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!

UUSC Recommendations for the Global Compact on Migration

On Tuesday, May 23, Salote Soqo, senior program leader for environmental justice & climate action, spoke as a respondent at the Second Informal Thematic Session for Global Compact on Migration at the United Nations Headquarters in New York. Speakers at the event identified the many causes of forced migration and improvements for global migration policy, which will be incorporated into the Global Compact on Migration, the first intergovernmentally negotiated UN agreement to cover all dimensions of international migration in a holistic and comprehensive manner. 

Read Soqo’s full remarks on climate-forced displacement below.

Thank You, Your Excellency.

The Unitarian Universalist Service Committee, through our work with some of the most vulnerable communities around the world, and particularly in the South Pacific and in Alaska, recognizes that climate-induced environmental degradation is an obvious driver for human mobility.

In the interest of time, I would like to emphasize four main points based on our experience thus far:

Firstly, it is important for us to acknowledge that the root causes of climate-induced displacement are not climate change per se, but global economic and power inequality. Industrialized countries therefore have an obligation to protect those that are made vulnerable by their carbon emissions. We must assign responsibility to where it is due.

Secondly, there have been previous remarks made by member states to center the global compact on a human-rights centered approach. We concur with this concept and reiterate the recognition that the experts of this approach are the communities that are most affected by these issues and who inherently hold the power to meaningfully address these problems with dignity—these are Indigenous People, women, children, the elderly and people living with disabilities, and farmers and fishermen whose subsistence and livelihood depend on their natural environments, and those living in remote areas of the world. Their active participation must be mandatory in state responses, their rights must be respected, and means to incentivize and implement community-based climate initiatives must be enabled through this compact. And more to the point of internally displaced populations, states must recognize that they have the obligation to protect their residents within their borders, and this compact should enforce their existing obligations.

Thirdly, building protections in place to protect communities where they are must always remain the priority, and if relocation is a necessity, which is particularly the case for small island developing states where displacement is inevitable for some islands, it must be planned proactively. It is thus important that this global compact work in tandem with the instruments of the United Nations Framework Convention of Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the accompanying institutions to enforce adaptation, disaster risk reduction, emergency humanitarian aid, and mandatory mitigation measures, particularly through the extension/renewal of the Doha Agreement, to compliment aspects that are not addressed by these instruments in order for this compact to be of value-add, and to avoid repetition.

Lastly, the compact must recognize that climate change is a multiplier of risks, as stated throughout this session. In some situations, this leads to conflict and violence, which often leads to forced migration. Thus, there is increasing recognition amongst states that climate change is a national security issue, and indeed it is, but it is important that, and in the spirit of unity and moral conscience, that the compact avoids language or measures that further dehumanizes or commodifies climate-forced displaced populations and must intentionally combat xenophobia and other forms of religious, cultural, and social discrimination against migrants.

UUSC Responds to Six-Month TPS Extension for Haitians: Not Enough

Yesterday, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) revealed its decision to extend Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Haitian nationals in the United States for a mere six months, instead of the 18-month window normally granted. This announcement is in line with previous threats of Trump administration officials who have recommended terminating the program at the end of the six-month extension—potentially resulting in the deportation of the nearly 58,000 Haitian immigrants currently living with TPS in the United States. UUSC joins with Haitian and Black immigrant leaders and immigration advocacy groups, including our new partner the UndocuBlack Network, to demand an extension of TPS beyond January 2018.

The consequences of ending TPS status for Haitians will be swift and devastating—Haiti is still in the midst of a humanitarian emergency as it works to recover from a catastrophic 2010 earthquake, a cholera epidemic imported by U.N. peacekeeping forces, and a deadly hurricane last fall. Mass deportations of Haitians would cut off a critical lifeline for the Haitian economy, which currently receives about $1.3 billion a year in remittances from Haitians in the United States. The U.S. economy will also lose an estimated $2.8 billion in GDP over the next decade if this community is deported.

“Numbers cannot do justice, however, to the suffering that would be inflicted on thousands of families by a policy of expanded deportation and separation if TPS expires in six months,” says Hannah Hafter, UUSC Senior Program Leader for Activism. “Many Haitians with TPS have U.S. citizen children who were born in this country and know no other home. They are taxpayers, caregivers, parents, and employees whose loss would be felt by all.”

