Rights Reading

Our weekly roundup of what we’re reading includes a few select articles from the front lines of human rights that we don’t want you to miss. This week’s catch up on the recent rulings on Trump’s travel bans, human rights violations in Burma (Myanmar), and immigration in the United States.

Two Federal Judges Rule Against Trump’s Latest Travel Ban, Alexander Burns, The New York Times, March 15, 2017

 “This is a great day for democracy, religious and human rights. I am very pleased that the processing of my mother-in-law’s paperwork will not stop now but more importantly that this Muslim ban will not separate families and loved ones just because they happen to be from the six countries.” -Mr. Elshikh

Two federal judges, from Hawaii and Maryland, blocked the Trump Administration’s revised travel ban earlier this week. This is the second setback since Trump issued the new executive order banning travel from certain Muslim-majority countries. The first block was from a federal court in Seattle. The federal judges both argued that the travel ban was discriminatory and based on religion, making it unconstitutional. In addition, the lawsuits mention that the executive order harms the operations of various organizations, schools, and hospitals overseas.

Learn more about the effects these executive orders are having on immigrant families in our blog, DHS Memos Threaten Immigrants’ Rights, Families, and Safety.

Myanmar must ‘allow Rohingya to leave camps’, Al Jazeera, March 16, 2017

Former U.N. Secretary, General Kofi Annan, was appointed to lead a commission by Burma’s (Myanmar) current de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi to investigate tensions between Buddhists and Muslims in the country. The commission released a report stating that Burma must close internally displaced persons (IDP) camps that have been housing and trapping thousands of Rohingya, Burma’s Muslim minority, for the past five years. The Rohingya are not recognized citizens and are denied basic rights, including healthcare, education, and often, humanitarian aid. The report also recommends that the U.N. to run an independent investigation into the ongoing violence and persecution of that has been taking place over decades.

Today, UUSC President and CEO Tom Andrews, along with other human rights leaders, gave testimony on the humanitarian situation in Burma. Click here to watch the hearing and join our call for a Commission of Inquiry at uusc.org/truthforrohingya.

Donald Trump’s Crackdown On Undocumented Immigrants Is Silencing Exploited Workers, Dave Jamieson, Huffington Post, March 8, 2017

The Trump administration’s crackdown on undocumented immigrants may have opposite consequences than intended. Christopher Williams, a lawyer who works closely with undocumented immigrants states, “I honestly think it’s creating an incentive to hire more undocumented workers, because now they’re even more vulnerable to being exploited.”

In light of the recent raids, some workers are even denying back pay, afraid of providing their home addresses for fear of deportation. The increase in raids and deportations are creating unsafe working environments to an already vulnerable population.


DHS Memos Threaten Immigrants’ Rights, Families, and Safety

Over the long holiday weekend, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary John Kelly issued two memos spelling out the implementation of Donald Trump’s recent executive orders on immigration. These memos eliminate all doubt that the administration intends to follow through on the worst of its threats in the orders signed on January 25, 2017. The memos also harden into national policy some of the most egregious human rights abuses advocates have been witnessing on the border and in our cities in recent weeks.

This is not “business as usual.” Secretary Kelly’s memos take unprecedented steps at removing long-held constitutional and statutory protections in immigration proceedings, continue to criminalize immigrants, and put children and parents lawfully seeking refuge at risk of criminal charges and separation. UUSC remains vigilant in watching the Trump administration’s efforts to expand policy in ways that violate civil and human rights and continues to work with our partners on the ground to support those affected by these unnecessary, harmful policies.

Here is a quick rundown of some of the troubling activities outlined in the memos.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents can easily target just about any undocumented person for deportation and deny them due process protections.

The administration is throwing out years of “prosecutorial discretion” guidelines that had offered a small bedrock of security, however tenuous, for undocumented families. Under this new regime, anyone targeted by an ICE agent or picked up during a raid is at risk of being deported. This could separate parents from their U.S. citizen children and expel people who have lived in this country for decades or longer. The memos also designate as an enforcement priority deportation of anyone who has committed a “chargeable criminal offense,” even if they have never been arrested, tried, or convicted.

The memos will likewise expand the use of “expedited removal,” which allows ICE to deport people without any legal proceedings. This form of summary removal will now apply to every undocumented immigrant who can’t prove they have been in the country for more than two years, stripping an even wider category of immigrants of their Fifth Amendment right to due process. Such hasty deportations can be a matter of life and death since deportees from the United States are often singled out for persecution by criminal groups in Central America and Mexico.

