Category Archives: Civil and human rights
On June 26th, the Supreme Court handed the president a huge victory in Trump v. Hawaii, the case challenging the legality of his executive order barring citizens of five Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States. The verdict upholding the ban generated a wave of condemnation across the country, as well as comparisons to some of the most ignominious court decisions in U.S. history.
The same day, in an episode of his podcast, “Deconstructed,” journalist Mehdi Hasan went over “some of the patently absurd and dishonest arguments made in favor of the ban by Trump and by his Republican apologists over the past year and a half. This is about national security, they said. Despite the fact that the number of Americans killed on U.S. soil by citizens from countries on the banned list is exactly zero. This is about vetting refugees from Syria, they said. Despite the fact that it is near-impossible for a Syrian refugee to get into the United States without already going through quote-unquote ‘extreme vetting’ by both the United Nations and the FBI.
This isn’t about security, this isn’t about vetting, this Muslim ban is about white nationalism, just as stripping brown kids from their parents at the border isn’t about security or vetting; it’s about white nationalism. Wake up America, wake up media, and smell the racist coffee. This is not a drill. This is the real thing; the United States is being governed by a group of racists, nationalists and, yes, wannabe fascists, who it turns out have the full blessing and protection of a nakedly partisan and rigged judiciary. Let’s not forget that the Republican 5-4 majority on the Supreme Court this morning only happened because the Republican Party stole a Supreme Court seat that should have been filled by President Obama in his last year in office.
But, look: We can complain all we want about Supreme Court fixes and the pro-Trump Electoral College, but we are where we are. We now have to look forward, not back. How do we push back against decisions like this going forward? How do we stand with those families who won’t be able to see or meet the people they love because of this cruel and discriminatory ban? How do we make a stand with kids from Muslim communities, minority communities, migrant communities, who are seeing kids being banned from the U.S., who are seeing kids being stripped from their parent? How do we make sure that we don’t become immune to this stuff, and turn a blind eye to it? Because there’s so much of this racist, discriminatory stuff around. It’s exhausting. Last week it was caged kids, this week it’s the Muslim ban; it’s easy to want to switch off and look away.
But we can’t afford to. And I say this to my American friends and neighbors, as well to my fellow journalists here in the United States: We Muslims, and our Latino brothers and sisters at the border, are the canaries in the coal mine, and we’re not just chirping right now, we’re screaming. This is not a drill.
My guest today is one of America’s leading progressive politicians, the first-ever Muslim American to be elected to the United States Congress and now running for attorney general of the state of Minnesota. Who better to speak to for reaction to this horrific Supreme Court ruling than Democratic Congressman Keith Ellison, who’s also deputy chair of the Democratic National Committee, the DNC? Keith, you’ve been very active on Twitter this morning talking about this. Give us your initial response to this verdict from the Supreme Court.”
KE: This is really sad because we’ve seen these kinds of failures by Supreme Courts over the years. We all know Dred Scott, where they ratified slavery. We know Plessy, where they said separate but equal. They ratified Korematsu, where they said it was OK to intern Japanese Americans, U.S. citizens. So this is an ugly issue, but there’s also another history and that is people pushing back, people fighting back, people litigating, marching, protesting, speaking out and that is what I’m counting on now.
MH: Yeah. A lot of people, today, are going to be very dejected, really dispirited. The whole reason this ban got to the Supreme Court was because lower-level federal judges took on the Trump administration and shot it down as discriminatory. Now it’s gone to the highest court in the land and they’ve rubber-stamped it. Where do we go legally, judicially from here? You’re running for attorney general of Minnesota; a lot of states attorney generals have tried to push back against Trump. What’s the legal strategy, before we get to the politics. Is there any?
KE: Well, I think that there absolutely is, because the Supreme Court made a decision that I think is wrong, that’s not based on the facts. We could continue this battle in the courts, and we should, since real people are aggrieved and separated from their families. It doesn’t matter whether you’ve had a stellar life. It doesn’t matter whether you’ve had an exemplary history. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a two year-old girl. It just matters what your religion and your country is, and I don’t believe that can stand. In order to overrule this decision, we need another case. We have to keep up the fight and not relent. I’m committed to it. That’s why I’m running for attorney general of the State of Minnesota, to protect people’s rights.