Our partners at the UndocuBlack Network have joined national efforts to renew TPS status for Haitians and, in alliance with the National Immigration Law Center, have helped to spearhead a recent push to uncover the truth about how the Trump administration made its TPS decision. Their recent refusal to renew TPS for three African countries impacted by the 2014 Ebola epidemic; reports that DHS has been requesting information on criminal offenses committed by Haitian TPS holders; and its renewed deportations to war-ravaged Somali, all point to a clear intention to stigmatize and expel immigrant communities of color.

The U.S. obligation to extend TPS for Haitians is more than a matter of humanitarian conscience. Meaningful extension of the TPS program offers a chance for the United States to do the right thing in a part of the world where, for too long, it has been complicit in generating the social problems that created a need for TPS in the first place. UUSC’s Haitian partners at the Papaye Peasant Movement (MPP), for instance, are working with communities directly impacted by U.S. trade policies and aid dumping, which in many places have devastated the local food economy, fueling the poverty and urban overcrowding that made the 2010 Haitian earthquake so deadly. MPP works to establish sustainable agriculture and recover food sovereignty so that Haitians can build a better future.

UUSC will continue to work with our partners to advance the human rights of Haitians at home and abroad, to call for a further extension of TPS, and to press for permanent legislative solutions that will allow all immigrant communities to live in safety and dignity.

“Which side are we on?”: H.3033 and 287(g) agreements

On May 8, UUSC Vice President and Chief Program Officer Rachel Freed testified on a panel before the Joint Committee on the Judiciary at the Massachusetts State House in support of H.3033, a bill designed to end 287(g) agreements in Massachusetts by preventing state and local funds from being used to enforce federal immigration laws. The panel supporting H.3033 was organized by the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition (MIRA) and included UU Mass Action Executive Director Laura Wagner and Bishop Felipe Teixeira of the Franciscan Order of Saint Joseph Cupertino. Support for H.3033 was high with over 30 speakers supporting the bill and only three in opposition, including Bristol County Sheriff Hodgson who infamously offered to send his inmates to build the U.S.-Mexico border wall without pay.

The hearing came one day after Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed SB4 into law, a vehemently anti-immigrant bill criminalizing cities that want their law enforcement to focus on “safety” and not immigration. SB4 prohibits Texas law enforcement from practicing “sanctuary” policies and allows authorities to question someone’s immigration status based on racial profiling. The bill is now facing lawsuits from civil rights organizations.

287(g) agreements are one of the main ways that local and state law enforcement agencies become empowered to serve as an arm of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and are granted authority to identify and hold undocumented immigrants for deportation. These agreements deputize police and sheriff officers to act as immigration agents and provide them with minimal training before authorizing them to perform immigration-related duties. . Implementation of the program is entirely funded by the local agencies themselves rather than the federal government.

In addition to using local resources to support federal aims, 287(g) agreements do not make communities safer. In her testimony, Freed pointed out that “When police and sheriffs become immigration agents, victims and witnesses of crime, including victims of domestic violence, are less likely to come forward to cooperate with law enforcement. Deputizing police to act as ICE agents in our communities opens the door to racial profiling and other civil rights abuses and undermines public safety by decreasing trust in police. Let’s not use already stretched local resources to do ICE’s job for them.”

Passing H.3033 and ending 287(g) agreements is an important first step for the state, but also not enough. This is why many Massachusetts communities are rallying behind immigrants and are focusing on getting involved at the local level.

UUSC continues to work in coalition in Massachusetts to support these efforts as well as to pass groundbreaking state legislation like the Safe Communities Act (S.1305 and H.3269). The Safe Communities Act would set a new standard for pro-immigrant state legislation. It both goes further to restrict local agents’ participation in immigration enforcement and also prohibits state law enforcement agencies and the Mass. Registry of Motor Vehicles from allowing federal access to their data, limiting their ability of the federal government to use that data for the purpose of a Muslim registry or another tracking system based on religion or national origin.

Freed ended her testimony posing a question to the Mass. legislature and Governor Baker: “Which side are we on? Are we going to be complicit with President Trump’s anti-immigrant agenda? Or will we take a bold stand to defend and protect our communities from it?”

Update as of May 24, 2017: H.3033 was reported out favorably from the Joint Committee but the planned vote was indefinitely postponed” today. UUSC is closely following the legislation to see where Massachusetts lands.

 

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.