People will be increasingly criminalized because of their immigration status.

In calling for heavier prosecution of crimes related to the southern border, Secretary Kelly has swept together grave matters like human trafficking with innocuous and victimless immigration offenses. Many of these offenses, like giving a false social security number to an employer or driving without a license, are all but inescapable for undocumented people who need to work and put food on the table. Aggressively prosecuting immigration violations will push even more innocent people into deportation proceedings. It will basically make it a crime to survive as an undocumented person in the United States.

More concerning still, there is a serious danger that these new policies will slam asylum-seekers with “illegal entry” charges if they cross the border at an “improper time or place,” which would violate international law by making it a crime to seek protection. Advocates have already heard reports that this is happening in some locations.

Asylum-seekers can be detained en masse, with little hope of parole, or worse – pushed back across the border.

Secretary Kelly has called for the near-total restriction of parole for immigrants in detention currently awaiting their court dates (many of which will be years in the future due to backlogs in the system). We have heard stories of ICE arresting and re-detaining people previously released, as well as refusing to consider parole applications from asylum-seekers.

This form of detention, in facilities run by private prison contractors, allows for the long-term incarceration of people who have done nothing worse than a civil immigration violation.

The memos will also allow DHS to send people back to Mexico to await the completion of removal proceedings regardless of whether they are Mexican nationals. Treating asylum-seekers this way would amount to a violation of international law, which forbids pushing people back across the border without screening if they have expressed fear for their safety.

Strip protections for unaccompanied children that are guaranteed by law and charge parents with “human trafficking” for bringing their children to the United States.

Currently, children who cross the border alone are protected from summary deportation under the 2008 Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA). Kelly’s memos redefine the term “unaccompanied child” to exclude refugee children who cross the border without adults, but subsequently reunite with their parents in the United States. This would open the door to placing children of any age into expedited removal and denying them their lawful protections under the TVPRA.

Finally, Kelly’s memos target undocumented parents for deportation or criminal charges under human trafficking laws if their children seek refuge in the United States. Parents from Central America often have few options to help their asylum-seeking children escape their persecutors apart from hiring a smuggler because criminal networks now control nearly all border crossings. The Secretary’s memos permit DHS to prosecute these parents as accessories to smuggling and human trafficking, essentially criminalizing them for protecting their children’s safety.


In response to concerns about how the Trump administration is likely to proceed, UUSC has joined with the Unitarian Universalist Association on an unprecedented course of action to align ourselves together, united in purpose to protect the values of our democracy and those vulnerable populations among us.

As a first step, we have prepared a Declaration of Conscience stating in the strongest possible terms our commitment in these troubling times. By signing the declaration, 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.

Rights, Rulings, and Raids: Unpacking recent events

The past two weeks have been an emotional roller coaster of partial victories and terrifying setbacks for immigrants, refugees, and their allies. While we have felt confusion and fear, for the work ahead we need clarity and hope.

This series aims to put recent events in context by looking closely at positive signs for the future, some of our deepest challenges, and the work that remains.

The “Muslim ban” order is defeated (for now)

The Trump administration’s notorious “Muslim ban” has been handed a series of well-deserved defeats in the courts over the past two weeks. On February 3, a district court judge in Washington issued a temporary restraining order that forbids the Trump administration from implementing the ban. Later that week, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that decision. On February 13, a district court in Virginia issued a similar ruling. And yesterday, the government announced that it would not appeal the Ninth Circuit’s decision, effectively conceding defeat. While litigation on the constitutionality of the ban will proceed in the Washington State district court, the administration is signaling that it has all but abandoned its defense of the original order.

This was a great, if temporary, victory for refugees, immigrants, and advocates, including UUSC. Every day that the government is prevented from carrying out the executive order is a day that family members can reunite in the United States, refugees can continue to reach safety, and our founding principles are shielded from the administration’s assault on due process, equality before the law, and religious freedom.

Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Building in San Francisco, CA
James R. Browning United States Court of Appeals Building
Hope for the future

The fight against the ban is far from over. The administration claims to be working on a new draft of the executive order, which will accomplish many of the same invidious ends but be less vulnerable to legal challenge. Moreover, if the order is voluntarily rescinded by the president without being decisively thrown out by the courts, there is no guarantee that it won’t be revived.

The good news is that the Ninth Circuit’s 29-page decision reaffirmed three fundamental principles of our democracy that will continue to serve as a roadblock to similar executive orders in the future. They offer a firm position from which to challenge all efforts to sneak discriminatory orders past the courts, regardless of the specific form these will take.

