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, we are highlighting the ways that the Trump administration’s policies are affecting an already vulnerable immigrant population.

Jeff Sessions Prepares DOJ For Crackdown On Unauthorized Border-Crossers, Elise Foley, Huffington Post, April 11, 2017

With the ultimate goal of detention, Attorney General Jeff Sessions is preparing harsher policies for undocumented immigrants with non-violent criminal offenses. Despite these non-violent offenses, such as illegal re-entry and document fraud, Sessions evoked dangerous and harmful imagery, using words such as “war zones, beheadings, depravity and violence, drug cartels, killing innocent citizens” to describe these non-violent offenders these policies are aimed at, criminalizing undocumented immigrants and painting them in a dangerous light.

Some of the policies cover prosecution for those harboring or transporting immigrants, felony prosecution for re-entry and multiple misdemeanors, and tighter border controls. There was no mention of how these policy rollouts would be funded or what other resources this would take.

Read more about criminalization and the harmful effects it has on minority communities here.

How Police Entanglement with Immigration Enforcement Puts LGBTQ Lives at Risk, Sharita Gruberg, Center for American Progress, April 12, 2017

LGBTQ immigrants are especially vulnerable to the new administration’s executive orders on immigration enforcement. The LGBTQ community already interacts with local law enforcement due to discrimination, profiling, and higher rates of violence and intimate partner violence. The executive orders have called for deportation of undocumented immigrants, many that are seeking asylum here because their lives are in danger. “LGBTQ people face widespread persecution in much of the world, with 76 countries criminalizing people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity and expression.” Deportation in these cases can result in death.

Mixing local law enforcement and immigration enforcement increases the danger that LGBTQ people face. LGBTQ immigrants will be less likely to come forward in instances of violence, discrimination, and domestic violence for fear of deportation. Their lives are more at risk both here in the United States because they are less likely to come forward and their lives are also threatened for fear of deportation.

Read a blog post about a UUSC staff member’s experience meeting an LGBTQ asylum-seeker in detention here.

Trump Plan Would Curtail Protections for Detained Immigrants, Caitlin Dickerson, The New York Times, April 13, 2017

“A decision to simultaneously abandon detention standards could have disastrous consequences for the health and safety of these individuals.”

The Trump administration is cutting back on already low standards and protections for immigrants being held in detention centers. For over 15 years, basic standards, such as regular suicide checks, ensuring translation is provided, and adequate medical care, have always been met. However, even these basic services are now at risk under the new administration. A regulatory office that oversees these protections and standards is being closed.

The Office of Detention Planning and Policy, which created policies to prevent sexual assault and protect pregnant detainees will also be shut down. A report released by a Homeland Security inspector just last month, cited health and safety concerns and even found that violent and non-violent offenders were sharing spaces.

UUSC partner, Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC), filed a complaint calling for a federal investigation into reports of sexual abuse, assault, and harassment in immigration detention facilities. Read more here.

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.

A Coordinated Campaign to Stop Crimes Against Humanity

Internally displaced persons camp on the Burma/Bangladesh border
Internally displaced persons camp on the Burma/Bangladesh border, February 2017.

There is now ample evidence documenting grave human rights abuses in Rakhine State, Burma, most recently in the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights’ February 2017 Flash Report. The UNHCR Flash Report recounts indiscriminate killings of men, women, and children, and rape of Rohingya women and girls by security forces, brutal beatings, among other atrocities that it says may amount to “crimes against humanity.” This report was preceded by and corroborates others from Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Fortify Rights, and UUSC partner, the Burma Human Rights Network.

In the face of this evidence, the government of Burma (Myanmar) has almost uniformly denied abuses of the Rohingya and has used state-run media to spread propaganda discrediting witnesses. The government refuses to allow independent human rights monitors into the affected area to assess the situation. The two commissions ostensibly investigating the crisis, the “Advisory Commission on Rakhine State” and the “Investigation Commission on Rakhine State” have not proven up to the task, and lack both independent access to witnesses and freedom of movement, as well as have close ties to the Burmese military, which is accused of perpetrating the violence.

