

Fundación entre Mujeres: Strengthening of Strategic Planning Processes and Promotion of Sustainable Systems

Fundación entre Mujeres (FEM) is an organization of women farmers in northern Nicaragua. The organization “promotes ideological, economic, political and organizational empowerment through a holistic approach.”

Most Nicaraguan peasant women face a multitude of problems that deepen existing inequalities in access to and control over land and property and all their rights, including the right to live a life free from violence. These rights are threatened by the advance of monocultivist production (eg tobacco), and a state policy that does not favor the reduction of inequality gaps that peasant women face.

To counter these threats, FEM has a long-term goal to sensitize rural women to sustainable agricultural practices, which will give them control over their lives and the means to support themselves. UUSC has partnered with FEM to “support the development of a strategic organizational plan and the development of an agro-ecological defense network”. This commitment will help FEM continue to promote the processes of integral empowerment of peasant women, for the full exercise of their rights and the realization of their economic rights from a feminist, agroecological, and food sovereignty perspective.

FEM is an organization that has been promoting the rights of Nicaraguan peasant women for more than two decades, supporting education, preventing and caring for survivors of gender-based violence, and promoting sustainable agricultural practices in pursuit of their own autonomy. UUSC is proud to partner with an organization that has supported women for more than two decades. For updates on FEM, like them on Facebook.

Make the Road Pennsylvania: Comites de Defensa

Make the Road Pennsylvania (MRPA) is dedicated to advancing policy reform that will protect the rights of low-income minority workers in Pennsylvanian cities, where there are high concentrations of Latinx and African Americans living in poverty.

Pennsylvania also has one of the highest numbers of hate groups in the country. According to MRPA, “Eastern Penn. is the fastest growing part of the state, and many new residents are immigrants or people of color. The politics, however, have been reliably anti-immigrant at a congressional and state level.”

In light of this, UUSC has partnered with MRPA to establish “Comites de Defensa,” geographically-based committees that are ready to respond to the needs of immigrants in Pennsylvanian communities.

Much like GMWC’s R&P Campaign, Comites de Defensa aims to give support to immigrant families as raids and deportations increase—ostracizing already marginalized communities, spreading fear, and disrupting families.

The committees established through MRPA’s project “will be able to respond to abuses in the workplace, mobilize support for critical meetings and policy decisions affecting their members’ lives, and shift the public narrative towards pro-immigrant and worker messages.” Further, this effort will create a rapid response network in Pennsylvania to protect immigrants from Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids. UUSC is proud to partner with MRPA to promote economic justice for immigrants. Check out their Facebook page to get the latest news about their work.

ICE Again Targets the Most Vulnerable

Yessenia Alfaro, Deputy Director of the Chelsea Collaborative, addresses the press at a briefing shortly before Francisco Rodriguez’s ICE appointment.

On Thursday, July 13, members of Love Resists linked arms with friends, family, and supporters of community member and father of two, Francisco Rodriguez, as he walked into the Boston field office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for his scheduled appointment. We were there to support the Keep Francisco Home campaign organized by Massachusetts Jobs with Justice. We were there to show up for a neighbor in danger of deportation, and a family at risk of being separated from their beloved son, husband, and father. Within the hour, these fears became a reality. Rodriguez was detained, pending deportation.

Shortly before he entered the office, Rodriguez spoke at a press briefing outside about his fear of returning to El Salvador, a country he fled ten years ago after the murder of his co-worker. Roxana Rivera, the vice president of the local Service Employees International Union (SEIU) chapter to which Rodriguez belongs, spoke tearfully of dropping her own two children off at school that morning and imagining what it would be like to be taken from them against her will, as Francisco is now experiencing. The co-chair of the Sanctuary Committee of First Parish in Bedford UU, Christine Dudley-Marling, quoted words from Love Resists’ Declaration of Conscience, reminding us to live “on the side of love with the most vulnerable among us.”

