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.