Diapers in Detention Week of Action

Along with our partners at Interfaith Immigration Coalition, UUSC is organizing a #DiapersInDetention week of action from August 29th – September 1st to put national attention on ICE. Here’s how you can help:

SIGN AND SEND A LETTER TO YOUR LOCAL ICE OFFICE VIA OUR ONLINE ACTION

Families fleeing violence have a legal right to seek asylum and their detention violates international human rights law. Now, instead of growing up with blankets and binkies, their children are behind bars and locked doors. Tell Your Local ICE Field Office: Jailing babies is the last straw. End family detention. Keep families together and free while they pursue asylum.

SUPPORT THE MOTHERS ON HUNGER STRIKE IN BERKS FAMILY DETENTION CENTER IN LEESPORT, PA

Twenty-two mothers who have been in detention with their children for up to a year have launched a hunger strike in protest of their protracted imprisonment. This follows a misleading statement by Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson that, on average, families are released within 20 days. Call Thomas Decker of the Philadelphia Regional ICE office to demand their immediate release: 215-656-7164.

SEND A BABY SHOWER CARD TO ICE

If you are not near one of the ICE offices or a family detention facility, pick up a baby shower card at the drugstore, write a message that says “Baby jails are the last straw. It’s time to end family detention and keep families together. No more diapers in detention!” and send it to:

The Honorable Jeh Johnson
Secretary of Homeland Security
Washington, D.C. 20528

Before you drop it in the mailbox, take a picture of it and tag it on social media with #DiapersInDetention, @UUSC, and @ICEGOV.

HOST A “BABY SHOWER” FOR ICE

If you live in one of the 24 cities with an ICE Enforcement and Removal Office, help organize a “baby shower” for ICE to call attention to the increase of babies and toddlers being held in detention. You can find a map of the offices here, and sign up to lead or attend an event here.

Events can be held Monday, August 29 – Thursday, September 1. A guide for organizing events is available, and national organizers will assist you with planning and media coverage. If you are interested in hosting an event, please do your best to register by August 12.

SEND A LETTER TO THE EDITOR TO YOUR LOCAL PAPER

Our partners at the Friends Committee on National Legislation have created an easy tool to help you write to your local newspaper.

Rights at Risk in the Dominican Republic

Since 2013, over 200,000 Dominicans of Haitian descent have already been stripped of their citizenship because they have been unable to prove their ancestors’ legal entry to the Dominican Republic (D.R.), going all the way back to 1929.

This is a continuation of the human rights crisis that began with the 2013 Dominican Republic Constitutional Court decision that left thousands stateless. UUSC is urging our supporters to take action on this issue by signing a letter to Secretary Kerry urging him to withhold military aid to the D.R. beginning Monday, July 14. Below we’ve provided a few posts to help get you started sharing the action on social media. Thank you for adding your voice on this issue!

Here’s how you can spread the word:

Watch and Share this Video

Statelessness in the DR

Sign and share the action on social media and with your personal networks
make shift camps at border infographic
Click the image to share on Facebook Click the image to share on Facebook

 

Tell @JohnKerry @StateDept: Suspend funding to the #DR until it stops deporting people of Haitian descent. http://uusc.org/rightsatriskdr
Tell @JohnKerry to STOP MILITARY AID to the #DR until it stops unjust deportations of people of Haitian descent! http://uusc.org/rightsatriskdr
Tell @JohnKerry @StateDep it’s time for the deportations of Haitians in the #DR to stop! #Rights4ALLinDR http://uusc.org/rightsatriskdr

 

Haiti/DR infographic
Click to download & share on Instagram
Share our recent blog, “Report from The Haiti/Dominican Republic Border: For Children, “Stateless” Means Homeless, Vulnerable”

Central American Migrant Rights: The Situation and UUSC’s Response

The Northern Triangle countries of Central America (Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador) are seeing an exodus of refugees in numbers not seen since the 1980s. Among the causes of this exodus are alarming rates of homicide and gender-based violence, along with the power of organized criminal networks and failure of government authorities to protect their citizens from these threats. Unchecked gang violence, sexual and gender-based violence, and increasing militarization have eroded the rule of law and replaced it with an atmosphere of unrelenting danger.