Francisco was far from alone. In addition to our team, he was also accompanied by Yessenia Alfaro (pictured above), the Deputy Director of the Chelsea Collaborative, of which he is a member. He received letters and statements of support from Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey, Congressman Mike Capuano, and the president and senior leadership of MIT, where he works as a custodian. ICE itself has previously granted him a stay of removal for years, under their prosecutorial discretion that used to be routine in cases like his. There was nothing to prevent the field office from exercising a modicum of compassion by extending it again.

Another extension is what we still hoped would happen, as Lily Huang, an organizer with Massachusetts Jobs with Justice, led us in a slow march with Francisco to the door of the office, singing “Courage, my friend / You do not walk alone.” Camping out on the ground in front of the office, the support team kept its spirits up with songs like “This Land is Your Land” and “We Shall Not Be Moved.” After hearing from all the supportive voices, we expected to see Francisco emerge from the same door he had just entered, knowing that he was here to stay.

Then, a member of a local media film crew ran past our group, in such a hurry that he left a headset dragging from a cord several feet behind him. A member of our group who had moved off from us returned, saying that ICE had just taken Francisco into detention, loading him into a black van and driving out from behind the office. “Link arms! Link arms!” the organizers urged us, and we moved into the center of the parking lot, trying to block the exit.

Some of us starting singing again, but now with a tremor of alarm in our voices. I was suddenly aware of my own fear of arrest. I thought of what it would be like to be handcuffed in this parking lot and taken someplace against my will, rather than being able to get in my car at the end of the rally and drive home. The incredible violence committed against Francisco and his family was brought home to me. A person who had just been walking freely, a person who had done nothing wrong, was now behind bars, set to be put on a deportation plane sometime in the next 30 days. Our attempt to prevent the van from leaving the office not successful – it drove away by a different route.

ICE’s decision was astonishingly cruel. To those gathered, especially to the friends and family of Francisco, it felt like a breach of civilization. As an announcement from the Keep Francisco Home team put it shortly afterward: “ICE seems to think they operate in a different world than the rest of us, independent of human decency, public opinion, and even the rule of our elected officials.” Matt Cameron, one of Francisco’s attorneys, asked the press with desperation: “Where is the discretion? If not in this case, then what case?”

Sadly, this pattern is not limited to the Boston field office. It is happening all over the country. ICE targets those who are least able to resist or escape; those who are already in its custody or who have voluntarily shown up to an ICE appointment. They have raided the sick and the homeless. They are trying to deport four children from the Berks detention center who have already been granted Special Immigrant Juvenile (SIJ) status due to a history of abuse or neglect, putting their lives in jeopardy. It is targeted long-term Iraqi residents with prior removal orders simply because it knows where they live, and because the Iraqi government has been strong-armed into accepting their return.

Horrifying reports are emerging of ICE using unaccompanied refugee children as “bait” to arrest their relatives and charge them with “smuggling” for bringing the kids to safety (thereby putting into effect the worst threats of the DHS memos released in February). ICE is even punishing immigrants who, like Francisco, follow its own rules.

ICE justifies its outrageous actions always by an appeal to “the law,” just as this administration, in general, seeks to portray the communities most impacted by its policies as “criminal.” In a statement following the detention, ICE asserted simply that Francisco Rodriguez is an “unlawfully present citizen of El Salvador” with a prior removal order. In the face of such rhetoric, the words of Rev. Peter Morales that Christine Dudley-Marling shared at the rally are particularly apt: “[W]e must never make the mistake of confusing a legal right with a moral right. The forced removal of Native Americans from their land and onto reservations was legal. The importation and sale of African slaves was legal. South African apartheid was legal…The powerful have always used the legal system to oppress the powerless.”

As a human rights organization, UUSC declares that there is a law of humanity higher than the law of any government. As Clarence Darrow once wrote: “I do not believe in the law of hate. I believe in the law of love.” When the law of the land becomes a law of hate, then love must fight back. Love resists.