  1. The president’s control over immigration and national security is not absolute.

While the executive branch has considerable discretion in matters of foreign policy and immigration, it is still subject to the constitution. In its brief, the government argued that the president’s travel ban was “unreviewable” by the courts. However, the judges flatly rejected this claim, saying that it “runs contrary to the fundamental structure of our constitutional democracy.”

The president does have latitude to restrict immigration in the interests of national security, but it must be based on an actual analysis of the risks involved. It cannot serve as a blanket cover for discrimination or for violations of human rights. At this point, the government has not provided sufficient evidence that the refugee and immigration programs the executive order assailed pose a genuine security risk.

  1. Everyone has constitutional rights, even if you are a non-citizen and/or undocumented.

One of most the important sections of the U.S. Constitution is the 14th Amendment, which states that the government shall not, “deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” While non-citizens are not afforded the same rights as citizens, courts have long held that there are limited constitutional protections for all people in the United States, regardless of immigration status.

The government tried to deny this fact in defending its travel ban, arguing that only U.S. citizens could raise constitutional challenges. The judges sharply dismissed this assertion, thereby reaffirming a fundamental civil rights principle.

  1. Discrimination, even when disguised, is still illegal.

In defending its actions, the government tried to assert that the travel ban had nothing to do with the president’s oft-repeated demand for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.” This runs contrary to Trump’s own campaign website, as well as to a close advisor stating that Trump himself called it a “Muslim ban” and asked for guidance on “the right way to do it legally.”

In fact, Trump’s expressed intention to discriminate against Muslims on the campaign trail does matter greatly to this case, even if the administration now argues that no such intention existed at the time of the order. As the Ninth Circuit’s decision states: “[C]ircumstantial evidence of intent, including the historical background of the decision and statements by decisionmakers, may be considered in evaluating whether a governmental action was motivated by a discriminatory purpose.” (Emphasis added).

Finally, a law or regulation that is “facially neutral” may still be harmful and discriminatory against a particular group of people, and thus unconstitutional. For the same reason that states cannot get away with attacking minority voting rights through “poll tax” laws that don’t specifically use words like “race,” “black,” or “white,” the president likewise is not permitted to target Muslims, simply by avoiding the use of specific terms in his executive orders.

What happens next?

The “Muslim ban” executive order is one piece of a multi-pronged assault on immigrant and refugee communities. At the same time that advocates have been celebrating the temporary defeat of one executive order, the effects of two others are being felt in communities across the country, in the form of terrifying raids and restrictions on asylum-seekers that threaten the safety of us all.

Part two of this series will examine ongoing consequences of the immigration executive orders at the U.S.-Mexico border and in cities across the country.


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 includes a few select articles from the front lines of human rights that we don’t want you to miss. The theme of this week’s Rights Reading is: Resistance! We’re showcasing different ways communities are resisting across the United States.

“Sanctuary restaurants” are popping up in the US to protect their immigrant workers from Trump, Quartz, Chase Purdy, January 26, 2017

“Starting this week, restaurants across the country—from small-town delis to fancier eateries—have signed on to become “sanctuary restaurants,” something they hope will send a clear message to their employees, communities, and Washington that hardline policies won’t be received well.”

In a previous Rights Reading, we highlighted the launch of the “Sanctuary Restaurant” movement that was started by our partner, ROC United. With Latinos and Hispanics making up a quarter of restaurant workers in the United States, restaurant owners have been quick to sign on to the new sanctuary restaurant movement, and the movement is growing rapidly. Restaurant workers are facing increasing harassment and discrimination and the decision to become a sanctuary restaurant has become a “no brainer” for many business owners.

Sanctuary restaurants declare themselves hate-free and have a zero tolerance for discrimination. These restaurants have also agreed to give trainings on general rights and what to do if immigration officials come on site. They are also considering non-cooperation with police and other federal authorities, much like other sanctuary movements.

To learn more about this movement and find a sanctuary restaurant near you, check out their map with all of the different locations, and if you’re a restaurant owner, sign up here.

It may only take 3.5% of the population to topple a dictator – with civil resistance, The Guardian, Erica Chenoweth, February 1, 2017

“…long-term change never comes with submission, resignation, or despair about the inevitability and intractability of the status quo.”

The United States has a rich history of civil resistance, and today, more than ever, Americans are positioned to resist in greater ways. History shows that it only takes 3.5% of a population to overthrow a dictatorship. Further, “when campaigns are able to prepare, train, and remain resilient, they often succeed regardless of whether the government uses violence against them.”

