Defend the Human Rights of Migrants: Root Causes

Defend the Human Rights of Migrants: Root Causes

At a time of deepening crisis for immigrants and asylum seekers, the UU College of Social Justice has organized an immersion experience with Cristosal specifically for religious professionals and lay leaders. This journey will help you deepen your understanding of the migration crisis and will support your justice ministry with theological reflection among colleagues. Our Root Causes Journey to El Salvador will be January 20-27, 2020, with UUSC partner Cristosal and lead by UUSC’s Director of Activism and Justice Education Kathleen McTigue. This journey offers powerful experiential learning that will help you support your congregations in acting for immigration justice. Generous scholarship aid is available for religious professionals and seminary students. The deadline to register is November 8, 2019. Read more to hear first hand from Cristosal Global School alumna, Kendall Guthrie, a long-time member of University Unitarian Church in Seattle.


My Trip into the Epicenter of the Central American Refugee Crisis: Human Rights Boot Camp with Cristosal’s Global School in El Salvador

by Kendall Guthrie

When Trump announced his family separation policy last year, I felt compelled to action. While most people focused on alleviating horrific conditions at U.S.-Mexican Border, I gravitated towards the root cause. This past spring, I flew into the epicenter of the Central American refuge crisis – El Salvador  —  for week of human rights boot camp at the Cristosal Global School.

This experiential, cohort-based seminar gathers North and Central American from diverse backgrounds for a weeklong learning community around a human rights-based approach to community development. By week’s end, I not only increased my “book knowledge”, I became part of a cross-border, interfaith community dedicated towards our Unitarian Universalist vision of a “world community with peace, liberty and justice for all”.

Cristosal advances human rights in the Northern Triangle of Central America – Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. They support people displaced through violence to relocate within their own country. They also work to reduce violence through community organizing, research, and strategic litigation. They envision a world where people are free and safe to live in their own country – or migrate by choice, rather than fear.

Global School mornings involved college-level lectures, paired with interactive exercises. In the afternoon, we headed into San Salvador’s neighborhoods to see human rights-based community development in action. We watched youth workers and police officers partnering to provide teens with leadership opportunities other than gang life – through soccer games and drumming groups. We joined psycho-social support groups for mothers whose sons have been unjustly jailed in the many indiscriminate police round ups of “suspected gang members.” These “shows of force” made these mothers feel more terrorized by the police and had no impact on the gangs. We shivered with the parallels to the Black Lives Matters movement.

In the evenings, our diverse group debriefed over home-cooked meals in the guest house we shared. El Salvador’s political climate felt uncomfortably similar to forces we’ve seen in the U.S. Like Dicken’s Ghost of Christmas Future, we experienced life where Trump norms were accepted — that powerful people are above the law, graft is normal, and using psychological and physical violence to maintain power is accepted practice.

We witnessed how one fights against that future. We met so many skilled community activists like my Global School Colleague, Salvadoran Karla Reyes. They choose to stay rather than migrate.  They work to strengthening their country’s civil and democratic institutions. They show how empowerment-based community development not only gives people tools. It strengthens hope to organize against violence. They maintain this hope for justice, in conditions more daunting than we face in the U.S. Now that I am back in Seattle, I am increasing my work to fight for justice and human rights in Central America – and the United States. I am using my professional skills to support Cristosal in Board development. I’ve joined my congregation’s Immigrant Justice Action team. It helps to know my Central American colleagues and I are in this work together.


 Youth Workers and police partnering to reduce violence in their community.     They engaged community members to create this map of safe spots and   crime zones in their neighborhood.



Solidarity included sharing beers with our Honduran colleague at a San Salvador art bar.




 Sharing exhaustion, traveling back from a site visit.




My Global School Colleague Karla Reyes (Salvadoran Community Organizer and Musician). Shown here with one of the hundreds of portraits we saw of The Archbishop Oscar Romero, the Martin Luther King of El Salvador.




Migration is a Human Right- A message from Kathleen McTigue

Despite all that we already knew about the profound injustices inflicted on migrants and asylum seekers by current government practices, we have been stunned by the details emerging in news reports during the past few weeks. They document the horrific conditions in detention centers for migrants, not only in a few isolated places at the border but in many locations around the country. The reports of young children languishing in these places for many weeks have been especially galvanizing for the public, and as awareness grows so too does the determination to shut these places down and reunify the families that have been so cruelly torn apart.

