We Can Do So Much Together

As the end of the fiscal year swiftly approaches, we are working to reach our goal for the 2017 Annual Fund. UUSC has set an ambitious goal of $300,000 and we need your help! Donations of any amount are greatly appreciated by the UUSC team, our partners, and those whose rights are threated around the world. We need to meet our $300,000 target by June 30, 2017, so please considering making your gift today!

Your Annual Fund gift will help projects like the ones listed below and more. Please consider making a donation to support our work today.

Provide Legal Assistance to Immigrants and Asylum-Seekers on the U.S. Border

UUSC is continuing our work with RAICES (Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services) to provide legal assistance to vulnerable women and children fleeing dangerous conditions in the Northern Triangle. Due to the current political climate, immigrant rights and safety are at risk, so UUSC’s partnership with RAICES is even more important. With your continued support, RAICES is able to provide Central American refugees with much needed resources.

Work to End Human Rights Abuses in Burma

UUSC is partnering with grassroots organizations in Burma (Myanmar) to raise awareness and take action against the on-going (and startlingly under-reported) violence against the Rohingya minority. The Rohingya, a religious and ethnic minority in Burma’s Rakhine State, are being denied basic human rights and have had their sense of security stripped away.

Earlier this year, thousands of UUSC supporters joined us in calling on Secretary Tillerson to support a Commission of Inquiry to investigate these abuses. That investigation is now underway, but due in part to a lack of global outrage and governmental accountability, the Burmese government has been able to continue carrying out horrific human rights violations. UUSC is committed to working with our partners on the ground to document violence and advocate for change in the region.

Support LGBTQI Rights

In many countries in southern Africa, homophobia remains embedded in political, religious, and social spheres–often with violent consequences. Countless LGBTQI individuals are denied safety, freedom, and dignity simply because of who they are. UUSC is working with our local partners on grassroots advocacy and faith-based tolerance trainings, which will be integral in dismantling institutionalized prejudice in countries like Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, and South Africa.

If you are able, please consider making a gift in support of this important work. Whatever you can contribute will be greatly appreciated. Nothing we accomplish would be possible without you—our committed supporters—and for that, you have our deepest thanks.

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: Highlights from the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia; updates on family detention; and the latest on climate-forced displacement. 

‘A miracle happened’: 300 rally for LGBT rights in St. Petersburg, Colin Stewart, Erasing 76 Crimes, May 18, 2017

May 17 marked the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia (#IDAHOT or #IDAHOBIT). People all across the world celebrated by  wearing colorful clothes that signify the colors of the rainbow, going to rallies, and being vocal online about their support for and solidarity with the LGBTQI community

There were even celebrations in countries with extremely anti-LGBTQI laws. Colin Stewart shares one story about a rally in Russia, where law enforcement stops pro-LGBTQ protests and detains participants. But this year 300 took to the streets in St. Petersburg, and due to their persistence and some fortuitous timing, received police protection. Organizers of the protest shared their thoughts, “Our strategy is ‘constant dripping wears away a stone,’ and today a little chip of that stone fell off.” This is a marked change from the typical response to LGBTQI rallies and protests in Russia and is a testament to how community organizing and persistence can yield surprisingly happy results.

Immigrants in Detention Centers Are Often Hundreds of Miles From Legal Help, Patrick G. Lee, ProPublica, May 16, 2017

It’s almost impossible for immigrants to win their case to stay in the United States if they don’t have an attorney, no matter how strong their case. There are multiple system-level obstacles that immigrants face as they seek U.S. citizenship, and those barriers can be insurmountable if they are being held in detention centers.

In this article, Patrick Lee provides background and context to the reality of this situation. Because detained immigrants lack the right to an appointed attorney, they must either pay for a lawyer or find one who will take on their case pro bono. However, many lawyers won’t take these cases and many who do lack the necessary time and resources to take on more than a handful of clients from the thousands of immigrants currently in detention centers. On top of this, detention center locations often make lawyers geographically inaccessible, something which Amy Fischer, policy director of UUSC partner RAICES, calls a purposeful move by the federal government to inhibit immigrants’ access to legal resources.

Under President Trump, ICE is ramping up its immigration control policies – arresting more immigrants and making plans for more detention centers. UUSC and its partners, like RAICES, are working hard to ensure that immigrants have the necessary legal resources and protections to plead their case and build their lives in the United States.

Mulling the possibility of a “managed retreat” from climate change, Rachel Waldholz, Alaska Public Media, April 28, 2017

Media coverage and aid are much easier to come by for communities displaced when a natural disaster hits. But refugees who are forced to leave their homes due to the slow onset of climate change are often overlooked, even though rising sea levels, erosion, and other consequences of global warming are expected to disrupt thousands of communities over the course of the next several decades.