 

August 4, 2017 update: ICE has held Francisco since July 13, even preventing him from being with his family when his wife gave birth to their third child and underwent an emergency C-section. His attorneys continue to explore legal options to halt his deportation. Hope remains that the Board of Immigrant Appeals will grant Francisco a stay of removal, or that the government will abandon its cruel and unnecessary action against him. The violence that has already been done to this family, however, cannot be taken back. Lily Huang of the Keep Francisco Home team has compiled a list of action steps to support the family at this difficult time.  

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.

Rights Reading

Our weekly roundup of what we’re reading in human rights and social justice! This week’s wrap-up includes select articles from the front lines of human rights that we don’t want you to miss: Iraqi Christians facing deportation, the growing religious left movement, and the Standing Rock Sioux’s continued fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline.

ICE arrested dozens of Iraqi Christians in Detroit, Gabriela Del Valle, The Outline, June 12, 2017

Forty Iraqi Christians were rounded up in Detroit, Michigan on Sunday, June 11 by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and are now being held in a detention center in Ohio. ICE raids and deportations are nothing new, especially under the Trump administration, but this case stands out because of how blatantly it is driven by political and economic negotiations between the United States and Iraq. It appears that Iraq was removed from Trump’s travel ban list – a ban that has been ruled illegal multiple times in court – after agreeing to accept deportees from the United States.

Many of the Iraqi Christians now facing deportation feel betrayed by Trump and his administration (and rightly so). Christians are a heavily persecuted minority in Iraq, and as Del Valle reports, “the House of Representatives unanimously voted in favor of a resolution declaring that ISIS’s persecution of religious minorities in Iraq and Syria, including Christians, constitutes genocide.” Many of the detained immigrants came to the United States to escape violence; to send them back to Iraq is knowingly putting them in mortal danger.

Read our statement condemning these deportations for their abject callousness.

Religious Liberals Sat Out of Politics for 40 Years. Now They Want in the Game, Laurie Goodstein, The New York Times, June 10, 2017

The Rev. William J. Barber II, organizer of the “Moral Mondays” protests in North Carolina, in April at Riverside Church in Manhattan, where he preached on building a national movement.

Over the past 40 years, the Christian conservatives have been the dominant religious presence in the U.S. political sphere. That’s finally starting to change. In response to Trump’s election, religious progressives are getting involved in grassroots movements across the country, “hungry to break the right’s grip on setting the nation’s moral agenda.”

As Goodstein points out, the religious left hasn’t been heavily involved in politics since protesting the Vietnam War. Now, the religious left is a much more diverse group – represented by many religions, by women, by people of color, by members of the LGBTQI community – and they want to turn the religious-political conversation back towards “fundamental biblical imperatives — caring for the poor, welcoming strangers and protecting the earth — and maybe even change some minds about what it means to be a believer.”

However, one of their biggest obstacles to really creating a political movement is other liberals. The standing policy of the Democratic Party is to distance itself from religion, whereas the Republican party has tied itself with Christian conservatism, which has generated them an important voter base in the past few decades.

In the wake of Trump’s election, one thing is certain: U.S. politics are changing. Goodstein’s article is an important look at the intersection between religion and politics.

UUSC has joined with the UUA for Love Resists, a joint campaign aimed at activating people of faith and conscience to resist the harm inflicted by criminalization by creating safer, more just, welcoming, and sustainable communities. Join us!

The Standing Rock Sioux Claim ‘Victory and Vindication’ in Court, Robinson Meyer, The Atlantic, June 14, 2017

On Wednesday, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe won their first court victory, but it wasn’t all they deserve. The court ruled that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ initial study of the Dakota Access Pipeline’s (DAPL) environmental impact was not extensive enough and ordered for a new one to be conducted. However, the DAPL will still remain active in the meantime and perhaps even after the new study is complete.

It is unclear yet whether true justice will come to Standing Rock, but as Meyer states, “the ruling may establish some important precedents, particularly around environmental justice and treaty rights.” Although months of protests may not change the outcome of DAPL and its threat to Standing Rock drinking water, it may change the outcome of future cases.

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.