We are grateful for the news reports that are forcing the public to pay attention to the terrible damage being done to migrant children. Along with our own dismay and outrage, we are trying to hold to some core truths about this current political moment, and to remind others to stay focused on the broader picture. First, remember that the conditions in child detention centers are not the real problem: the real problem is that we are imprisoning children. No child should be in prison, for even one day; and that should be true even with the best of prison conditions.

Second, remember that the imprisonment of children is only the most devastating element of our current migration practices. The wider problem is that our government has criminalized migration. They are treating a humanitarian crisis as though it’s a crime, and therefore doing all that they can think of to punish it. Our consistent message should be that seeking asylum is legal, and that migration is a human right.

And third, remember that no migration crisis springs out of nothing. In the powerful words of poet Warsan Shire, “No one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark.” The United States has over 120 years of history in Central America, nearly all of it devoted to securing land and resources for corporations and profit over the well-being of the people living there. The migrants arriving at our border are undeterred by the cruel practices that receive them, because every element of safety and security in their own countries has unraveled. The root causes of migration should not be forgotten.

We have resources available for individuals and congregations that want to deepen their understanding; trainings and workshops that can help congregations organize; and immersion learning journeys to the border, so activism is strengthened and grounded in first-hand experience.

Por La Vida: UUCSJ Delegation Public Statement In Solidarity with the People of Guapinól

Delegation members - Por La Vida 2018

Delegation members – Por La Vida 2018

As a human rights delegation to Honduras from November 29 to December 6, 2018 that visited the community of Guapinól in the municipality of Tocoa, Bajo Aguán, we are deeply concerned about the recent police and military occupation occuring there. We have received news as well as photo evidence that police vehicles have blocked the entrance and exit to the community in order to monitor all passage, with participation from the Ministerio Publico. Members of the community are afraid of being unlawfully detained, intimidated, and threatened. The community of Guapinól is defending their water supply from the destruction caused by the nearby mining project of Inversiones Los Pinares, which would destroy their only source of drinkable water.

This occupation comes shortly following the murders of Gerson Leiva and Lucas Bonilla in the nearby community of Ceibita, where community resistance to a mine by the same company, Inversiones Los Pinares, has faced violent repression. There is a documented history of violent acts by state and private business actors against human and land rights defenders in the region of Bajo Aguán.

Our delegation is comprised of clergy members, human rights professionals, educators, and organizers, with the institutional support of the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee, UU College of Social Justice, SHARE-EL Salvador, and Leadership Conference of Women Religious.

During our delegation we witnessed clear and convincing evidence that there are political prisoners in Honduras, that there is rampant impunity for femicide and the murder of human rights defenders, and that migration and the recent exodus are rooted in systemic violence and loss of livelihoods. The human rights conditions of Honduras do not merit U.S. State Department accreditation, which is currently upheld, a prerequisite for military assistance.

The systemic attack on human rights defenders includes false criminal charges, which we witnessed first-hand at the hearing for Jeremías Martínez, one of at least 18 Guapinól community leaders facing outstanding warrants for their activism.

As people of faith and conscience, we call for:

  • An end to police and military occupation of communities in the Bajo Aguán, including Guipinól;
  • An immediate investigation into the murders of Gerson Leiva and Lucas Bonillo;
  • An end to U.S.military aid and arms sales to Honduras, which have regularly been used by the government of Juan Orlando Hernandez against the country’s own people;
  • And the re-introduction and passage of the Berta Caceres Human Rights in Honduras Act in the U.S. Congress.

We continue to follow these cases closely and are in regular communication with leaders from Foro de Mujeres, Mariposas Libres, Mujeres de Aguán, Red de Mujeres Campesinas, and Radio Progreso, ready to respond to new rights violations and conduct ongoing visits. As we continue to support those migrating, we equally support the social movements working to improve conditions that allow for a dignified life and justice for the people of Honduras. We invite all allies to follow the above organizations on social media to increase visibility and support.

Como delegación de derechos humanos que viajó a Honduras entre 29 de Noviembre a 6 de Diciembre 2018, que visitó a la comunidad de Guapinól en la Municipio de Tocoa, Bajo Aguán, estamos profundamente preocupados por la ocupación policial y militar que está pasando allí.  