The choice to relocate is one that must be made by individual communities, but even but even they make that decision, there is often no financial support from local and national governments or NGOs, who have been slow to recognize the severity of climate-forced displacement. Robin Bronen, executive director of the Alaska Institute for Justice (AIJ), argues that the lack of funding is different from political will, which she feels does in fact exist. “There’s this urgent need to protect populations from climate change, but we don’t have the laws in place to facilitate it,” Bronen said. “[That] means that government agencies don’t have mandates or funding to make it possible to actually implement what everybody agrees is the best long-term adaptation strategy.”

UUSC partners with AIJ and other organizations working on climate-forced displacement across the globe to support their efforts to help communities facing destruction at the hands of rising sea levels and prepare themselves for relocation.

UUSC applauds court ruling and continues the call for an end to family detention

Last week, Texas District Court Judge Karin Crump ruled that the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) could not issue child care licenses to the family detention centers in Dilley and Karnes City. The licenses are required by a federal settlement agreement and without them, the facilities cannot lawfully hold families with children. UUSC Senior Program Leader for Rights at Risk, Jillian Tuck explained Judge Crump’s ruling, “Again a court has found that locking up children and their parents in prison-like facilities is unacceptable. Flores requires that facilities detaining children have state child care licenses, and without them, ICE, as well as the private and public providers they contract with, are operating outside the law.”

“Locking up children and their parents in prison-like facilities is unacceptable.”
– Senior Program Leader for Rights at Risk, Jillian Tuck

Virtually overnight Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) released over 470 mothers and children from detention centers to UUSC partner, RAICES (Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services). RAICES serves immigrants and refugees by providing immigration legal services, advocacy, and opportunities for educational and social support. In partnership with RAICES, UUSC has long been a vocal advocate for the tens of thousands of refugees who come to the United States after fleeing violence in Central America.

RAICES reports that the asylum-seeking families who were released are in various stages of the legal processes that normally take place in detention and is working to place them with their families and friends. They will continue to accept released families from detention at their shelter in San Antonio. UUSC is committed to ending the practice of detaining immigrant families seeking asylum and supporting those who’ve been released in their quest to seek permanent protection.

According to ICE, as of Monday, December 5 there were still 2,479 mothers and children in family detention centers across the country: 1,787 people held at Dilley; 606 at Karnes County Residential Center; and 86 held at the Berks County Residential Center in Pennsylvania.

Unfortunately, Texas DFPS, which argues that their child-care licensing meets minimum standards set by Flores and improves safety, has already filed an appeal to Judge Crump’s decision. UUSC continues to join RAICES, among multiple others, in calling on President Obama to end family detention before he leaves office.

Stories of Hope 2016: Lilian Castillo

Photo of Lilian and her sonThis story of Lilian Castillo is presented as part of UUSC’s Guest at Your Table program.

“My son lost his childhood in that center.”

While listening to her long and appalling description of conditions at the Karnes County Residential Center, an immigration detention facility near San Antonio, you quickly understand what a strong woman Lilian Castillo is. But when the subject turns to her only child, Lilian finally begins to lose her composure.

And why not? After all, it was to save her eight-year-old son, Jose, from the brutal violence plaguing their home in Honduras that she’d undertaken the long and risky journey to reach the United States. She was determined to offer him something better than an early death at the hands of the criminal gangs that control so much of Honduran society, giving it one of the highest murder rates in the world.

Who among us would harshly judge a mother for trying to deliver a brighter future for her child? Inexcusably, our own Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) did.

For ten months, ICE locked Lilian and Jose in the Karnes detention center — for all practical purposes a prison camp, surrounded by razor wire fencing, and a grossly inappropriate environment for any child.

Ten months of inadequate medical care and malnutrition. Ten months of abuse and the ever-present threat of solitary confinement in the “cold room.” Ten months of living with the fear of sexual assault by the guards. Ten months of treatment so unconscionable it provoked at least one suicide attempt by a fellow prisoner and drove Lilian and other women to go on a hunger strike. Ten months of wondering whether she’d lost all hope for her son’s future.

Lilian and Jose came to this country in search of sanctuary — but were met instead with cruelty and abuse at the hands of our own government.

And then UUSC entered the picture. We’ve partnered with the Refugee and Immigration Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES), a grassroots organization, to provide legal and casework assistance to thousands of mothers like Lilian caught in the immoral machinery of the broken U.S. immigration system.

RAICES helps these refugees assert their rights and navigate ICE’s complex legal and bureaucratic rules. Once women and children are released, the organization also connects them with local families for temporary housing and support before they are, typically, reunited with relatives elsewhere in the United States.

The lawyer RAICES provided helped Lilian convince a judge, finally, to release her and Jose — and, as Lilian puts it, “gave me hope that I had a chance here in the United States.”

Today, Lilian and her boy are living in New York with her sister. And what of Jose’s future?

“I see the happiness in my son’s eyes, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen that happiness before. I want to keep moving forward. I know everything will fall into place.”