Rights Reading

Our weekly roundup of what we’re reading in human rights and social justice! In celebration of U.S. Independence Day, this week’s Rights Reading includes articles on patriotic resistance, the legacy of Henry David Thoreau, #IStandwithLinda, and moral progress.

What It Means to Be a Patriot in the Trump Era, Katrina vanden Heuvel, The Nation, July 3, 2017

Heuvel provides an important reminder of why patriotic resistance is so important under the Trump administration. Patriotic resistance stems from a love for what this country stands for – the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness – and a moral obligation to protect those ideals. Protesting is not unpatriotic, rather, when it is in the name of human rights, it constitutes the highest act of patriotism. A true patriot is willing to question and resist the injustices of their government “to make sure the country lives up to its highest ideals.”

Across the nation, more and more people have taken action; people who used to be bystanders in our political system are standing up for human and civil rights at risk. We echo Heuvel’s inspiration at seeing an increasing number of communities across the world organizing for change. What makes America “great” is its commitment to a set of values, not to the leader of the moment. UUSC is as committed as ever to work for the rights of the oppressed, and we hope you will continue to join with us.

A Muslim activist referenced jihad and the right freaked out because they don’t know what it means, Jack Jenkins, Think Progress, July 7, 2017

“In these United States of America, if you sit back idly in the face of injustice, if you maintain the current status quo that not only oppresses Muslims, but oppresses black people inside our community and outside our community, undocumented people, other minority groups and oppressed groups, you, my dear sisters and brothers, are then aligned with the oppressor.”

Linda Sarsour, a co-organizer of the Women’s March on Washington, recently drew criticism for a speech she gave at the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) convention. Here, Jenkins provides the background and context to Sarsour’s words, which were a call to action against oppression at all levels, writing that, “Sarsour was clearly using the term jihad to promote speaking truth to power.”

The Washington Post explains further, “Jihad is a central concept in Islam, and the Arabic word literally translates as “struggle” or “striving.” While the word is indeed used by some to refer to a physical military struggle to defend Islam, most Muslims use it to refer to a personal, spiritual effort to follow God, live out one’s faith and strive to be a better person.”

Last month during the UUA General Assembly, UUSC awarded Sarsour with the 2017 Eleanor Roosevelt Human Rights Leadership Award at the UUSC Awards Gala in recognition of her activism and intersectional organizing work which has bridged communities and issues to build powerful movements. During her remarks, Sarsour urged Unitarian Universalists and people who share our values to be a beacon of light and courage to stand up to injustice, and, like Heuvel in The Nation article above, reminded us that “dissent is the highest form of patriotism.” We hope that you will continue to join us in resisting and expressing dissent to policies that undermine human rights throughout the world, including in the United States.

Henry David Thoreau, the original none, Richard Higgins, UU World, July 10, 2017

Higgins celebrates transcendentalist writer Henry David Thoreau, widely recognized as the founder of American environmentalism and champion of individualism. Thoreau’s political writings and actions are the embodiment of the idea of patriotic resistance as a mechanism of progress. This article is a sweeping look at how Thoreau’s philosophy, and, more importantly, his dedication to live by it, has transcended his era and continues to be essential to human rights activism, including for Unitarian Universalists.

Thoreau was baptized a Unitarian, but formally cut his ties to the church and denounced organized religion, though he remained “religious to the bone.” Ironically, today’s Unitarian Universalism is heavily influenced by Thoreau’s philosophy. In fact, as Higgins points out, Love Resists’ “Declaration of Conscience” echoes “Thoreau’s defense of the inviolability of the human conscience” in his famous essay “Resistance to Civil Government,” more commonly known as “Civil Disobedience.”

This year marks the 200th anniversary of Thoreau’s birth, and yet his legacy has never been more relevant: “His influence is . . . palpable in the post-Trump surge in political activism in America, which is indebted to his eloquent defense of the individual’s right to resist immoral laws.” We encourage you to read Thoreau’s writings and be inspired.

Progress Never Just Happens—We Must Always Fight for It, Sara Pevar, The Establishment, January 20, 2017

While this article is a throwback to Trump’s inauguration, it remains a powerful reminder that we cannot be complacent if we want to see change. If we are, the result may be immoral leadership that perpetuates fear and hate.

Pevar does more than to call us to action in this article. She makes us take a hard look at how we view history and progress. She criticizes the naive assumption that people today are more moral, progressive, and accepting than the people of the past. This perception is not only false, but also dangerous, because it can lead people to assume that their problems will be solved by the natural progression of time, rather than through their work and participation.