Delegation members around a mandala

Delegation members around a mandala

Hemos recibido noticias y fotos de patrullas bloqueando la entrada y salida de la comunidad para monitorear todos que vienen y van, con participación del Ministerio Publico. Miembros de la comunidad tienen miedo de ser capturados, intimidados, y amenazados. La comunidad de Guapinól está defendiendo el río de Guapinól de la destrucción que genera la empresa minera operada por Inversiones Los Pinares, la cual destruiría su único acceso al agua potable.

La ocupación sigue el asesinato de Gerson Leiva y Lucas Bonilla en la comunidad de Ceibita, donde han visto represión violento en contra de la resistencia comunitaria a la minería, lo cual pertenece a la misma empresa Inversiones Los Pinares. Hay bastante documentación de los actos violentos por el estado y negocios privados colaborando en contra de los defensores y defensoras de derechos humanos y la tierra en la región de Bajo Aguán.

Nuestra delegación está formado por profesionales religiosos (pastores y una hermana), trabajadores de derechos humanos, educadores, y activistas, con el apoyo institucional de UUSC, UU College of Social Justice, SHARE-El Salvador, y Leadership Conference of Women Religious.

Durante la delegación nosotros fuimos testigos de evidencia clara y persuasivo que hay presos políticos en Honduras, que hay impunidad frecuente por el feminicidio y el asesinato de defensores y defensoras de derechos humanos, y que la migración y el éxodo tienen raíces en violencia sistémica y la pérdida de oportunidades económicas. Los condiciones de los derechos humanos en Honduras no merecen la acreditación del Departamento del Estado de los Estados Unidos, un requisito para ayuda militar.

El ataque sistemática en contra de las defensoras de derechos humanos incluye cargos criminales falsos, lo cual fuimos testigos directamente al corte de Jeremías Martínez, uno de 18 líderes en Guapinól enfrentando órdenes de captura por su activismo.

Como personas de fé y consciencia, demandamos:

  • La parada de ocupación policial y militar en las comunidades de Bajo Aguán, incluso Guapinól;
  • Una investigación inmediata de los asesinatos de Gerson Leiva y Lucas Bonillo;
  • La parada de ayuda militar y venta de armas de los Estados Unidos a Honduras, que estan usados en contra de la gente por el gobierno de Juan Orlando Hernandez;
  • Y el pasaje de la Acta Berta Cacares para Derechos Humanos en Honduras en el Congreso de los Estados Unidos.

Seguimos vigilando lo que está pasando en Guapinól y en estos casos. Estamos en comunicación con las líderes de Foro de Mujeres, Mariposas Libres, Mujeres de Aguán, Red de Mujeres Campesinas, y Radio Progreso, y estamos pendientes para condemnar nuevos violaciones. Como seguimos solidarizandonos con los migrantes, igual nos solidarizamos con los movimientos sociales de Honduras que están luchando para mejorar los condiciones para una vida digna y justicia en Honduras. Invitamos a todos aliados que siguen las páginas de facebook y los redes sociales de estas organizaciones para seguir aumentando su visibilidad.

Back to the Future: US Intervention in Latin America, Version 2019

If we were surprised by the news a few days ago that the U.S. is backing a sudden and self-proclaimed “interim president” in Venezuela, we shouldn’t have been. Though it didn’t garner as much notice as it deserved, the Trump administration publically advertised its intentions at the beginning of November, in a speech by National Security Advisor John Bolton. “This Troika of Tyranny, this triangle of terror stretching from Havana to Caracas to Managua, is the cause of immense human suffering, the impetus of enormous regional instability, and the genesis of a sordid cradle of communism in the Western Hemisphere,” Bolton said. “Under President Trump, the United States is taking direct action against all three regimes to defend the rule of law, liberty, and basic human decency in our region.”

The “direct action” Bolton had in mind is now very clear: regime change, with Venezuela first on the list. As the Wall Street Journal reported January 25, Vice President Mike Pence made a phone call to Juan Guaidó the night before Guaidó proclaimed himself president, pledging full US support if he would do so. The next day, when Guaidó made his audacious proclamation, the United States immediately recognized his claim, and then reinforced its intentions with crippling new sanctions against the country’s critical oil exports.

