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 we are highlighting the importance of intersectionality – and some various groups that are leading this charge!

Protest groups to unite as “The Majority” for massive actions across the country on May 1, Aaron Morrison, Mic, March 23, 2017

woman holding an american flag during a protest 

Over 50 partners, comprised of refugee, LGBTQ, Black, Latino, immigrants, and other minority groups are coming together from April to May to launch protests all across the United States. These groups, known as The Majority, are calling the April to May events “Beyond the Moment,” inspired by Dr. King’s “Beyond Vietnam” speech, in which he first addressed the importance of intersectional work rather than focusing only on civil rights.

Since the inauguration of Trump, there have been weekly protests around indigenous rights, climate change, women’s rights, refugee and immigrant rights, and other issues. The Majority emphasizes that supporters of the “Beyond the Moment” movement think and go beyond this  current administration in order to effect lasting change.

Among some of the groups that make up The Majority are Mijente and Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights, UUSC partners doing amazing work.

Arab Americans lead the charge for US civil liberties, Massoud Hayoun, Al Jazeera, March 20, 2017

Arab American community leaders are working with other minority groups that are being threatened by the current administration. The working-class, people of color, women, and other groups are showing a united front in the midst of increasing threats and violence. Leaders in the Arab American community understand that social justice must be won in unity with other oppressed groups, as the struggles in one group are linked with another.

Trump’s presidency has stressed the need and importance of deepening and strengthening intersectional work. The administration has brought to light a history of this kind of work. One of several examples of intersectional work highlighted in this article is the work of Arab American Action Network (AAAN) in Chicago, an organization that works on racial profiling. AAAN works closely with teachers unions to make schools sanctuary schools for both undocumented and Black students.

As Rashad al-Dabbagh, founding director of Arab American Civic Council, a UUSC partner, states, “There’s no way we’d be able to survive without unity. That’s why it’s important to work together with all of our communities – Latinos, Asians, LGBT groups, African Americans, Indigenous peoples. Our struggles are linked. Right now, we’re at a point in history where we cannot afford to work alone.”

Read more about UUSC’s work with Arab American Civic Council here.

Texas UU coalition fights bills hostile to immigrants and transgender people, Elaine McArdle, UU World, March 28, 2017

Last February, on Legislative Action Day, 240 Unitarian Universalists from Texas met with legislators to advocate for reproductive, immigrant, refugee, and economic justice. This event was organized by Texas UU Justice Ministry (TXUUJM), a UUSC partner that organizes a statewide network of UU congregations.

One of the actions was to oppose a Sanctuary City Bill, which would affect immigrant communities. TXUUJM has a longstanding history of working with immigrant communities. TJUUJM has also been working with the transgender community and is working against a bill that prevents transgender people from choosing which bathroom they prefer to use. UUSC is proud of the wide-ranging and intersectional work that TXUUJM and other Unitarian Universalists are doing in Texas.

Asylum-Seeking Families at Risk Under Trump’s Aggressive Immigration Policies

In just over a month, the new administration has executed a multi-pronged assault upon refugees and asylum-seekers who need humanitarian protections that the United States can and must provide.

Legally, people who are on U.S. soil, and meet the definition of a “refugee” should be granted asylum protections. This means that they face or fear persecution if they were returned to their country of origin based on their race, nationality, religion, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group.

98% of CAM applicants report exposure to danger in communityThe U.S. has seen a dramatic rise in asylum claims in the past decade, largely fueled by escalating violence and widespread international gang activity that has created a deadly crisis in El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala, often referred to as the “Northern Triangle” of Central America. Families seeking asylum have fled the region at incredibly high rates. From 2008-2014, asylum applications increased over 1,000% in the countries that neighbor the Northern Triangle and rose 370% in the United States.

In FY2016, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) apprehended nearly 60,000 unaccompanied minors and 77,857 families nationwide, most at the southwestern border. Many of these families were Central Americans seeking asylum in the United States. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service reports conducting nearly 100,000 credible fear screenings of asylum seekers in FY2016, with extremely high granting rates: nearly 80% of people that pundits and critics call “illegal immigrants” have a credible fear of persecution in their home country.

Refugees from the Northern Triangle

In 2014, the Obama administration created a limited refugee resettlement program allowing some children in the Northern Triangle to apply for refugee protections and be reunited with a parent who is a legal resident in the United States. The program was touted as saving children the dangerous journey through Central America and Mexico, and allowed them to seek asylum at the U.S. border. Since November 2014, there have been nearly 11,000 applications for the program and approximately 1,800 children have been reunited with their parents here in the United States with either refugee status or humanitarian parole. UUSC researchers spent the last year conducting research about how to make the Central American Minors In-Country Refugee Processing Program (CAM) even more effective and have direct testimony from CAM participants about the need for this life saving pathway to safety.

The children who use CAM are in imminent danger at the hands of gangs and corrupt police where they live. When asked why they applied for refugee status, CAM applicants have shared reasons like:

  • “I received threats from a gang member. Before that, two friends of mine who played on the same soccer team in which I played appeared dead . . . he told me that if I did not want something to happen to me or be killed, I should leave the neighborhood.”
  • “My fear sometimes is that my baby will get sick at night . . . no one leaves and if they leave they have to be accountable for where they go to the gangs. . . [my baby] suffers from epilepsy and I have to go for treatments in San Salvador, when we go we try to do everything fast, to return early . . . it is very difficult to live constantly with fear.”
  • “I am afraid to leave the house now because gang members meet outside my house . . . My family and I are in danger . . . if we do not give the [rent] they are going to kill one of us . . . you cannot live in peace.”

