Trump Administration Celebrates Mother’s Day with Renewed Call to Separate Families

UUSC decries the new front opened in the Trump administration’s continued assault on immigrant families, as senior officials threatened the use of criminal proceedings and family separation at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Coming less than a week before Mother’s Day, the administration’s move is distinctly heartless. These policies will re-traumatize families who have made harrowing journeys across borders in the hope of finding safety – in many cases fleeing violence and instability in their home countries to which U.S. foreign policy has contributed.

In two speeches yesterday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions laid out the White House’s plan to prosecute migrants and asylum-seekers who cross the border without prior authorization. His remarks acknowledged the effect of this policy is to separate children from parents. A further result will be to criminally charge and imprison asylum-seekers – regardless of any lawful claims to international protection.

Sessions’ announcement formalizes practices that have already become routine at parts of the U.S.-Mexico border. A recent report by Human Rights First found that between April 2017 and January 2018, the Trump administration used criminal prosecutions regularly against asylum-seekers, in many instances resulting in family separation. The New York Times likewise found 700 cases of children being separated from adults at the border since October 2017.

These cruel practices have recently come under legal scrutiny. On March 9, 2018 the American Civil Liberties Union filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of immigrants and asylum-seekers who had been separated from their children or parents by U.S. authorities. UUSC’s longtime partner, the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES), who represent immigrants in family detention, submitted evidence to support the case.

Additionally, the administration’s plan also directly contravenes human rights under international and U.S. standards. The 1967 Protocol to the UN Refugee Convention – of which the United States is a party – forbids prosecuting asylum-seekers for unauthorized border crossing, out of a recognition that people fleeing danger often do not have a choice about when and how they enter national boundaries. The U.S. Refugee Act of 1980 likewise extended the right to petition for asylum to anyone in the United States, regardless of how they entered.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which guides UUSC’s work, enshrines the right to family unity as a bedrock principle of the global community. Article 16 reads in part: “The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.”

By willfully violating these human rights, the Trump administration continues its disgraceful record of denying lawful protection and humane treatment to people at risk. The negative consequences of these actions will be far-reaching.

As we celebrate Mother’s Day this Sunday, however, we are reminded that love is a powerful force too. We witness this in the strength of immigrant families, the resilience of people who risk their lives for their loved ones, and the courage of those who defy injustice. UUSC will continue to celebrate those ideals and work with our partners to defend and expand the rights of asylum-seekers and protect families fleeing danger.

UUSC Heads to the Capitol to Support Central American Immigrants

The fabric of immigration in the United States is frayed and in jeopardy of unraveling. Last month, we saw the latest in a string of appalling steps to trample the right to asylum as Attorney General Jeff Sessions, in charge of the nation’s immigration courts, announced he is reviewing whether or not sexual or domestic violence should qualify as persecution, and thus support a claim for asylum in the United States.

This action is yet another example of why Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC) and a group of our members recently went to the U.S. Capitol to meet with Members of Congress to pressure them to reject the Trump administration’s efforts.

Lobby Day participants post in anticipation of meeting with Senator Kamala Harris’ staff. Senator Harris represents California.

Violence and human rights abuses have forced thousands of Central Americans to flee their homes in recent years– with a marked increase in forced migration since 2014. The Trump administration’s policies leave Central Americans at risk of human rights abuses in their own countries, and when they arrive at the U.S. border in search of safety and security.

The Trump administration has been dismantling the nation’s immigration policy, protections, and practices for more than a year. Limiting the right to request asylum in this country is only one part of a xenophobic campaign to criminalize immigrants and impede immigration overall, as shown by recent actions that have drastic and negative consequence for asylees, refugees, Temporary Protection Status (TPS) holders, and Dreamers, among other communities.

Recent evidence of Trump’s crackdown on immigration

Reports by independent NGOs working on the border show a major spike under this administration in criminal prosecutions of asylum-seekers—merely for crossing the border. Punishing people for seeking refuge is a violation of human rights and is often compounded by unnecessary family separation, prolonged detention, and wrongful deportation. Asylum-seekers, particularly Central Americans who cross at the U.S.-Mexico border, are in the vice grip of harm any way they turn.