Countries receiving Central American refugees – namely Mexico and the United States – have failed to uphold their legal and moral obligations to protect this population. Criminal networks in Mexico target refugees for trafficking and extortion, and Mexican authorities have failed to investigate the numerous cases of migrants who disappear while in transit. With backing from the United States, Mexico has repeatedly interdicted and summarily returned refugees without offering them a meaningful chance to claim asylum. Refugees who do manage to reach the United States are themselves deprived of their rights, facing expedited proceedings that violate due process. They are routinely detained in prison-like facilities, and have little access to legal representation.

UUSC’s strategy for addressing this crisis has three important components:

  • Address the root causes of forced displacement in Central America to prevent Central Americans from needing to escape.
  • Provide humanitarian assistance to in-transit refugees along the migration route.
  • Ensure due process for refugees requesting asylum once they arrive in the United States.

UUSC works with partners in Honduras and El Salvador to reduce gender-based violence and document the impact of increased militarization on women’s security. In Mexico, UUSC helps support a migrant shelter and an organization providing legal and psychosocial support for migrant victims of crime. UUSC is also among multiple supporters of a ground-breaking project to create a transnational mechanism for investigating the cases of disappeared and missing migrants in Mexico. In the United States, UUSC partners with organizations that document abuses by border security forces on both sides of the fence, and works with additional organizations to provide counsel for refugee women and children, and to address human rights violations within the immigration detention system.

Examples of UUSC Partner Organizations in our Migrant Justice Strategy include:

  • In Honduras, UUSC works with a coalition of 17 grassroots women’s organizations to confront gender-based violence through two objectives. The first is to document and raise awareness of the prevalence of gender-based violence and its linkages to organized crime, militarization and forced displacement, and to demonstrate the link between displacement and gender-based violence. The second is to support women who are affected by human rights violations by accompanying them through legal procedures, searches for housing, and efforts to protect their human rights, and to advocate for government mechanisms to ensure women’s access to justice.
  • Along the border between the United States and Mexico, we are working with the Kino Border Initiative (KBI) in Nogales to document abuses committed against migrants and recent deportees by Mexican authorities. The objective of this study is to publish a report to bring public attention to abuses committed against migrants and refugees by Mexican authorities, to offer policy recommendations and advocacy efforts to bring an end to these violations of refugees’ human rights.
  • Within the United States, UUSC is supporting CIVIC in California to build capacity for self-advocacy among detained migrants and asylum seekers. CIVIC is starting a national 24/7 hotline for immigrants in detention to connect with family members, receive attorney referrals, and challenge the conditions of their detention.

Stop the Deportation Raids

Thousands of women and children fleeing violence are targeted for raids and deportation this month. Tell the Department of Homeland Security to offer them protection instead.

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. Rights Reading will be going on hiatus for a spell but expect to see it back as soon as possible!

1.Why Your Water Could Be Worse Than Flint’s,” by Laura Orlando, In These Times

“Since Flint, there’s been a new spotlight on lead in drinking water. But children in minority neighborhoods have been exposed to lead from water and other sources, like peeling lead paint, for a long time. The Centers for Disease Control consistently reports that black children have the highest risk of lead poisoning in the United States, sometimes two or three times more likely than white children to have elevated lead levels in their blood.”

An in-depth look at the particulars of the Flint water crisis — and the ways that the same problems show up throughout the country — with special attention to how race plays into it. UUSC’s Patricia Jones has found that 53% of African American Michiganders are living in cities that have violated the human rights to water and sanitation under Snyder Administration “emergency management” austerity measures, as opposed to 3% of white Michiganders.

This In These Times analysis also addresses the looming specter of water privatization: “Private companies come and go. They also are not compelled to provide services to those who cannot pay.” Remember: the human right to water means that all people have a right to accessible, safe, sufficient, and affordable water for daily human needs. This article zeroes in on the safety piece but also touches on the affordability piece. Expect a lot from UUSC over the coming months about that — we’re working on a big report about water affordability! Stay up to date on UUSC’s work to advance the human right to water.

2. “Locked Up for Seeking Asylum,” by Elizabeth Rubin, New York Times

“For one thing, it says that the system is stacked against the asylum seeker. The immigration judge works for the Department of Justice, and the government’s attorney works for the Department of Homeland Security. Meanwhile, the asylum seeker generally has no right to a public defender. Legal representation is crucial: One study found that mothers with children without a lawyer were granted asylum 2 percent of the time while those with a lawyer won 32 percent of the time.”