The government of Burma appears both unwilling and unable to fairly investigate allegations of human rights violations in Rakhine State. The Rohingya cannot wait any longer for justice and relief.

UUSC is participating in a coordinated advocacy campaign to demand that the UN Human Rights Council, at their March meeting, pass a resolution mandating a Commission of Inquiry that would examine human rights violations, establish facts, and assess alleged crimes under international law in Rakhine State, including abuses against Rohingya Muslims and other Muslims as well as Rakhine Buddhists. It is the government’s responsibility to investigate human rights abuses there, but as they have failed to do so, the international community must act.

UUSC and its partners join with a growing swell of voices – including 40 Burmese civil society organizations, Fortify Rights Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the UN Special Rapporteur on Myanmar, and Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to calling for a Commission of Inquiry now.

Add your name to this effort and urge Secretary Tillerson to join our call at uusc.org/truthforrohingya.

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, Rulings, and Raids: Unpacking recent events

The past two weeks have been an emotional roller coaster of partial victories and terrifying setbacks for immigrants, refugees, and their allies. While we have felt confusion and fear, for the work ahead we need clarity and hope.

This series aims to put recent events in context by looking closely at positive signs for the future, some of our deepest challenges, and the work that remains.

The “Muslim ban” order is defeated (for now)

The Trump administration’s notorious “Muslim ban” has been handed a series of well-deserved defeats in the courts over the past two weeks. On February 3, a district court judge in Washington issued a temporary restraining order that forbids the Trump administration from implementing the ban. Later that week, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that decision. On February 13, a district court in Virginia issued a similar ruling. And yesterday, the government announced that it would not appeal the Ninth Circuit’s decision, effectively conceding defeat. While litigation on the constitutionality of the ban will proceed in the Washington State district court, the administration is signaling that it has all but abandoned its defense of the original order.

This was a great, if temporary, victory for refugees, immigrants, and advocates, including UUSC. Every day that the government is prevented from carrying out the executive order is a day that family members can reunite in the United States, refugees can continue to reach safety, and our founding principles are shielded from the administration’s assault on due process, equality before the law, and religious freedom.

Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Building in San Francisco, CA
James R. Browning United States Court of Appeals Building
Hope for the future

The fight against the ban is far from over. The administration claims to be working on a new draft of the executive order, which will accomplish many of the same invidious ends but be less vulnerable to legal challenge. Moreover, if the order is voluntarily rescinded by the president without being decisively thrown out by the courts, there is no guarantee that it won’t be revived.

The good news is that the Ninth Circuit’s 29-page decision reaffirmed three fundamental principles of our democracy that will continue to serve as a roadblock to similar executive orders in the future. They offer a firm position from which to challenge all efforts to sneak discriminatory orders past the courts, regardless of the specific form these will take.

  1. The president’s control over immigration and national security is not absolute.

While the executive branch has considerable discretion in matters of foreign policy and immigration, it is still subject to the constitution. In its brief, the government argued that the president’s travel ban was “unreviewable” by the courts. However, the judges flatly rejected this claim, saying that it “runs contrary to the fundamental structure of our constitutional democracy.”

The president does have latitude to restrict immigration in the interests of national security, but it must be based on an actual analysis of the risks involved. It cannot serve as a blanket cover for discrimination or for violations of human rights. At this point, the government has not provided sufficient evidence that the refugee and immigration programs the executive order assailed pose a genuine security risk.

  1. Everyone has constitutional rights, even if you are a non-citizen and/or undocumented.

One of most the important sections of the U.S. Constitution is the 14th Amendment, which states that the government shall not, “deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” While non-citizens are not afforded the same rights as citizens, courts have long held that there are limited constitutional protections for all people in the United States, regardless of immigration status.

The government tried to deny this fact in defending its travel ban, arguing that only U.S. citizens could raise constitutional challenges. The judges sharply dismissed this assertion, thereby reaffirming a fundamental civil rights principle.