Making our voice heard to our elected officials

UUSC and our supporters have a long history of joining immigrant rights coalitions and activists to protest family detention, support the rights of asylum-seekers, and most recently, decry the end of the protections for Dreamers and TPS holders.

 Recently, UUSC members and staff met with Members of Congress and their staff and stressed Congress’s power to enact legislation that can make a difference and the positive impact that constituent visits can have on the political process.

The conversations focused on two asks:  Funding in the FY2019 appropriations bill and protecting TPS holders from deportation via the SECURE Act (S. 2144) in the Senate and the American Promise Act in the House (H.R. 4253).

Lobby Day participants meet with Congressman Bill Keating, who represents Massachusetts’ 10th Congressional District

Congress has tremendous power to do good through appropriations. The UUSC delegations asked Members for assurance that they would use their authority to support immigration, denying funds for uses that are dangerous and counter to human rights, such as additional border enforcement, while ensuring that refugee-related accounts are fulling funded.

UUSC supporters also discussed the strong racial implications underlying administration positions on other programs that overlap the asylum policies, including Trump’s steps to end TPS for immigrants whose countries still are by definition not in conditions acceptable for their return, such as Haitians who came here following the 2010 earthquake.

By canceling TPS for Haitians, Salvadorans, and other foreign nationals who were provided refuge amidst turmoil and natural disasters in their home countries, the Trump administration risks of increasing instability, which is likely to drive migration further. Current legislation in the House and Senate aims to mitigate these effects: The American Promise Act provides TPS holders with a path to permanent status, while the SECURE Act offers qualified TPS holders with permanent legal residency as well as protects longtime holders of Liberian Deferred Enforced Departures (DED) from deportation.

Next steps

The United States has legal and moral obligations to provide safe haven to those fleeing persecution, violence, and war. The Trump administration’s immigration policies are an affront to basic humanitarian principles, and UUSC is committed to protecting and expanding immigrant rights.

In the coming weeks, UUSC will work to further engage individuals around these issues, including launching an action that allows people to sign and send a message to Congress echoing the asks of the Lobby Day. We hope that you will join us and ensure that U.S. government does not forget our historical values and continues to honor its obligations to people fleeing danger.

Nepal TPS Cancellation Underlines Need For Congressional Action

Nepal TPS Cancellation Underlines Need For Congressional Action

The Department of Homeland Security moved today to cancel Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Nepal, exposing nearly 9,000 Nepali residents of the United States to possible deportation. This decision comes just after the three-year anniversary of a devastating 7.8 magnitude earthquake that took the lives of nearly 9,000 people and damaged 14% of the housing stock in the entire country, prompting the government’s initial TPS designation in June 2015.

UUSC condemns the administration’s callous revocation of legal status to a vulnerable population. We call on Congress to enact a permanent legislative solution for TPS holders, in the form of the American Promise Act of 2017 (H.R. 4253) and the SECURE Act (S. 2144).

After three years of stalled recovery efforts, Nepal remains in a state of humanitarian crisis brought on by the 2015 earthquake. Two years after the disaster, only 3.5 percent of damaged homes in the country had been rebuilt. A recent UUSC staff visit to Nepal confirmed that, for our grassroots partners, the effects of the earthquake are still a daily reality.

When recovery efforts have been made, they have far too often prioritized the development goals of international donors over the needs of impacted communities. As a result, these efforts have in many cases magnified existing inequalities. UUSC’s partners at the Lawyers’ Association for the Human Rights of Nepalese Indigenous Peoples (LAHURNIP) note that recent development projects in Nepal are actually fueling the displacement of indigenous peoples, rather than helping them rebuild.

Further, this ongoing crisis was exacerbated last summer by catastrophic flooding over a third of the country, which displaced more than 460,000 more people and destroyed tens of thousands of homes.