Now Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has named as Special Envoy to Venezuela Elliot Abrams. In one of the most cynical possible introductions, Pompeo declared that Abrams’ “passion for the rights and liberties of all peoples makes him a perfect fit and … a true asset to our mission to help the Venezuelan people fully restore democracy and prosperity to their country.”

Nearly any dimension of Elliot Abrams’ history can prove the lie in that characterization. He was a lead player in US government support and direction of the military regimes in El Salvador and Guatemala that committed massive atrocities against their people. He denied and helped hide one of the worst massacres of civilians in El Salvador during that era, in El Mazote, at the hands of the Salvadoran army supplied and trained by the United States. He helped design and enact the Iran-Contra scheme that made possible the Contra war against the Nicaraguan revolution, and explicitly supported their strategy of attacking “soft targets” – meaning civilian cooperatives. This is a very partial list of the many ways Abrams has actively supported gross violations of human rights; for more details, see the January 30 edition of Democracy Now.

It is undeniable that the Maduro government’s mismanagement and corruption have been an economic disaster for Venezuela. The most recent election that returned Maduro to power was widely criticized as fraudulent, and his government has been guilty of multiple human rights abuses. Yet we must be deeply suspicious of US-led attempts to overthrow a government as a solution to these problems. Our country’s track record over the past century, in Latin America alone, includes Argentina, Brazil, Chile, El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, and Uruguay, has resulted in long-standing and brutal dictatorships.

What we are watching unfold now in Venezuela feels frighteningly familiar. As in the past, the goal is cloaked in lofty rhetoric, made particularly cynical by the track records of those who are enacting it. But there have been very few voices challenging the motives or methods of this intervention so far, from either Democratic or Republican members of Congress. Meanwhile, the immediate consequences in Venezuela have been increased suffering, arrests, and deaths, and the longer term fears are of civil war or of the rise of a new military-backed dictatorship.

Finally, remember that John Bolton has already signaled that Venezuela is just the beginning of the regime change agenda. Nicaragua and Cuba are clearly next in line.

As people who are committed to human rights, to self-determination, and to the norms of international law, we cannot be silent as our country attempts to reassert its control over the nations of Latin America. Please use the links above to follow what’s happening, and contact your own legislators to let them know you’re paying attention and are concerned. Stay alert to UUSC’s advocacy asks for additional ways to take action, and bring your faith community along by sharing what you know. Democracy and human rights depend on all of us!

My Trip to The Border (Operation Streamline)

My Trip to The Border (Operation Streamline)

A unique perspective from a past Border Witness participant.

More than a trip to Tucson, ours was a pilgrimage to the Mexican American border, and an experience that has shaken me to my core.  

One day after coming back from the desert walk, we went to a court to witness Operation Streamline.

Let me tell you this: when I entered that criminal court my heart was pounding. We saw 70 people captured in the desert by border patrol brought there, as the most heinous criminals, briefly released from their shackles to face a judge. Their crime was to cross from Mexico undocumented. As an immigrant myself, I feel uneasy, to say the least, because the rule of law, a system that is temporarily protecting me during my forced exile from my country, is the same used to condemn so many people, and they are my people too.

An hour into the proceedings and it wasn’t my heart but my brain that was pounding. What we witnessed was a very mechanical process, which was not designed to generate surprises or justice. The judge read the charges with the monotony of a rosary prayer,  while “the sinners” always responded with a sad dimmed voice: “culpable, guilty, culpable…” Using on average less than 2 minutes for each defendant, the judge condemned all of them to time, as always happen (except for this time one was sent to immediate deportation). Streamline judges have sentenced many legitimate asylum seekers, people with legal reasons to be here (and even some permanent residents and citizens). Just there is not enough time for them to present their cases.  

It was striking that everybody in the courtroom was so amicable. I am sure that later that day, every lawyer, agent, and even the judge went home to dinner with their kids or to watch tv and Netflix at home. They might not see it this way, but they work in a factory line that processes people as sausages, most of them innocents, sending them to jail, and then back to their countries, to their desperation, sometimes to circumstances of unjust persecution, to be tortured or killed. But these officers were not monsters; they were doing their job.  