This opinion piece in the New York Times SundayReview section highlights a whole host of problems with the current asylum process in the United States, including lengthy periods in detention, shocking rejections, obstacles in obtaining legal resources, and more. As Rachel Freed, UUSC’s vice president and chief program officer, has said, “For those who do risk seeking asylum at borders, it still is the responsibility of the U.S. to ensure that international legal protection and screening standards are met by allowing children and families full, unobstructed access to legal counsel, minimal detention time with responsible, non-abusive treatment while there, and swift release to those who qualify for asylum claims.” As UUSC research has shown, the conditions that asylum seekers experience in immigration detention can further traumatize people who have already been traumatized by the violence and persecution they fled in their home countries. The system needs to change. We have a few ideas. And a way for you to take action to protect children seeking asylum!

3. Closed Doors: Mexico’s Failure to Protect Central American Refugee and Migrant Children, by Human Rights Watch

“By law, Mexico offers protection to refugees as well as to others who would face risks to their lives or safety if returned to their countries of origin. Mexican government data suggest, however, that less than 1 percent of children who are apprehended by Mexican immigration authorities are recognized as refugees or receive other formal protection in Mexico.”

This report from Human Rights Watch illustrates in detail how it’s not just the United States failing people seeking asylum — Mexico is, too, and especially children. With tens of thousands of children traveling to and through Mexico every year from the violence of the Northern Triangle (Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala), this report further underscores the need for more adequate support for these kids who are fleeing for their lives in hopes of finding safety and brighter futures.

On the Ground in Greece

Delivering Aid with Dignity to Refugees in Europe

His name was Jawed, and he was screaming in pain when Latifa Woodhouse met him and his mother. His hands were swollen, bleeding, severely frostbitten. And he was just one of the thousands of refugees arriving on the shores of Lesbos, Greece, every day. Latifa and her husband, Colin — both longtime and deeply committed UUSC supporters and volunteers — met the family while volunteering for a week at Camp Moria in Lesbos, where UUSC is partnering with PRAKSIS, a Greek civil society organization, to support refugees fleeing their homes and seeking safety in Europe.

PRAKSIS: UUSC’s partner

Thanks to generous supporters who have donated almost $630,000 to the UUSC-UUA Refugee Crisis Fund, UUSC has established strategic partnerships with grassroots groups across the migration route in Europe. UUSC started working with PRAKSIS (which, translated from Greek, stands for Programs for Development of Social Support and Medical Cooperation) in December to deliver vital aid to refugees — from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere — who are arriving daily in Greece from Turkey.

Founded in 2004, PRAKSIS provides humanitarian aid in the form of medical care, legal assistance, social welfare, and psychological and financial support to socially vulnerable groups in need. To serve the vast influx of Syrian refugees — who have faced a dangerous journey across the sea, brutal weather and travel conditions, and exploitation by traffickers — UUSC teamed up with PRAKSIS to facilitate transportation of refugees from their arrival on shore to the refugee camps 40 kilometers uphill. UUSC’s support also enables the distribution of winterization kits for 536 babies, to help ensure they stay warm and healthy during the cold winter months.

When the Woodhouses — who served for 10 years as UUSC volunteer regional coordinators and presently are UUSC volunteer local representatives at the UU Congregation at Shelter Rock — began their humanitarian mission in Greece, they met PRAKSIS staff members by chance: walking through the camp, Latifa saw people wearing PRAKSIS jackets, introduced herself, and made the connection with Youta, a social worker, and Eva, and a teacher, who mostly work with Syrian refugee children at and around the U.N. compound at Camp Moria.

Navigating the refugee journey

When Latifa met Jawed and his mother, the mother was relieved to hear a familiar language — Pashto, her own. With Latifa’s help translating and navigating the unfamiliar camp, Jawed received initial treatment and pain relief at a health clinic and his family was set up in Camp Pikpa — for vulnerable children, disabled refugees, and those recovering from wounds, sickness, and the loss of loved ones. Not only that, Jawed’s mother was assured that a surgeon would provide necessary care for Jawed’s hands.