These conditions more than justify the renewal of TPS, which is intended to ensure that foreign nationals in the United States are not sent back to countries that cannot safely receive and reintegrate them.

Today’s cancellation is the latest in a series of decisions to end protected status for nationals of vulnerable nations, including Sudan, Nicaragua, Haiti, El Salvador, and Liberia – some of whose nationals had Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) status in the United States, a program similar to TPS.

Evidence continues to mount that these cancellations are biased, unfounded, and in some cases motivated by racism. Documents obtained last week by the National Immigration Project revealed that in cancelling TPS for Haiti in November 2017, DHS likely ignored its own internal staff assessment of conditions in the country. Coupled with the President’s vulgar and derogatory remarks about people from TPS-designated countries in January, it is plain the administration is betraying the letter and spirit of the TPS statute in order to serve an anti-immigrant agenda.

UUSC expresses its solidarity with the Nepali community in the United States and the people of Nepal, in the face of this new threat to their human rights. The U.S. government should remember the words of Nepali poet Bhupi Sherchan: this land is mine as well as yours…

Strength for the Fight Ahead

January 20 marks the one-year anniversary of President Trump’s inauguration. For human rights advocates, the past 365 days have been marked by daily efforts to resist actions from our nation’s highest office that propagate racism, hate, fear, ignorance, and greed. Right now, we are fighting for a clean Dream Act even as dysfunction in Washington holds up these efforts.

However, reflecting on the past year, and the work of our partners and staff in action, gives us hope—this work tells a story that is much more about courage and perseverance than one of despair.

Our shared vision of a world free from oppression provides fuel in the fight to advance human rights. Working together, with our partners and allies, we have activated strategies that confront unjust power structures and challenge oppressive policies.

Here are just a few moments from the past year that motivate us for the work that lies ahead.

This year, sustained by the passion of our community and supporters, we will continue to focus on strategies for protecting families fleeing violence in Central America, fighting for an end to ethnic cleansing in Burma, and responding to the front lines of climate change and ready to respond to natural disasters.

An Interview With Rachel Freed, Vice President And Chief Program Officer

Carly Cronon spoke with Rachel Freed about her past work in human rights, what drew her to UUSC, and her most memorable moments with the organization thus far.

When and why did you first become involved in human rights work?

I grew up in a multicultural family and spent a lot of time visiting relatives in Southeast Asia, where I witnessed persistent inequalities and the dehumanization that went with it. It made me eager to develop my own understanding of how different political, social, economic and cultural forces shaped how and why people had certain rights over others.

Years later, a pivotal moment occurred during my junior semester abroad in India. I visited a rural fishing community that had been subject to fly ash pollution from a neighboring Exxon plant. Villagers in the community were mostly illiterate and had been told by the company that the fly ash was not harmful. In response to their concerns, the company-sponsored health clinics told villagers they were fine. This continued until a local nongovernmental organization working with a community member tested the water and found strains of harmful chemicals in the fish and streams.

Through outreach and education, the villagers organized the entire community, mobilized, and successfully demanded accountability. This experience helped me to understand the power of local communities and NGOs to catalyze vibrant and democratic social change movements.

What drew you to UUSC’s human rights work in particular?

My journey to UUSC was inspired by working with a UU congregation and community in a great struggle against injustice. When I graduated from law school, I worked for a civil rights firm in New York City, where the lead attorney humored my request to do pro bono work by connecting me to his UU congregation in Ridgewood, NJ. It was there that I met four passionate women who chose to spend their free time visiting detained asylum-seekers in detention centers. I offered to take one case, but then I started to get calls from the detention center on a daily basis.