MH: We have a Supreme Court that’s not really about the law, the precedent, or the principle. They’re a highly partisan, carefully selected group of politicians, and I expect we’ll see more bad decisions that favor the powerful over regular people, that allow the big to roll over the small. These are the kind of decisions that Neil Gorsuch specializes in. He doesn’t need to know what the law and the history and the facts are. He just needs to know who’s got the money and the power, and then he knows whose side he’s on. What’s your message to Americans listening to you today on a dark day like this in American history? What’s your message to Americans, especially Muslim Americans? What would you say to someone like my 11-year-old daughter who’s wondering what her place is in the country, with the Supreme Court ruling like this?
KE: What I say to her is that we love her, that she’s safe, that her family is with her, and that her community is looking forward to her offering her leadership to this nation. I say: Go run for student council. Go be a leader in your community. Go offer your leadership, your talent, and your skills, because it’s you who’s going to lead us forward, not these people who let hate drive them. That’s what I say to your wonderful, blessed young daughter. Because I know she’s a little nervous, but she has all of us around her, and she’s our hope.
MH: Congressman Keith Ellison, thanks for joining me on Deconstructed.
KE: You bet, buddy. Take care.
MH: For more on the impact of the travel ban on the ground, inside of Muslim-American, Arab-American, Iranian-American communities who are suffering as a direct result of this ban and now of this Supreme Court ruling, I’m joined by Debbie Almontaser, one of the co-founders of the Yemeni-American Merchants Association.
Debbie, when you heard the news of the Supreme Court ruling upholding this Muslim ban, what was your response?
DA: I felt like someone punched me so hard in the stomach. I couldn’t believe what I was reading. I was trying very hard to be optimistic and say to myself, you know, the Constitution is on our side, this is a country that was built on the back of immigrants, this is a country that was built on freedom of religion and expression. But today’s decision didn’t uphold these great values.
MH: You’re a Yemeni-American immigrant who came to this country as a child, right?
DA: Yes. I came at the age of three.
MH: And you came with your family. You now have a family, a community in New York and beyond. Members of your family, your own children have served in the armed forces and the police, I believe. You’ve done a lot for this country, your family, and the Yemeni-American community. And now people from your community can’t see members of their own family because of this ban.
DA: That’s correct. My phone and text messaging has been off the hook with people calling and saying, “What does this mean?” “Is my daughter going to be able to come?” “Is my wife going to be able to come?”And, I have to say, this is truly a betrayal to the existence of my family, seven of whom have served in the U.S. Marines in Iraq and Afghanistan. I have family members in the New York Police Department. I have family members who are teachers, you know, civil servants. And this is saying to me and my family, “You don’t belong here,” when, in fact, we’ve been a part of the American fabric and building this nation.
MH: And your father, who brought you to this country, I believe he passed away. How do you think he would feel if he were alive today to see the Supreme Court ruling? He came here as an immigrant — to build a life for his family, for his kids, for his community — from Yemen.
DA: My father, today, would be devastated to hear this. When we first came to the United States, his thing was: “You’re an American now. You’re going to get educated, you’re going to work, you’re going to be a part of this country. You don’t need to speak your language, talk about your culture. You’re American.” And I know that if he were here today, he’d be absolutely devastated, because this isn’t the country that welcomed him and gave him an opportunity to raise his children in America.
MH: Where do we go from here? We’ve seen so much protesting, so many examples of people taking to the streets, and yet the Supreme Court comes along and says: This is all fine. This is all legal. Where do you as an activist go from here?
DA: Well, where we go from here is we continue to resist this decision. For example, today, at 6 PM, we’re congregating at Foley Square in New York City with thousands of Yemeni Americans and other impacted countries, along with our allies and organizers. This isn’t over. We have to stay strong, we have to stay committed, and we’ll get through this. The best and greatest way for us to combat all of this is to make sure that people across this nation are registered to vote, and when it comes to the presidential race, we put this administration out of its misery.
MH: What would you say to a young Muslim-American kid who’s listening to this podcast, who wonders about his or her place in America?
DA: Be proud of who you are and where you came from. Stay strong. Don’t let this break you. You have people like me and other activists in your community, and outside of your community, who believe in you and believe in your right to exist with respect and dignity in this nation.
Trump’s immigration policies are against both international and US law. As Juan Cole writes in an article published yesterday on common dreams.org, they’re also part of an “overall refugee policy. In essence, the Trump administration is attempting gradually to abolish the acceptance by the US of asylum seekers, in stark contravention to US treaty obligations and hence to domestic US law. These measures are being taken at a time when the world refugee crisis is more acute, with 68 million displaced, than at any time since World War II.