In that instant came to my mind the trials of Adolf Eichmann in Israel as reported by Hannah Arendt, the philosopher that penned the concept of the Banality of Evil. At that time, most people regarded Eichmann as an evil monster, he was after all the father of the Final Solution to exterminate the Jews. But Arendt wasn’t most people: Eichmann didn’t strike to her as a particularly evil man but as a good bureaucrat. He clung to the idea that he was unable “to change anything” and that he was doing his job, obeying the law. That way Eichmann was not only claiming innocence but discrediting the idea that the Nazi criminals were psychopaths, different from us, from “normal” people. He was just a good citizen.

But he didn’t trick Arendt. What we regard as Evil is capable of a fairly ubiquitous presence if only because it tends to appear in the guise of good. She didn’t conclude that situations such as the Holocaust can make ordinary people commit horrible crimes given specific contexts and incentives. And I am not equating Operation Streamline (that is the managerial name given to this unjust system) to the Holocaust, but stressing that in both situations the streamline judge, and the border patrol in Tucson – as Eichmann in Nazi Germany— were voluntarily following the principle of authority. But they forgot to apply another principle of the law: that of reciprocity, the golden rule. They decided to apply the law even if it was unjust. I can see that there is a substantial moral distance between the Final Solution and Operation Streamline. But shouldn’t there also exist a substantial moral distance between a totalitarian regime in the 20th century and democracy in the 21st? Today more clearly than in the past the moral choice between good and evil belongs to the individual. The voter, the politician, the legislator, the executioner chooses the ax and nobody can blame society for its own decisions. All our choices have political consequences even when the chooser seems politically powerless.

I’ll leave you with Hannah Arendt:

“Under conditions of terror most people will comply but some people will not, just as the lesson of the countries to which the Final Solution was proposed is that “it could happen” in most places, but it did not happen everywhere. Humanly speaking, no more is required, and no more can reasonably be asked, for this planet to remain a place fit for human habitation.”

Don’t let the streamline judge, the border patrol, or the legislator to trick you. Don’t be as most people. Don’t comply, don’t be accomplices.

~ R


Join Us To Flood The Desert!

Join Us To Flood The Desert!


Leaders from the Unitarian Universalist Association, the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee and the Unitarian Universalist College of Social Justice will be Flooding the Desert with Faith in August. Join Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray (President of the UUA), Rev. Mary Katherine Morn (President of UUSC), Rev. Kathleen McTigue (Director of the UU College of Social Justice) and Rachel Freed (Vice President and Chief Program Officer of UUSC) from August 3rd to the 6th in Arizona for this important action! Read Susan and Mary Katherine’s letter below for more information.

Dear Colleagues,

We are sending this letter to UU ministers and Directors of Religious Education to ask that you consider joining us for a specific resistance action planned for this August 3-6 in Tucson, AZ, called Flood the Desert. This is a strategic act of resistance in response to criminal charges being levied against activists whose humanitarian actions have been focused on saving the lives of migrants who are often lost in the desert.

Many of you will have heard of No More Deaths, a volunteer group that works along the rugged Arizona/Mexico border. It is a program affiliated with the UU Church of Tucson, AZ, and a partner organization of UUSC. Over the past decade, No More Deaths volunteers have hiked the migrant trails leaving water caches; staffed a first aid tent in the desert for migrants who are wounded or ill; and helped recover remains of hundreds who have lost their lives – marking the places with memorial shrines.

Nine volunteers with No More Deaths now face federal misdemeanor charges, and one faces felony charges, for their humanitarian assistance. These excessive charges are part of an escalating strategy to criminalize activism. They are meant to intimidate citizens away from dissent. In response, we are asking ministers and other religious leaders to join us in early August and Flood the Desert.

In an action of direct civil disobedience, religious leaders will assert the right to offer humanitarian aid by stocking water caches and in so doing, challenging the government’s utter disregard for the most basic human rights.

Our purpose in this action is three-fold. First, to call attention to the escalating injustice of US policies toward migrants in order to inspire others to raise their voices. Second, to act in solidarity with the volunteers facing criminal charges for living out their religious mandate to welcome and care for the stranger. And third, to raise the call of our faith traditions as an act of resistance against the cruelty and violence that dominate US policy and actions.

If you are able and willing to join us, please follow the link above to register.

In faith and solidarity,


Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray                                                 Rev. Mary Katherine Morn

President, UUA                                                                    President, UUSC