We Keep Coming Back

Rev. Beth Banks is the Senior Minister of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Davis. She journeyed with other UU Religious Professionals to the Arizona-Mexico border in 2014. Below is her reflection of how that journey helped her energize her congregation around immigration justice, which was originally posted on the UU College of Social Justice blog.

2014 Religious Professionals Border Witness Participants
2014 Religious Professionals Border Witness Participants

In November of 2014, the UU College of Social Justice (UUCSJ) offered a border trip for religious leaders of our denomination. I wanted to travel with colleagues who came to learn for their own sake, but who also came to find inspiration for a new level of justice engagement with their congregations.

Each morning started with worship, preparing us for the day’s experience ahead. The week was intellectually stimulating, but it was my heart more than my mind that was broken open. We witnessed tremendous injustice, and what gave me hope, was witnessing the determination of both dedicated individuals and agencies who, because of their faith, had energy that did not cease.

Before returning home from the border trip, the staff of UUCSJ challenged us to choose something concerning immigration that we believed we could address within our sphere of influence. That’s how a new relationship focused on justice between the undocumented students of The University of California at Davis (UC Davis) and the Unitarian Universalist Church of Davis (UUCD) began. In November 2014, the same month as the UUCSJ  trip for religious leaders, the AB540 Undocumented Student Center was established by UC Davis. That first year, the Center served the needs of a couple hundred undocumented students. Since that first year, the number of known undocumented students is closer to 500, and there are more students every year.

Our relationship started with the allies who chose to represent the undocumented students. They spoke in worship services, and congregation members took special collections or made donations of gift cards to grocery stores. It seemed like such a small effort, and yet it was the sphere of influence available to us at the time.

SPEAK Member Raising their fists
SPEAK Members

However, at the beginning of the 2016-2017 academic year, the Center put us in direct relationship with members from SPEAK, a support group for students who are undocumented and their allies. Together, we discovered that the members of UUCD, as Unitarian Universalists, are uniquely positioned to be of assistance, as the students hoped to be in relationship with organizations that are LGBTQI friendly as well.

Trust has come slowly. We had much to learn, and so did the students. We were not necessarily skilled allies, and they were not familiar with churches that would support diversity as an ideal. With every passing season, there are more and more volunteer opportunities for congregants to support the students. We supply snacks at the Center where they study, offer our space on our church campus for their end of the year banquets and graduation parties for families. we’re running a Faithify fund raiser for their emergency funds, which supports their presence at the university or pays their DACA fees.

SPEAK - We Exist We Resist
SPEAK – We Exist We Resist

In return we promise to take the UndocuALLY training, to help those of us who have never lived in fear of deportation understand the secrecy needed to survive. With this training, we learn how to listen more carefully – slowly both groups are creating a bridge of trust.

This coming November the congregation is planning a border trip with UUCSJ because more people want to experience their own emersion learning. We will not learn alone. Prior to the trip, everyone in the congregation will be invited to attend the four sessions prepared by UUCSJ on immigration justice.

The sphere of influence, the one small thing that I could do when I returned from the UUCSJ border emersion trip, was making contact with the Executive Director of the Undocumented Center. I returned to her office repeatedly, asking the same question, “How can we help?” Eventually, we found just the place where we were needed most. When I ask the students why they are beginning to trust, they give an answer that is so seemingly mundane. ‘“It’s because you didn’t go away, and kept coming back.” We’re going to keep coming back.

To learn more about CSJ’s journeys for religious professionals, to sign up for the upcoming fall 2017 journeys to the U.S.-Mexico border, or Nicaragua visit uucsj.org/journeys/religious-leaders

Deportations to Iraq Reflect “New Low of Cynicism and Immorality”

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) launched raids earlier this week targeting Iraqi communities in Tennessee and Michigan, resulting in over 200 arrests of immigrants with prior deportation orders, many of whom are members of Iraq’s Chaldean Christian and Kurdish minorities. While attorneys and advocates race to secure emergency relief, these individuals are now at imminent risk of deportation to ongoing conflict, humanitarian crisis, and the threat of persecution in Iraq.

UUSC strongly condemns any forced returns to Iraq while the country is still at war and the government cannot or will not ensure the safety of its citizens. Not only do such returns violate the obligations of the U.S. under international law, but it is a particularly callous move in light of its own contributions to conflict, instability, civilian casualties, and human rights violations in Iraq over the past fifteen years.

The way in which the resumed deportations to Iraq were negotiated likewise reflects a new low of cynicism and immorality for this administration. Iraq was one of seven Muslim-majority countries included in the original version of Trump’s notorious “travel ban.” Its removal from the list in the second version of the ban is believed to be due in part to Iraq agreeing to resume receiving deportees again from the United States.

In short, despite the fact that Trump’s Muslim Ban has been repeatedly halted in the courts for being flagrantly discriminatory, it is still being used as political blackmail to coerce other governments to process removals to some of the most dangerous places in the world. 

The specific targeting of Christian and Kurdish Iraqi communities by ICE shows that everyone is endangered by this administration’s reckless xenophobia and Islamophobia, whether they are Muslim or not. Trump defended his Muslim Ban when it was first announced as a sign of his support for Christians in Iraq and Syria, who have faced genocidal violence from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Now that same ban is leading to the deportation of Iraqi Christians directly into the hands of their persecutors.

Threats to the human rights and civil liberties of our Christian, Arab, and Muslim neighbors are unacceptable. UUSC opposes any and all deportations to active conflict zones or ongoing sites of persecution and stands in solidarity with the Iraqi immigrant communities in this moment of peril.

