On the front line of the fight for human rights

The Advocates for Human Rights, a Minneapolis-based nonprofit, has been a leader for more than 30 years in standing up for refugees and immigrants.

Now more than ever, its work is crucial as Trump’s administration is rolling out executive orders that violate the U.S. Constitution and threaten human rights principles.

Here are highlights of a recent interview with Michele Garnett McKenzie, deputy director of the organization.

Michele Garnett McKenzie

Q: What are the top priorities for The Advocates for Human Rights right now?

The Advocates for Human Rights works to promote and protect human rights in our home community and in partnerships around the world. Our programming – which centers on the protection of refugees and immigrants, ending violence against women, and fostering accountability for human rights violations – is more relevant than ever before.

Q: How are you responding to the recent executive orders from the White House?

The Advocates for Human Rights is deeply concerned about the threat to fundamental human rights posed by the White House executive orders.

Our first priority is to work with our more than 700 asylum clients and their volunteer attorneys to help them understand how these orders might affect pending cases. Asylum seekers now face an even more unpredictable path as they seek protection from the human rights violations they fled. We are preparing our clients and volunteers alike to expect delays in asylum cases and family reunification. We are particularly concerned about the ban on entry from certain countries. This ban violates basic principles against religious discrimination and we fear that some of our clients may never be reunited with their families.

While we are still learning the details of how the executive orders will be implemented, they appear to expand the already massive immigration detention apparatus, keep arriving asylum seekers in jail – with little access to legal help – while they face complicated legal hearings, and prosecute asylum seekers who arrive at our borders without legal status and ask for help. The 120 day shutdown of the refugee resettlement process will leave some of the world’s most vulnerable refugees languishing in dangerous situations.

Q: How can people get involved to further the work of The Advocates?

The Advocates for Human Rights was founded in 1983 by volunteers who wanted to help build the human rights movement. We know that each of us has a part to play in protecting human rights. We need volunteers to help with everything from representing asylum seekers to answering the phones. People can find more volunteer opportunities on our website (TheAdvocatesForHumanRights.org), as well as dates for upcoming volunteer information sessions and other events. Of course, for many people the best way to help is to donate, and we put every dollar to work.

Q: How do you stay motivated right now given the direction of the Trump administration?

We work with human rights defenders from around the world who risk their lives in the struggle for human dignity. I’ve represented clients who have been tortured because of their political beliefs. We are engaged in an important struggle right now, but it’s nothing we can’t handle.

And, I have found that it’s much easier to be an active part of the solution than to sit on the sidelines.


Messages of love for immigrants, refugees

An estimated 2,000 people joined the Minnesota Caravan of Love march organized by Mizna and the Twin Cities Anti-Hate Directive  that ended with music and speeches at the University of Minnesota’s West Bank. People also left love notes on the Washington Avenue bridge.

“Please come and walk with us for love; love for your immigrant neighbor, love for your Muslim classmate, love for your Syrian restaurant owner, love for your Somali state representative, love for your Mexican friend, above all, love for humanity,” organizers wrote ahead of the event. “Bring love notes and letters of hope, and let’s fill Minneapolis with love signs and love marks at a time that hate is forced upon us. Let’s show our love for humanity and stand by our immigrant communities who are in fear for their existence and and losing their hopes to be reunited with their loved ones.”


Get up to speed on threats to BWCA

The Save the Boundary Waters campaign is rallying supporters to fight back against Congressman Rick Nolan’s recent move asking the U.S. Department of Agriculture to reverse a decision halting mining exploration in the Superior National Forest on the edge of the BWCA.

The organization is hosting two community presentations in the Twin Cities this week to discuss the future of the BWCA and strategies to protect it from sulfide-ore copper mining.

The federal government decided in December not to renew mineral leases held by Twin Metals that it needed to move ahead with an underground copper-nickel mine near Ely.

Nolan’s actions drew immediate criticism from Save the Boundary Waters and U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum. She called the recent decision to halt Twin Metals’ plans a “victory for every Minnesotan who cares about preserving clean water, clean air, and pristine wild lands.”

She said Nolan’s request puts the BWCA at risk. “Particularly disturbing is that Representative Nolan thinks the Trump administration will make its decision using ‘science and facts,’ which puts an outrageous amount of faith in an administration that denies climate science and has openly peddled ‘alternative facts,'” she said.

Nolan responded to the criticism with a statement noting that he’s an original co-sponsor of the legislation that established the BWCA as a wilderness area and is “forever committed to protecting the BWCA, the environmental review process and all the waters of Minnesota and the nation.”

He called the halt on mining exploration misguided. “Denying any business activity before you know what it is — and what kind of pollution abatement technology they will use or how effective it will be — lacks common sense and subverts the good, thorough and elaborate environmental review process we have in place,” he said.

Save the Boundary Waters will hold presentations Feb. 6 in Minnetonka and Feb. 8 in Shoreview.

IF YOU GO: Save the Boundary Waters Presentations

Monday, Feb. 6, 6-8:30 p.m.
Ridgedale Library (map)
Robert H. Rolf Meeting Room
12601 Ridgedale Dr.
RSVP for Ridgedale Library event

Wednesday, Feb. 8, 6-8:30 p.m.
Shoreview Community Center (map)
Turtle Lake Room
4580 Victoria Ave. N.
RSVP for Shoreview Community Center event

Federal judge temporarily halts travel ban

A federal judge in Seattle temporarily blocked President Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration Friday, halting the travel ban that had been in place for a week.

Washington was the first state to challenge Trump’s order that temporarily barred entry to refugees and travelers from seven majority-Muslim countries. Syrian refugees were also indefinitely banned.

The state of Minnesota joined Washington’s lawsuit Thursday.

“Five federal judges around the country have issued orders that restrict the travel ban executive order,” said Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson. “I support strong measures to protect the security of the United States. I also support the bedrock of that security—namely, the Constitution of the United States.”

The temporary restraining order will remain in place until U.S. District Court Senior Judge James L. Robart considers the merits of Washington and Minnesota’s lawsuit.

“The Constitution prevailed today,” Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson told reporters after Robart issued the order. “No one is above the law — not even the President.”

The lawsuit argues that Trump’s executive order violates the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of Equal Protection and the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause. It also asserts that it denies individuals’ constitutional right to due process and violates the federal Immigration and Nationality Act.

Scenes from ‘Speak Out Against Muslim Ban’ protest in downtown Minneapolis

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An estimated 5,000 people gathered between the U.S. Courthouse and City Hall in downtown Minneapolis Tuesday evening to take part in the Anti-War Committee’s “Speak Out Against Muslim Ban” protest.

The rally and march comes on the heels of President Donald Trump’s recent executive order temporarily banning refugees and travelers from seven majority-Muslim countries from entering the county. Syrian refugees are also indefinitely banned from the U.S.