Although progress is natural, it is not inevitable, and it definitely “does not move in a straight line.” Pevar provides the struggles for racial and gender equality as examples—both have gone through periods of forward momentum and experienced extreme push back for centuries. Pevar argues that, instead of people naturally improving, progress is actually the result of individuals’ continued resistance to the status quo and their struggle to defend rights they see being violated, and of individuals inspiring others into action, generating movements. “If we assume that social problems solve themselves when society is ‘ready,’ then we erase from history all the people and movements who dragged society kicking and screaming into readiness whether it liked it or not,” she writes.

Rights Reading

Our weekly roundup of what we’re reading in human rights and social justice! As Pride Month comes to a close, we’re sharing articles on LGBTQI rights. This week’s Rights Reading includes articles about intersectional identities, the LOVE Act, gay oppression in Tanzania, and photos from Pride celebrations across the world.

Something Radical Happened When Eid and Pride Fell on the Same Day, Hawa Arsala, Fader, June 26, 2017

The “something radical” was that Arsala took the chance to celebrate two important parts of her identity. Here, Arsala shares a conversation that she had with the LGBTQ workshop moderator at an Afghan-American conference, Bilal Askarar, who realized that they were related. As the Pride celebration in Washington, D.C. and Eid – a Muslim celebration marking the end of Ramadan – occurred on the same day, Arsala and Askarar took the opportunity to have an open dialogue about what the coinciding celebrations means to them, as well as what it’s like to be queer Muslims in the United States in this moment.

Askarar said, “the past couple years I thought of it as like a separate thing, there’s Ramadan and Pride, and I can’t celebrate Pride because it’s Ramadan. I have to be good. It brings up all the juxtapositions and contrasts and dichotomies within myself. What’s the definition of a good Muslim? Can you be a messy Muslim and do you still get to celebrate Eid too?” It’s refreshing to read about people having honest conversations like these, where they can discuss and inhabit the intersectionality of their identities, the privileges they have living in America, and their continuing struggles as members of these communities.

Senator Tackles Cold War-Era ‘Lavender Scare’ with LOVE Act, Medardo Perez, NBC Out, June 26, 2017

During the “Lavender Scare” of the 1950s and 1960s, thousands of federal employees suspected of being gay were fired, based on a belief that they were more susceptible blackmail and could pose a security risk. In the last few years, Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) has led the push to bring justice for these ex-employees. Last year he successfully called on then-Secretary of State John Kerry to officially apologize for the Lavender Scare on behalf of the State Department, and this year, he introduced The Lavender Offense Victim Exoneration Act of 2017 – the “LOVE Act,” for short.

Perez writes, “In addition to rectifying past discrimination against LGBTQ State Department employees, the LOVE Act would also establish a permanent exhibit on the ‘Lavender Scare’ in the State Department’s National Museum of American Diplomacy and provide guidance for the State Department on issues of assuring visas for same-sex spouses of personnel posted overseas.” The passage of the LOVE Act would be a step towards retribution for the gay employees who lost their jobs over half a century ago and would bring more awareness to this overlooked moment of the Cold War era. UUSC applauds these and other efforts to rectify the mistakes of the past and, along with many others, joins in solidarity with those still feeling the effects of anti-LGBTQI stigma and discrimination.

Gay in Africa: ‘Even Cows’ Disapprove of Homosexuality, Says Tanzania President Amid Crackdown, Conor Gaffey, Newsweek, June 27, 2017

LGBTQI equality still has a long way to go in the United States, but it’s important not to forget that the fight for equality is a global one.

In Tanzania, homosexuality is a crime punishable by fines and up to 30 years in prison. Oppression against the LGBTQI community is nothing new for the country, but President John Magufuli has recently “signaled a crackdown.” His administration has disappointingly ramped up efforts to suppress gay rights activists, called on the medical community to expose people suspected of homosexual sex, and even banned sexual lubricants from the country. All of these efforts are based on pseudoscience and false perceptions of the LGBTQI community. These misconceptions result in the continued persecution of LGBTQI communities in Tanzania and many African countries, and are often the result of funding and propaganda campaigns from the U.S. religious right that promote and reinforce homophobia on the continent.

However, there is hope—UUSC Program Leader for Economic Justice Philip Hamilton recently attended Changing Faces, Changing Spaces, a conference that drew LGBTQI activists from across to share their work, stories, and strategies for how they are supporting their respective communities and working to advance LGBTQI rights throughout the continent. Read, “Celebrating Pride: Reflecting on SOGI Rights in Southern Africa” to get the full details.