However, President Trump’s January 27, 2017 executive order suspending all refugee resettlement for 120 days likewise suspended CAM. While a handful of CAM refugees who had already been granted refugee status have been able to fly to the United States in the weeks since the 9th Circuit Court stayed the presidents’ executive order, the administration has effectively halted refugee processing. This avenue to refuge is now closed for thousands of Central American children who may have to begin their application almost from scratch when and if CAM is reinstated.

Part of the border wall in Nogales, Mexico.
Part of the border wall in Nogales, Mexico.

With the refugee program halted, children will need to travel through Mexico to seek asylum at the U.S. border. There, too, the administration appears poised to cause immense harm to asylum-seeking families and children. DHS Secretary Kelly’s recent memos indicate that the department will:

  • Extend the border wall to make entry into the United States more difficult.
  • Deport asylum-seekers to Mexico or place them in U.S. detention centers while they await a decision on their case, placing families in inhumane prison-like conditions that we know causes lasting harm.
  • Strip protections for unaccompanied children that are guaranteed by law and charge parents with “human trafficking” for bringing their children to the United States.

Alarmingly, reports from El Paso, Texas, indicate that CBP agents have already turned asylum-seekers back from official ports of entry, denying them even the chance to make their asylum claim.

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.

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 focuses on Trump’s latest executive orders released Wednesday, and which target refugees and immigrants. 

The wall is the least aggressive part of Trump’s executive actions on immigration, Dara Lind, Vox, January 25, 2017

Last Wednesday, President Trump made good on some campaign promises to build a border wall, limit the number of refugees and immigrants, and defund sanctuary cities. Trump has signed two executive orders, one that would expand our current border wall, and a second to expand the definition of “criminal” in order to criminalize, detain, and deport immigrants faster.

Trump has given the green light to expand our current border wall that is 650 miles long. Trump plans to use federal funding, at least initially, to complete this wall that would cover the entire U.S.-Mexico border. It is unclear how or if Trump still plans on having Mexico pay for the wall, something he insisted on during his campaign. Trump has also increased the number of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents and Customs Border Protection (CPB) agents.

In addition to expanding the border wall, the executive order states that those crossing the border, even asylum-seekers, will be detained. This poses a number of problems, such as the decreased possibility of a fair hearing, legal representation, and deportation.   Higher rates of deportation will also be a likely result of the executive orders, as Trump is broadening the definition of “criminal alien” and thereby making it easier to deport and detain undocumented immigrants. ICE agents will also have more authority and resources to criminalize undocumented immigrants under the “Secure Communities” program.

Lastly, the new executive orders mentions potentially defunding sanctuary cities that do not cooperate with law enforcement. This is a more controversial part of the executive order, which was not elaborated on and remains unclear on how it can be legally implemented, as cutting federal funding to coerce local governments to comply is unconstitutional.

Learn more about the effects of these executive orders in the first of our three-part blog series here.

Faith groups across the country condemn Trump’s ban on refugees and immigrants from Muslim countries, Jack Jenkins, Think Progress

Religious organizations, denominations, and faith leaders across various faith traditions have come together to speak out against Trump’s latest executive orders. UUSC’s very own President and CEO Tom Andrews, together with UUA President Rev. Peter Morales, were featured in this article with their joint statement:

“In the face of looming threats to immigrants, Muslims, people of color, and the LGBTQ community and the rise of hate speech, harassment and hate crimes, we affirm our belief in the inherent worth and dignity of every person. We will oppose any and all unjust government actions to deport, register, discriminate, or despoil. As people of conscience, we declare our commitment to translate our values into action as we stand on the side of love with the most vulnerable among us.”

National and international religious leaders have also signed onto this letter to Trump support refugee resettlement.

UUSC and the UUA have collaborated to prepare a Declaration of Conscience, stating in the strongest possible terms our commitment in these troubling times. By signing the declaration, individuals and congregations will be affirming our core values and declaring our willingness to put them into action. Please read, sign, and share! Join us in standing on the side of love, protecting the most vulnerable among us, and defending core values that are under attack.

‘Sanctuary City’ Mayors Vow to Defy Trump’s Immigration Order, Liz Robbins, New York Times, January 25, 2017

“To anyone who feels threatened today, or vulnerable, you are safe in Boston,” Mr. Walsh said at a news conference. “We will do everything lawful in our powerful to protect you. If necessary, we will use City Hall itself to shelter and protect anyone who’s targeted unjustly.”

In response to Trump’s executive order that threatens to defund sanctuary cities, mayors across the United States responded back with messages of standing their ground and fighting back. Cities, counties, schools, and churches that have designated themselves “sanctuary” have committed to protecting undocumented immigrants in their communities. It is estimated that there are 39 cities and 364 counties that have declared themselves as sanctuary. This does not include the number of schools and churches.

Trump has threatened to take away federal funding for those who do not comply with immigration officials, even though removing federal funding in this case would be deemed unconstitutional: “Congress is not permitted to set conditions on spending to coerce states or localities to participate in a federal program against their will.” However, mayors’ reactions have been unwavering, most notably, our own mayor here in our hometown Boston: “But perhaps no official went as far as Boston’s mayor, Martin J. Walsh. ‘To anyone who feels threatened today, or vulnerable, you are safe in Boston,” Mr. Walsh said at a news conference. “We will do everything lawful in our powerful to protect you. If necessary, we will use City Hall itself to shelter and protect anyone who’s targeted unjustly.’”

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.