U.S. Withdrawal from Global Compact on Migration is a Failure of Leadership

Saturday night, the Trump administration suddenly announced that it is pulling out of talks to develop the Global Compact on Migration (GCM) – a grave abdication of U.S. leadership and its moral obligations to the international community. The decision was the latest in a string of blows to multilateral efforts to address global injustices, including forced migration and climate change, and continued the government’s pattern of showing contempt for the rights and well-being of refugees and migrants.

Critically, the news came just two days before a key U.N. preparatory meeting in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico – part of ongoing discussions to develop the GCM. UUSC’s Senior Program Leader for Environmental Justice and Climate Action, Salote Soqo, who is currently in Mexico to attend the meeting notes that “with this decision, the United States has lost another opportunity to lead, to guide, and to contribute its rich migration history and experience to this global discussion.”

The United States continues to actively contribute to the underlying global injustices fueling displacement, even as it turns its back on efforts to protect their victims. For example, despite its intention to bow out of the Paris Agreement it remains among the world’s worst carbon emitters. Additionally, the people of Honduras – including UUSC’s partners at Foro de Mujeres por la Vida – struggle to defend their democratic institutions against a post-coup government and militarized security forces, both of which have received substantial U.S. support. The corruption, impunity, and violence of U.S.-backed actors have been a driver of forced migration from Honduras and many other countries across the globe for years. The decision by the U.S. government to withdraw from the global discussion on migration is appalling in light of this involvement.

The GCM promises to be the first truly comprehensive international framework addressing all forms of migration (including but not limited to forced displacement) from a perspective grounded in the human rights and dignity of people traveling across borders. It touches on nearly every aspect of our work to advance human rights, including our efforts alongside our partners to end the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya, to uphold the dignity and self-determination of peoples threatened with climate-induced forced displacement, to support migrants escaping persecution in Syria, to protect families fleeing violence in Central America, and to resist the criminalization of immigrant communities in the United States. UUSC has championed the aspirations of the GCM since its inception in 2016 and will continue to do so, with or without the U.S. government at the table.

Paris Agreement: Be a citizen supporter

The United Nation’s climate negotiations are underway here at the Conference of the Parties (“COP23”) in Bonn, Germany. As the global community drafts roadmaps for achieving goals set in the Paris Climate Change Agreement, I’m again inspired by our shared responsibility to advance the rights of those whose livelihoods are being destroyed by the impacts of climate change.  

Sign the “I Am Still In” pledge to tell countries committed to the Paris Agreement that you support climate action.

With Tuesday’s announcement that Syria has decided to sign the Paris agreement, the United States is now the only country in the world not supporting it. This decision affects the air we breathe and the water we drink. It threatens the health and welfare of millions and it harms our ecosystems, disproportionately affecting the most vulnerable people on our planet.

Emboldened by the spirit of global collaboration and collective power, I am emailing to ask you to please join UUSC and our partners in letting the world know that we are committed to addressing climate change now.

Tell the countries committed to the Paris Agreement that you’re still in to take climate action: Sign the “I Am Still In” pledge.

From the frontlines of UN climate talks

It’s begun! The world has gathered for critical climate talks and to evaluate the implementation of agreements to reduce carbon emissions and adapt to climate change. UUSC and our partners are on the frontlines of this year’s Conference of the Parties (“COP23”) in Bonn, Germany. We’ll be sharing updates and opportunities to advocate for the rights of marginalized populations who are disproportionality at risk of losing their homes – and entire ways of life – due to our warming planet.

In true Pacific spirit, Fiji opened COP23 with a traditional ceremony, showcasing perhaps one of the most important Pacific traits that is at risk due to climate change. This traditional and cultural loss resonates with indigenous cultures worldwide.

Here are just two of the many startling details heard during one of the conference’s first panels, Disappearing Islands:

  • Two islands in the Solomon Islands have completely vanished and six more are experiencing coastal erosion.
  • The significance of #3. We are currently on a dangerous track to a 3 degree warming, which will result in a 3-meter rise in the Pacific sea level. We only have 3 years to reduce emissions to address pre-2020 emission targets.

UUSC and our partner are working with three communities in the Solomon Islands. One of those villages, Nuatabu, was swept away by a tidal wave in 2012. To this day, people are still living in despair in tents and makeshift shelters and have not received any government assistance. UUSC is helping Nuatabu and other villages with resources and advocacy for national and international action. 

There are many outstanding organizations working to confront these climate change threats, yet few groups focus specifically on the resulting human rights crises: the families forced to evacuate their homes, the villagers whose fresh water wells are rendered useless, the farmers who live in constant fear of losing their communities’ crops. Through our Environmental Justice and Climate Action Program, UUSC and our partners are developing community-led and human-rights based responses to climate forced displacement.

For instance, Chevak Native Village, home to 1,200 Cup’ik villagers in Alaska, is one in a multitude of affected communities where we are working for urgent action. Minimal government assistance has left villagers to cope alone with weather-related changes and erosion caused by increasing temperatures and thawing permafrost. But like other villages in Alaska, this community does not have the resources to deal with the barrage of ongoing climate issues.

I am honored by the opportunity to participate in COP23 and stand alongside our partners in advocating for climate justice. And, I am inviting you to join me in shining a light on how climate change is disproportionately affecting the most marginalized populations, multiplying their risks, widening inequalities and threatening their basic human rights and dignities.