 

People celebrated Pride across the globe. Please check out these beautiful and inspiring photo essays from this month’s celebrations and don’t forget to show your support by posting your own on social media!

 

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.

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.

What Will Happen to Refugees Under a Trump Administration?

refugees walking in sunsetAs we prepare for President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration on January 20, we know that what we do and the way we work must change. UUSC has been working hard, connecting with local, state, and national partners to understand what the effects may be for refugees and immigrants, and how to best to mobilize in the face of increased racism, xenophobia, hate, and fear. 

This is an important time for all of us to carefully reflect, evaluate, and redouble our commitment to human rights both inside and beyond the United States. This is a struggle that will require each and every one of us to take action in a wide range of roles. With our partners, UUSC is preparing an exciting new comprehensive campaign to be launched in January. Please watch for announcements about how you can join this effort. 

In the meantime, it is important for all of us to become more aware of what is at stake for U.S. policy towards welcoming refugees and asylum-seekers – some of the most vulnerable communities under the incoming administration.   

Can Trump shut down the U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program?

Short answer: Yes, but he is more likely to undermine it than shut it down completely.

  • The President-elect has said that he will not challenge local, county, and state regulations that bar refugees from resettlement in their communities.
  • President Trump will have the authority, under the 1980 Refugee Act, to unilaterally determine the number of refugees the U.S. will accept. This year, President Obama raised that number from 70,000 to 110,000 for 2017. President Trump can set a new number – even as low as zero.
  • The President-elect’s public statements suggest that he is very likely to shrink, underfund, or “pause” the refugee resettlement program, in order to review the process. A suspension of resettlement is extremely dangerous because, while it sounds less serious than “dismantling” resettlement, it could have the same result. All of the infrastructure, including refugee resettlement agencies that depend on federal funding, would be forced to close, and would not be easy to re-establish if and when it was restarted.

Can refugees already in the U.S. be deported?

Short answer: In most cases, no, but the exceptions may become more common.

  • Refugees already in the United States, including those with legal resident green cards as well as those with only refugee status, have legal protection from deportations. However, Trump’s plans to expand the definition of who is a “criminal immigrant” and thus, possibly deportable, will surely catch many refugees in its wider net. Any non-citizen who is 1) charged, but not convicted of a crime, 2) has a non-violent misdemeanor record (no matter how long ago), or 3) is merely suspected of gang behavior, will likely be priority categories for deportation under a Trump presidency.
  • Asylum-seekers, such as the Central American families held in family detention centers, may be held in detention for multiple years while they pursue protection. In addition to an unacceptable human rights violation, this also makes it harder for them to have access to a lawyer as they pursue their case.
  • If a Trump Administration reinstates the National Security Exit-Entry Registration System (NSEERS), described as his “Muslim registry,” U.S. visa-holders from majority-Muslim countries will be subject to heightened monitoring and increased risk of deportation. This will include both asylum-seekers and non-refugees.

Can Trump actually ban Muslim refugees from entering the United States?

Short Answer: Kind of – and more.

  • While an across-the-board ban designed to block all Muslims from entering the United States (e.g., as a tourist or student, on a business visa, etc.) is widely believed to be unconstitutional, he absolutely has power to limit entry as it pertains to refugees. The administration may prioritize Christians and other non-Muslims for resettlement or, more likely, stop refugee resettlement for entire countries and regions, primarily but not exclusively Muslim-majority countries, regardless of the individual’s religious background.

What else could happen?

Short Answer: Unfortunately, a lot we don’t know, but here are a list of some immediate possibilities and areas for concern. (That’s why we need to organize!)

  • There is a high risk of states passing anti-refugee bills, which the federal government under Trump would be likely to support rather than challenge.
  • The possible end of the Affordable Care Act will result in a high rate of loss of health care coverage for refugee families.
  • Asylum-seekers could be blocked at the border and not allowed to apply for entry (in violation of international law). Our advocacy partners have already documented cases of this happening in Tijuana, Mexico.
  • There could be threats to LGBTQ asylum-seekers status as a protected “social group,” which provides them a right to asylum when targeted for their sexual orientation or gender identity. 

Despite these disturbing possibilities, we see many reasons to be hopeful in this moment, in particular, the work of community members like you. Grassroots movements are growing and many people are getting involved in local and regional efforts for the first time. This sense of urgency is helping to break down barriers and bring diverse groups together to protect and defend current rights, and continue working for a more just future.