UUSC Responds to Six-Month TPS Extension for Haitians: Not Enough

Yesterday, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) revealed its decision to extend Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Haitian nationals in the United States for a mere six months, instead of the 18-month window normally granted. This announcement is in line with previous threats of Trump administration officials who have recommended terminating the program at the end of the six-month extension—potentially resulting in the deportation of the nearly 58,000 Haitian immigrants currently living with TPS in the United States. UUSC joins with Haitian and Black immigrant leaders and immigration advocacy groups, including our new partner the UndocuBlack Network, to demand an extension of TPS beyond January 2018.

The consequences of ending TPS status for Haitians will be swift and devastating—Haiti is still in the midst of a humanitarian emergency as it works to recover from a catastrophic 2010 earthquake, a cholera epidemic imported by U.N. peacekeeping forces, and a deadly hurricane last fall. Mass deportations of Haitians would cut off a critical lifeline for the Haitian economy, which currently receives about $1.3 billion a year in remittances from Haitians in the United States. The U.S. economy will also lose an estimated $2.8 billion in GDP over the next decade if this community is deported.

“Numbers cannot do justice, however, to the suffering that would be inflicted on thousands of families by a policy of expanded deportation and separation if TPS expires in six months,” says Hannah Hafter, UUSC Senior Program Leader for Activism. “Many Haitians with TPS have U.S. citizen children who were born in this country and know no other home. They are taxpayers, caregivers, parents, and employees whose loss would be felt by all.”

Our partners at the UndocuBlack Network have joined national efforts to renew TPS status for Haitians and, in alliance with the National Immigration Law Center, have helped to spearhead a recent push to uncover the truth about how the Trump administration made its TPS decision. Their recent refusal to renew TPS for three African countries impacted by the 2014 Ebola epidemic; reports that DHS has been requesting information on criminal offenses committed by Haitian TPS holders; and its renewed deportations to war-ravaged Somali, all point to a clear intention to stigmatize and expel immigrant communities of color.

The U.S. obligation to extend TPS for Haitians is more than a matter of humanitarian conscience. Meaningful extension of the TPS program offers a chance for the United States to do the right thing in a part of the world where, for too long, it has been complicit in generating the social problems that created a need for TPS in the first place. UUSC’s Haitian partners at the Papaye Peasant Movement (MPP), for instance, are working with communities directly impacted by U.S. trade policies and aid dumping, which in many places have devastated the local food economy, fueling the poverty and urban overcrowding that made the 2010 Haitian earthquake so deadly. MPP works to establish sustainable agriculture and recover food sovereignty so that Haitians can build a better future.

UUSC will continue to work with our partners to advance the human rights of Haitians at home and abroad, to call for a further extension of TPS, and to press for permanent legislative solutions that will allow all immigrant communities to live in safety and dignity.

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.

“Which side are we on?”: H.3033 and 287(g) agreements

On May 8, UUSC Vice President and Chief Program Officer Rachel Freed testified on a panel before the Joint Committee on the Judiciary at the Massachusetts State House in support of H.3033, a bill designed to end 287(g) agreements in Massachusetts by preventing state and local funds from being used to enforce federal immigration laws. The panel supporting H.3033 was organized by the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition (MIRA) and included UU Mass Action Executive Director Laura Wagner and Bishop Felipe Teixeira of the Franciscan Order of Saint Joseph Cupertino. Support for H.3033 was high with over 30 speakers supporting the bill and only three in opposition, including Bristol County Sheriff Hodgson who infamously offered to send his inmates to build the U.S.-Mexico border wall without pay.

The hearing came one day after Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed SB4 into law, a vehemently anti-immigrant bill criminalizing cities that want their law enforcement to focus on “safety” and not immigration. SB4 prohibits Texas law enforcement from practicing “sanctuary” policies and allows authorities to question someone’s immigration status based on racial profiling. The bill is now facing lawsuits from civil rights organizations.

287(g) agreements are one of the main ways that local and state law enforcement agencies become empowered to serve as an arm of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and are granted authority to identify and hold undocumented immigrants for deportation. These agreements deputize police and sheriff officers to act as immigration agents and provide them with minimal training before authorizing them to perform immigration-related duties. . Implementation of the program is entirely funded by the local agencies themselves rather than the federal government.

In addition to using local resources to support federal aims, 287(g) agreements do not make communities safer. In her testimony, Freed pointed out that “When police and sheriffs become immigration agents, victims and witnesses of crime, including victims of domestic violence, are less likely to come forward to cooperate with law enforcement. Deputizing police to act as ICE agents in our communities opens the door to racial profiling and other civil rights abuses and undermines public safety by decreasing trust in police. Let’s not use already stretched local resources to do ICE’s job for them.”

Passing H.3033 and ending 287(g) agreements is an important first step for the state, but also not enough. This is why many Massachusetts communities are rallying behind immigrants and are focusing on getting involved at the local level.

UUSC continues to work in coalition in Massachusetts to support these efforts as well as to pass groundbreaking state legislation like the Safe Communities Act (S.1305 and H.3269). The Safe Communities Act would set a new standard for pro-immigrant state legislation. It both goes further to restrict local agents’ participation in immigration enforcement and also prohibits state law enforcement agencies and the Mass. Registry of Motor Vehicles from allowing federal access to their data, limiting their ability of the federal government to use that data for the purpose of a Muslim registry or another tracking system based on religion or national origin.

Freed ended her testimony posing a question to the Mass. legislature and Governor Baker: “Which side are we on? Are we going to be complicit with President Trump’s anti-immigrant agenda? Or will we take a bold stand to defend and protect our communities from it?”

Update as of May 24, 2017: H.3033 was reported out favorably from the Joint Committee but the planned vote was indefinitely postponed” today. UUSC is closely following the legislation to see where Massachusetts lands.