From labor markets, to supporting farm-workers, and most recently, resisting the Dakota Access Pipeline, civil resistance has brought down systems of inequality, educated masses, and empowered minority communities. In fact, history has shown that non-violence resistance is more effective, safer, and less costly than armed resistance.

While there have been some ineffective resistance movements, this article highlights the characteristics of successful civil resistance movements. Patience, understanding the political dynamics that affect the issue(s), having a committed and diverse core of supporters, and building and leveraging connections, are some of the key traits that have led to successful civil resistance.

In the last two weeks, the United States has seen numerous examples of groups rising up and resisting new policies set forth by the Trump administration. Boycotting votes for Trump nominees, the Women’s March, and resisting the refugee ban are all forms of resistance that can defy these inhumane and discriminatory policies. We can do this!

San Francisco Is the First City to File Suit Challenging Trump’s Sanctuary City Executive Order, Jezebel, Megan Reynolds, February 1, 2017

“San Francisco is safer when all people, including undocumented immigrants, feel safe reporting crimes. San Francisco is healthier when all residents, including undocumented immigrants, access public health programs. And San Francisco is economically and socially stronger when all children, including undocumented immigrants, attend school.”

San Francisco has become the first city to sue the Trump administration’s executive order on defunding sanctuary cities. Forcing local and state laws to carry out federal law, under any circumstances, is unconstitutional and is the basis for this case. While many cities and towns have also resisted, declaring themselves as sanctuary or recommitting their cities and towns to be sanctuary, San Francisco is the first city to file a lawsuit. UUSC applauds the city in taking this action and is excited to see others follow suit.

To read more about the executive order and its proposed effects on sanctuary cities, check out the first of our blog series, What Trump’s Executive Orders Really Means.

What Do Trump’s Executive Orders Really Mean? Part 3/3

photo of wall on the nogales borderThis series looks at the recent executive orders on immigration the Trump administration signed. Many, however have been left wondering what the actual impact of the new executive actions will be in practice. We hope this three-part executive order series of what we know so far will be helpful in finding answers. Click here to read parts one and two.

Trump’s executive orders will likely result in the return of asylum-seekers from Central America, Africa, Haiti, and elsewhere to persecution and possible death.

Trump’s orders call for the completion of a physical barrier along the U.S.-Mexico border as well as a variety of increased enforcement and surveillance mechanisms. The authority for such a “wall” already exists on paper, in the form of the 2006 “Secure Fence Act,” and there are already 650 miles of fencing along parts of the U.S.-Mexico border. Additionally, Trump’s orders call for the hiring of 5,000 additional Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents.

  • The erection of a complete “wall” on the border would undoubtedly force more people in need of livelihood and safety to attempt even more perilous border crossings, by sea or tunnel, that would place their lives at risk. It will also make it far more difficult in practice for asylum-seekers to petition authorities for refuge. The southern U.S. border is already among the most heavily patrolled, monitored, and militarized national frontiers in the world—a fact that has forced many desperate migrants and refugees to employ increasingly hazardous means to cross the border, resulting in thousands of deaths and disappearances in the borderlands.
  • Trump’s executive orders direct authorities to detain every migrant and asylum-seeker until their removal proceeding is completed. This eliminates the discretionary power of border agents to release some people when they deem appropriate (a practice that has been misleadingly dubbed “catch and release”). Such a policy will result in a massive expansion of the detention system, even as it runs up against the fact that the detention of children in family units has already been ruled unlawful multiple times in federal courts.
  • Asylum-seekers will most likely see their claims for protection rejected at far higher rates under the impact of these executive orders. The executive branch will try to remove people at an ever faster rate and reduce the burden on limited bed space in the detention centers. Asylum-seekers at the border already have to navigate an arcane screening process that is fundamentally lacking in due process. Their fates rest in the hands of asylum officers who can judge their claim for protection to be unfounded and order their return, without the asylum-seeker ever having a chance to present their case before an immigration judge.

As president, Trump has broad discretion to issue guidance to asylum officers in making credible fear determinations, and the orders include the alarming instructions to judge fear claims in “a manner consistent with the plain language” of applicable law—which in this context, means that asylum-seekers from Central America (whose lives are often in danger at the hands of criminal networks and corrupt state actors back home, but who may not fit the narrow refugee definition) will be excluded from protection in the U.S. and sent back, possibly to their death.

With these executive orders, President Trump has signaled his reckless and callous disregard for the lives, futures, and families of our immigrant neighbors and siblings. UUSC will resist these depraved efforts to undermine the values of this country and of the world community.