There was one rather stark case I can remember – that of a Liberian refugee who escaped rebel forces during the reign of Charles Taylor, the former President and now convicted war criminal. After witnessing her siblings’ deaths, she fled the country and came to the United States. She lived here for almost seven years – just shy of the residency requirement to become a U.S. citizen – when a minor shoplifting incident landed her in detention, facing deportation. She had no representation, she suffered from severe post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and her kids had been taken into child protective services. My UU friends began to visit her each week to connect with her children’s government rep, and to help piece together the documents in her case. Next began our three-year journey together. It was quite a trek from Brooklyn to the middle of New Jersey, but my UU friends never failed to ferry me from the commuter rail, or deliver documents and do a visitation when needed. Eventually, we found the psychologist who had treated this woman in detention; he testified about her PTSD, and we were able to win the case. She was released and reunited with her children after nearly four years of living in the detention center.

I share this story because it is about a few caring individuals and what they accomplished by offering their time and generosity and by organizing their community for a specific cause. This is what drew me, and continues to draw me, to UUSC – it is our collective approach and struggle for justice in this world—as inspired by our founders and continued onwards through the years.

What do you like most about your job?

At UUSC, we are lucky to work with some of the most remarkable human rights activists around the world – people who wake each day not quite sure of what their efforts may bring for their communities, but who continue on anyway because of their deep belief in love, equality, and humanity. We are able to draw tremendous strength and courage from our partners. I also feel incredibly fortunate to work with such talented, passionate, and committed colleagues – I learn so much from all of our staff on a daily basis.

What is one of your most cherished UUSC memories or success stories?

One of my most cherished moments occurred during my trip to Nepal a few months after the 2015 earthquake, while meeting with one of our partners focused on trauma resiliency. They were helping to train a cadre of local teachers working with rural Dalit youth who had received very little support since the earthquake. We were in a small classroom when one of the children began to break down – she had lost her mother during the earthquake and was struggling to take care of her little brother. One of the trainers immediately calmed her down, and they sat for a while, talking and focusing on her breathing and the present moment. She managed to calm down, stop crying, and soon was smiling and sharing with us her dreams for her brother and telling us about her hopes for herself. It was really moving. I felt proud to know that UUSC was able to help bring trauma resiliency skills to teachers serving Dalit children in a remote area that had been overlooked by larger recovery efforts.

What do you and your team look for in finding new UUSC partners?

UUSC’s approach is unique to most Western human rights organizations because we center the voices of communities and their values in our pursuit to advance human rights and transform unjust power structures. Our model focuses not on a community’s helplessness or lack of knowledge, but rather their assets and their solutions. Therefore, we generally look to partner with smaller, lesser-known organizations doing innovative work to transform and empower marginalized populations, often in the face of extreme and adverse circumstances. The process of selecting new partners involves working with those organizations to identify how UUSC’s financial and other resources can be best leveraged to further human rights on the ground. It also includes mapping stakeholders, identifying points of power, and thinking through how UUSC’s voice and prominence as a U.S.-based human rights organization can be used to instigate systemic change.

What is an upcoming UUSC initiative that you are particularly excited about?

I’m in the middle of packing my bags for a trip to Zagreb, Croatia to participate in a convening that brings together our partners in the Balkans who are helping to serve Syrian refugees. At this convening, our partners from Hungary, Serbia, Slovenia, Macedonia, and Croatia will be coming together to exchange information, build relationships, coordinate responses and collectively strategize on how to navigate the increasingly challenging political environments in which they operate. Our Balkans partners work in counties that have become increasingly hostile towards refugees, and their organizations are facing new government restrictions on their work. I’m excited to talk with them about their experiences and strategize ways UUSC can support their collective efforts during this critical time.

Love Resists Deportation on the Capitol Steps

On Wednesday, December 6, I joined more than 180 people who were arrested on the steps of the U.S. Capitol, in what organizers reported to be the single largest immigrant-led act of civil disobedience of the Trump era. United We Dream, CASA in Action, and the Center for Community Change organized us to came to Washington to demand a clean Dream Act and permanent protections for Temporary Protected Status (TPS) holders, sacrificing a bit of our freedom to halt a xenophobic agenda that threatens the freedom of millions. Together, we told Congress that the pending loss of status for 59,000 Haitian TPS holders and 700,000 Dreamers is an emergency and that the time to act is now, before the December 22 spending bill deadline.