From October 15, 2017 to the present, only 15,383 refugees were legally admitted to the US. In previous years up to 40% of those given asylum were Muslims, but almost none of those recently admitted are. Refugee rights organizations reckon that the US will accept only 25,000 refugees this year, down from 110,000 in Obama’s last year. Trump had reduced the ceiling for refugees to 50,000, but has put in place obstacles to the process that result in only half that number coming in.
The United States didn’t sign the 1951 Convention on the Treatment of Refugees, which concerned the refugees created by WWII, but did sign the 1967 Protocol to that treaty, which commits it to abide by articles 2-34 of the Convention and to apply its provisions to those made refugees after WWII. The Protocol binds Trump to act in concert with the UN High Commissioner on Refugees, who has just denounced Trump.
Jeff Sessions is not abiding by the terms of the Protocol. Although he keeps maintaining in public that refugees will have their applications for asylum processed if they present them at a regular border crossing, the evidence is that such applications are being summarily dismissed by immigration officials, who – against the law – aren’t permitting asylum-seekers access to counsel or judges. As for his policy of arresting undocumented immigrants for the misdemeanor of crossing the border even where they are asylum-seekers from political persecution, this is a violation of international and of US domestic law.
Relief Web points out that ‘under Article 31 of the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, to which the United States is bound by its accession to the 1967 Refugee Protocol, parties “shall not impose penalties, on account of their illegal entry or presence, on refugees who, coming directly from a territory where their life or freedom was threatened enter or are present in their territory without authorization, provided they present themselves without delay to the authorities and show good cause for their illegal entry or presence.”’
Sessions has also removed abuse of women as a grounds for seeking asylum, even though in Honduras and other countries from which asylum-seekers come, police and authoritarian males often use abuse and rape as methods of controlling and silencing women dissidents.”
Not only does yesterday’s executive order reversing Trump’s policy of separating families at the border do nothing about the three to four thousand separated children now suffering psychological damage in ICE facilities, it raises the specter of families detained together indefinitely in ICE camps — an equally scary and inhumane policy.
Guatemalans and others are fleeing dangers many of which have been created by past US foreign policy, so, in fact, we owe them a safe refuge.
We need to demand an end to all policies and practices based on the idea that certain large groups of people are dispensable, disposable, and not to be cared about. Look around — there are many — US support for the Saudi war against Yemeni civilians and for the Israeli war against Palestinians being glaring examples.
Oh, yeah — almost all of these “disposable” people are poor and black or brown. And the people creating the policies killing them, at least in this country, are white hypocritical “Christians.” But as the vestments worn by the leaders of the Poor People’s Campaign say, “Jesus was a poor man.” His work developed out of similar cruelty and oppression — in this case, by the Roman Empire — against the poor, brown people of Judea. No way would he support the cruelty and oppression perpetrated and supported by the American Empire against “disposable” (because powerless) people today.
Well, you know what? We’re not powerless if we join together and demand something different. Let’s do that. Power to the people!
Speaking to the crowd of Poor People’s Campaign demonstrators in front of the Supreme Court building 6-13-18, Reverend William Barber II, co-leader of the campaign, said, “I heard a friend of mine. He’s dead, but I heard him in a book. He was gay. He’s a powerful brother. And he said something like this in the 1930s, in the middle of traumatic times, that still has relevancy today to us:
O, let America be America again—
The land that never has been yet—
And yet must be—the land where every person is free.
The land that is mine—the poor man’s, the Indian’s, the Negro’s, ME—
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.
Call me any ugly name you choose—
But the steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people’s lives,
We must take back our land again,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath—
That America will be!
It’s a good thing I listen to selected episodes of “Democracy Now” via podcast, or I would have missed last Wednesday’s incredibly moving story about the Poor People’s campaign, barely mentioned in the New York Times. I hope you’ll go to http://www.democracy now.org and listen too. The story of the arrests (for demonstrating in front of the Supreme Court, which had just upheld suppression of voter rights in Ohio), what participants had to say, and the songs they sang (“Everybody got a right to live”) had me on the verge of tears. Go to www.poorpeoplescampaign.org and volunteer to join the campaign and/or donate. I did both.
This campaign inspires me for two powerful reasons: its goals not only need to be realized, but when they are the promises of my era, the ’60s, will be fulfilled (this campaign is a continuation of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s 1968 Poor People’s Campaign). Another key podcast, a speech by Black Panther founder and leader Bobby Seale broadcast on June 7th, is available on Alternative Radio (www.alternativeradio.org). Seale’s ideas are right in line with the Poor People’s Campaign. Power to the people!