Rights Reading

Our weekly roundup of what we’re reading in human rights and social justice! This week’s wrap-up includes select articles from the front lines of human rights that we don’t want you to miss: Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, the troubling relationship between immigration and private prisons, and Pride 2017.

Bucking Trump, These Cities, States and Companies Commit to Paris Accord, Hiroko Tabuchi & Henry Fountain, The New York Times, June 1, 2017

Thursday was a big blow to the global environmental movement and U.S. foreign relations. By officially declaring his intent to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement, Trump has turned his back on the 195 countries – nearly the entire world—who agreed to the work together to mitigate the effects of climate change. This decision, as well as his dangerous “America First” rhetoric, highlight a short-sightedness when it comes to our shared future. UUSC condemned Trump’s decision within hours of the White House announcement.

While Trump’s decision was disappointing, it wasn’t unexpected, and already environmental advocates are mobilizing. As Todd Stern wrote in the Atlantic before the decision, “The Trump administration is about to throw down the gauntlet. If it does, we’ll need to take up the challenge.”

We are heartened to see just that. The New York Times reports that already, a group of representatives from over 200 cities, states, and companies is working on a proposal to pledge their commitment to the Paris Agreement.

In the first few months of Trump’s presidency, local and state governments and grassroots organizations have stepped up to protect human rights where the federal government refuses. It appears that environmental policy will be no different. UUSC will continue to find partnerships and ally with groups and individuals that work for environmental justice.

The Immigrant Crackdown Is a Cash Cow for Private Prisons, Samuel Gilbert, VICE, May 31, 2017

Under Trump’s immigration policy, new and expanded detention centers mean more money in the pockets of private prison owners. Gilbert’s article puts the spotlight on “the close relationship between the federal agency tasked with detaining and deporting undocumented immigrants and the private prison industry that helps house those detained immigrants.”

This “relationship” is yet another way that government policy is muddled with corporate interests. Privately-owned facilities hold the majority immigrant detainees. Many of these companies will be signing new contracts this year. Larger private prison companies will often hire Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents to forge connections in the federal government and gain future contract opportunities. Bethany Carson from UUSC partner Grassroots Leadership, explains the situation, “They take the expertise they have working for the ICE and use that to lobby for even greater increases in their share of this system of mass detention.’”

Although the companies claim they do not lobby to change immigration policy and only use current rules to their benefit, they are nevertheless in the business of criminalization. Furthermore, studies show that poor treatment of detainees and corruption occur at much higher rates in private facilities. In 2015, UUSC issued a research report which found that half of the parents and children surveyed in detention centers reported clinically significant levels of symptoms of depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress, and were not receiving any treatment or therapy.  Possibly more troubling, Mother Jones reported today that three immigrants have died at a private detention center in California.

In United States and abroad, a worrisome time for LGBT activists, David Crary, The Associated Press, June 1, 2017.

June 1 marked the beginning of LGBTQI Pride Month. This year, many organizers are foregoing the celebratory parades and rallies that have become typical in recent years and instead, organizing protests and solidarity marches. This has already drawn some criticism – even from more conservative LGBTQI advocates in the United States, who argue that the Trump administration has not done anything to infringe on current LGBTQ laws, for example, marriage equality. However, in a break from presidential tradition, Trump has yet to acknowledge Pride Month.

The fight for LGBTQ rights is by no means over. Same-sex marriage is only legal in 22 countries, and over 70 countries enforce laws that criminalize the LGBTQ community. As Crary points out, “most U.S. states still lack statewide laws banning discrimination against LGBT people, and majority Republicans in Congress show no interest in passing a Democratic-backed bill that would provide nationwide non-discrimination protections.” Further, the Trump administration recently revoked federal guidelines advising public school districts to let transgender students use the bathrooms and locker rooms of their choice. And multiple Trump appointees, as well as Vice President Pence are viewed as extreme opponents to LGTBQI equality.

UUSC is, as always, dedicated to protecting the rights of LGBTQI people across the world. We will be honoring Pride Month this year by highlighting events, stories, and news from the LGBTQI community on our blog and socials. Join in the conversation with #Pride2017!