We are providing updates from COP23 on our blog, Facebook and Twitter feeds. Please follow us and help spread the word that the global community has a responsibility to act TODAY to protect the needs of all, not just the most powerful.

One of the atrocities of climate change is that the people who are least responsible for this looming catastrophe will suffer — are already suffering — its worst consequences. They urgently need someone to stand with them. I’m hoping that will be you.

We Denounce the Suppression of Climate Science

Yesterday’s New York Times article about the leaked special section of the draft National Climate Assessment provides further scientific evidence of what our partners in the Pacific and Alaska already know and are experiencing. Global warming has melted glaciers, shrunk sea ice, and thawed permafrost in Alaska and in the greater Arctic region. Global warming has increased ocean temperatures and caused rising sea levels in the Pacific. These are not only findings from the draft report but the actual lived experiences of our partners, some of whom are already facing the real threat of losing their land and their homes.

These communities, like many others both here in the United States and around the world, do not need their experiences to be qualified by this scientific report, nor do we need this report to affirm our values and commitment to environmental justice. Our shared humanity demands this.

However, we do need facts – unbiased, unsolicited, bipartisan evidence – upon which we can create the policies that we need to protect our planet and to respond to the growing risks of climate change to ourselves and our communities, both here and afar. Moreover, we need public servants who respect the integrity and dedication of the scientists who collect this data and who are committed to enacting legislation based on their findings.

Through this article, these scientists have publicly expressed their fear that government will suppress this report. We share their concerns and believe that this administration’s continued disregard of science is unjustified and dangerous. UUSC and our partners are in solidarity with these scientists and we will be watching closely to see that the Climate Science Special Report is released later this fall.

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.

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 Reading highlights articles on sanctuary, sustainability, and the Paris Agreement.

White People, It’s Time to Prioritize Justice Over Civility, Tauriq Moosa, The Establishment, May 9, 2017

Photo of justice statue

One of the hallmarks of white privilege is the option to be uninformed on and indifferent towards issues of oppression. In the name of “civility” and a backwards sense of fairness, the media has been giving white supremacists a platform on television to express their hate speech. However, this show at fairness actually undermines the platform of people of color fighting for true equality, giving them less airtime and raising white supremacists’ “concerns” to the same level as the concerns of those who are actually oppressed. Whether it’s in an effort towards equal airtime or boosting viewership, the media and white moderates’ uninvolved attitude thus promotes a more passive sense of fairness than an active move towards justice.

Moosa makes a strong argument for how the disaffected white majority can be even more harmful than hate groups. Just because white supremacists can make themselves look presentable and can express their views in a civil manner does not make their rhetoric valid or worthy of a platform in mainstream media.

Not Just Cities: We Can Become a Sanctuary Nation, Robert Greenwald and Angel Padilla, The Nation, May 9, 2017

Trump has called for a crackdown on undocumented immigrants, pushing for law enforcement everywhere to report even the smallest of misdemeanors to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). This is just one example of the alarming move towards the criminalization of marginalized communities that has been happening under the Trump administration.

“Sanctuary” is a term being used a lot lately, but it doesn’t just have to apply to cities. Communities all across the United States can engage in sanctuary practices to protect immigrants. There are many ways that individuals can get involved, such as coming together to push sanctuary laws, going with immigrants to ICE check-ins, staying vigilant and spreading the word about potential ICE raids, and working with grassroots organizations to advocate for immigrant rights.

UUSC recently called on Massachusetts to pass legislation that would would end “287(g) agreements” whereby local law enforcement personnel are authorized to perform a variety of federal immigration enforcement functions, including questioning people about their immigration status, arresting them for immigration violations, and place them in deportation proceedings. Read the press release here.

You can also read our Expanded Sanctuary blog series to learn more.

White House Advisors Postpone Paris Climate Deal Meeting, Andrew Restuccia, Politico, May 8, 2017

Yet again, Trump’s meeting with advisers to discuss the United States’ involvement in the Paris Agreement has been postponed. His advisers are in disagreement on this issue. Trump is expected to make a decision soon on whether the United States will withdraw from the Paris Agreement, a potential step that is being condemned worldwide.

During his election campaign, Trump stated his intent to withdraw the U.S. from the climate deal. Already under his administration, we have seen an increase in policies and government appointments that favor big business interests over the safety of the environment and the public. Withdrawing from the Paris Agreement is a dangerous step in the wrong direction for environmental policy and foreign relations. UUSC is watching the White House closely for further developments. Read our latest statement on Trump’s “Energy Independence” Executive Order.

The Dark Side of Fashion We Never Talk About, Rachel Selvin, Refinery29, May 8, 2017

Do you know the environmental footprint for what you’re wearing right now? It’s probably larger than you think. The process to manufacture and distribute clothing requires a high amount of energy and resources. While often overlooked, the fashion industry is one of the leading contributors to environmental pollution and resource depletion in the world.

Selvin discusses pioneering new biotechnologies to cut down on the environmental cost of fashion, but it isn’t just manufacturers who need to think more sustainably. Consumers need to be conscience of what they’re really buying, and how much. Cutting down on how many new clothes you buy and making sure that that your clothing is sustainably sourced are two great ways to reduce your personal environmental footprint.

The Good Buy, UUSC’s online store, is a great option for buying sustainably sourced products, and you’ll also be helping to fund UUSC’s human rights efforts.