  1. Discrimination, even when disguised, is still illegal.

In defending its actions, the government tried to assert that the travel ban had nothing to do with the president’s oft-repeated demand for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.” This runs contrary to Trump’s own campaign website, as well as to a close advisor stating that Trump himself called it a “Muslim ban” and asked for guidance on “the right way to do it legally.”

In fact, Trump’s expressed intention to discriminate against Muslims on the campaign trail does matter greatly to this case, even if the administration now argues that no such intention existed at the time of the order. As the Ninth Circuit’s decision states: “[C]ircumstantial evidence of intent, including the historical background of the decision and statements by decisionmakers, may be considered in evaluating whether a governmental action was motivated by a discriminatory purpose.” (Emphasis added).

Finally, a law or regulation that is “facially neutral” may still be harmful and discriminatory against a particular group of people, and thus unconstitutional. For the same reason that states cannot get away with attacking minority voting rights through “poll tax” laws that don’t specifically use words like “race,” “black,” or “white,” the president likewise is not permitted to target Muslims, simply by avoiding the use of specific terms in his executive orders.

What happens next?

The “Muslim ban” executive order is one piece of a multi-pronged assault on immigrant and refugee communities. At the same time that advocates have been celebrating the temporary defeat of one executive order, the effects of two others are being felt in communities across the country, in the form of terrifying raids and restrictions on asylum-seekers that threaten the safety of us all.

Part two of this series will examine ongoing consequences of the immigration executive orders at the U.S.-Mexico border and in cities across the country.


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.

The Resistance Prevented Puzder From Becoming Labor Secretary, The Nation, John Nicols, February 15, 2017

Last Wednesday, Andrew Puzder, Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Labor, withdrew his nomination due to mounting public pressure, opposition, criticism, and most of all, resistance. Puzder, the CEO of CKE Restaurants, a parent company to many fast-food chains, has a bad reputation when it comes to worker’s rights. He has never advocated for increasing the minimum wage despite increasing overtime hours, has a history of sexist behavior, and allegations of 30 years of domestic abuse from his ex-wife. Trump’s nomination of Puzder was a disappointing blow to many workers across the country, especially after a campaign full of promises to increase wages. He is, as Elizabeth Warren stated, “the opposite of what we need in a labor secretary.”

Puzder’s reputation, opposition from republicans, but mainly resistance movements, were the perfect combination to put pressure on Puzder to step down. Labor activists and worker’s rights groups rallied and continued to gain momentum and build support for the worker’s right movement.

If you’re passionate about worker’s rights, join our partner, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), on their Return to Human Rights Tour. The march begins March 16 in Gainesville, Florida and will go through 12 cities, ending in Columbus, Ohio at the headquarters of Wendy’s on March 29.

This is What a Day Without Immigrants Looks Like, Colorlines, Kenrya Rankin, February 16, 2017

Photo of immigrants and allies at a protestIn response to the administration’s executive orders, “Muslim bans” and increasing ICE raids, immigrants and allies organized “A Day Without Immigrants” as an act of resistance and solidarity. Restaurants, businesses, and immigrant workers across the country stayed home from work and some even kept their children home from school. The main goal for this day was to show Americans the many ways in which immigrants contribute to society. Convenience stories to high end restaurants across the country closed their doors to show solidarity with their workers and the immigrant community.

Check out the rest of the article to see some amazing photos that captured this day.

Federal immigration raids net many without criminal records, sowing fear, The Washington Post, February 16, 2017

Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers are disregarding long-held rules and standards on who to arrest and where. Immigrants have been victims of racial profiling and arrested outside churches where they are seeking sanctuary; leaving domestic violence proceedings; outside of supermarkets, and arrested without having a criminal record.

Last week, nearly 700 immigrants were rounded up in a series of ICE raids that took place all over the country, inciting a new degree of fear in immigrant communities. Families are refusing to leave their homes and some have stopped sending their children to school for fear of being picked up. Despite ICE’s claims that they are only arresting those with dangerous criminal records, close to 200 of those that were arrested last week had no criminal record whatsoever.

Read more about the Muslim ban, ICE raids, and other events in our blog Rights, Rulings, and Raids: Unpacking recent events.