“We will not forget the original dreamers: our parents, our grandparents,” said Denea Joseph, a leader with UndocuBlack. “We will not be complicit.”

On behalf of UUSC and Love Resists, I was honored to join this action, which included Dreamers, labor leaders, immigrant activists, educators, and faith leaders of all traditions. Luis Gutiérrez (D-IL) and Judy Chu (D-CA), two current members of Congress and long-standing advocates for immigrant rights were arrested alongside us. Cheering us on were thousands of Dreamers and supporters, chanting encouraging words to remind us: We believe that we will win!

Activists gather on the steps of the Capitol in protest of congressional inaction on TPS and the Dream Act.

An honor to be arrested with you

On December 5, the day before the action, UUSC’s partners the UndocuBlack Network and the National Korean American Service & Education Consortium (NAKASEC), an ally organization, held a joint press conference in front of the Capitol as part of their Black-AAPI (Asian American Pacific Islander) Immigrant Day of Action. The inspiring conference featured four members of Congress and directly impacted activists. All spoke to the urgent need to pass a clean Dream Act and a TPS solution – and, in particular, to ensure that neither comes at the expense of other immigrants. “We will not forget the original dreamers: our parents, our grandparents,” said Denea Joseph, a leader with UndocuBlack. “We will not be complicit.”

Their example and that of many others helped me to find my courage the next day. As a first-time participant in civil disobedience, I felt no small amount of trepidation, but I was  inspired by the Dreamers who I know have risked far more in other acts of peaceful protest and found enormous strength in the people around me. I was in the company of veteran leaders from across the immigrant rights movement. In the pen next to mine was Gustavo Torres, the executive director of CASA de Maryland, the largest immigrant rights group in the state and an important figure for years in the campaign for immigration reform. Becky Belcore from NAKASEC, one of the lead organizers of the 22-day Dream Action Vigil that Love Resists joined in September, was there as well. Shaking hands across the metal traffic barrier, I told Becky it was an honor to be arrested with her.

“We see you, we love you”

A particularly unforgettable moment from Wednesday’s action came as we – the more than 180 of us arrested – were being led away by the police. An organizer from United We Dream leaned out of the crowd and called to us. “Thank you for sacrificing yourself for our rights. We see you, we love you, we see you, we love you.

These words moved me more than I can say, especially in that moment. At the same time, I realized that I was not really worthy of them—my detainment was only for about two hours. And while I had to return to a police station the next day to submit my fingerprints and a pay cash fine, I was safe and on a train back home to Boston the same day.

Between the minimal freedom that I parted with, and the freedom that is taken from the thousands of people held in immigration detention, or who are deported from their loved ones, there is no real comparison. To contemplate the risks that so many others have taken to travel across borders, to live and work without papers, to seek asylum from persecution, is to understand that my own ‘sacrifice’ weighs very lightly in the balance.

Activists await arrest.

We cannot continue to deny Dreamers and TPS holders this opportunity. It is their futures, in some case their existence itself, that are on the line. Staring up at the Capitol Dome from the steps where we sat, a line from Yeats came back to me: Tread softly, because you tread on my dreams.

As the next few weeks unfold, members of Congress may be tempted to waiver in their support for our immigrant communities. They may ask whether the Dream Act cannot wait until another time, or whether it really needs to be “clean” (i.e., with no anti-immigrant riders). This is because they are seeing through the eyes of privilege, with the myopia of power. As politicians who make many legislative decisions, they can afford to accept “compromises” and delays. But this process has a cost and we must recommit ourselves to supporting communities and individuals who would be directly and irreparably harmed by this inaction.

In the coming days, I invite others to join me in reflecting on this injustice, and to ask if we cannot perhaps give a little bit more for a clean Dream Act than we already have. When every hour is threatened for some of us, we all can devote a few minutes to writing to our local paper. When some of us are being silenced, we must all raise our voices to our legislators to defend our shared community. Let us dare to give more for freedom, and ensure that all of us have the chance to celebrate that right and live without fear.