During their time together, the mother told Latifa the family’s story: They were an extended family of 22, traveling from Kunduz, Afghanistan, where they feared for their lives. They used all their money to pay a smuggler to get them to Greece; the trip to Turkey, over mountain ridges, took 22 hours, in brutal cold. Their elderly grandmother died on the trip. Jawed lost a glove and suffered severe injuries to his hands, and the whole family suffered frostbite. In Turkey, they were turned away from a doctor for lack of funds and insurance. They were directed by a smuggler to take a small rubber boat — that was over capacity — across the Aegean Sea to Greece. They had never seen water like that. They were one of the lucky families that made it to the shore of Lesbos.

That is the story of just one family among millions. The Woodhouses heard heartbreaking story after heartbreaking story. But they were struck by the strength and resilience they witnessed. “They are really amazing, strong people with a great hope for the future,” reflects Latifa.

The Woodhouses’ mission

“The refugee issue is very close to both of our hearts,” explains Latifa, the daughter of Afghan refugees herself. The Woodhouses saw the refugee situation unfolding — and worsening — in the Middle East and Europe and felt they must get involved. They raised money amongst friends, family, and community, including urging their congregation, the UU Congregation at Shelter Rock, to contribute $100,000 to UUSC’s refugee relief efforts.

With the funds they personally raised, Latifa, Colin, and their daughter Alexandra traveled to Lesbos in January, and they were joined by Diane Lombardy, a pediatrician. At Camp Moria, a processing center surrounded by tents hosting refugees going through registration, they got to work doing the following and more:

  • Helping provide and distribute aid, like clothing, firewood, and food
  • Creating vital camp infrastructure like walkways and irrigation, and making the medical tent and other areas accessible to wheelchairs
  • Translating and navigating language barriers (Latifa is fluent in Farsi and Pashto, and can converse in Arabic and Urdu)
  • Providing crowd control
  • Sharing information and connecting people to services

The Woodhouses worked with and alongside volunteers from around the world and with the refugees themselves, from sunrise to well past sunset. “During the past four days we have gone to the shore at night and welcomed the boats that have arrived in the dark. There is truly so much one can do,” Latifa wrote from the field. “Especially with my language ability, I have been everywhere. At the health clinics to translate for doctors. At clothing facilities to make sure every one is fitted properly. At the information booth to guide them to buy their tickets for Athens and how to register as they arrive from Turkey. It goes on and on. I have become everyone’s aunt and sister.”

“We must be involved”

The Woodhouses embody the values that UUSC puts into action every day. Martha and Waitstill Sharp, two of UUSC’s founders, carried out vital missions in Nazi-occupied Europe during World War II, rescuing Jews, dissidents, and refugee children at great personal sacrifice. “There’s no better organization to take this work on than UUSC, given its history and legacy,” says Colin. “UUSC and the story of the Sharps inspired us. The similarities are incredible — this refugee crisis is global and it’s the worst since World War II.  We must be involved.”

With a shifting situation that changes daily, working with local grassroots groups that know the realities on the ground is essential. Europe has been further tightening its borders and shutting its doors to the refugees arriving on its threshold. Christen Dobson, program director of research and policy at the International Human Rights Funders Group, recently wrote: “Moria, the reception centre where asylum seekers were registered and received assistance and from which they were able to freely depart, has become a detention facility.”

The Woodhouses reported to their personal donors: “Refugees continue to arrive in Les[b]os every day, but now are regarded as criminals, locked up, and told they will be sent back to Turkey or their country of origin. For many, this is essentially a death sentence. . . . How can we force people to return to communities in ruin and homes in rubble? How can we send them back into the line of gunfire, brutality, and war? We cannot. We will, however, continue our efforts to bring compassion, love, comfort, and justice to the people who deserve no less.”

Indeed, this is why UUSC is committed to providing emergency aid, ensuring access to legal help and resettlement support, and advocating for necessary changes in policy and public perception of the refugees attempting to find safety and build new lives in Europe. Colin reflected on their time in Lesbos: “All we did was offer a little humanity.” Everyone deserves that. Asylum seekers are not criminals. And UUSC will continue to deliver aid with dignity to refugees throughout the Middle East and Europe.

What you can do