In the Era of Trump, We Need the Human Rights Movement More Than Ever

By Lynn Holland, Board Member

When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you.

– Presidential candidate Donald Trump, 2015

When Donald Trump announced his campaign for president in 2015, he referred to Mexican immigrants as “rapists” and “bringing crime,” and promised he would build a wall along the southern border and make Mexico pay for it. Since then he has remained true to these and other far-right racialist views by likening Latino immigrants to “animals,” accusing them of being gang members, and otherwise stirring up hysteria among his supporters. Completely ignored are the studies that consistently show that immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than native-born individuals, that illegal crossings are at their lowest point in 46 years, and that immigrants in general contribute socially, economically, and financially to our society in myriad ways.

Government policies that have emerged since the presidential election reveal a larger goal of suppressing the size and influence of the Latino population in the U.S. Along these lines, the government has greatly expanded the number of ICE and Border Patrol agents and greatly increased the rate of deportation. The recent shooting death of a young Guatemalan woman near the border is but one result of the increasing level of tension among law enforcement agents there. Most disturbing has been the forcible separation of children from their parents at the southern border. According to then Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, this tactic was adopted specifically to deter illegal crossings into the U.S. Further, government agencies involved have failed to keep records of the separations leaving thousands of children in detention without their parents and with no immediate prospects of rejoining them. In some cases, parents have even been forced to leave their children behind as they are deported back to their home countries.

All of this coincides with a dramatic rise in white supremacist activity throughout the country. The president himself has referred to neo-Nazis who marched openly in Charlottesville last August as “some very fine people”. Alongside these groups, radical anti-immigrant organizations with innocent sounding names like “FAIR”, “NumbersUSA”, and “Center for Immigration Studies”, have also grown and now play a central role in the shaping of immigration policy. Figures like KellyAnne Conway, Steve Bannon, and Steve Miller, who have held important positions in the administration, have had a close association with these organizations in the past. These advisors have boldly advanced an array of options for reducing the size and influence of the Latino population including cutting refugee acceptance by half, reducing legal immigration, deporting legal residents, locking up asylum seekers indefinitely, and eliminating “birthright citizenship” guaranteed by the 14th Amendment to the Constitution.

More broadly, people of color have been targeted by voter suppression efforts along with the poor, the elderly, and people with disabilities, even though there has been no proof of serious danger from voter fraud in the U.S. The many strategies for voter suppression include the purging of voter rolls, curtailing of early voting and elimination of same-day registration (black and Latino voters are twice as likely as white voters to be unable to get time off), new photo ID requirements, and racial gerrymandering of voting districts. The president is also filling scores of judicial openings with far-right judges seeking to roll back years of civil rights gains made by women, workers, LGBTQ individuals, and people of color.

At the international level, the U.S. pulled out of the UN Human Rights Council one day after its commissioner called the U.S. policy of separating children from their parents “unconscionable”. The Council embodies rights that were first defined internationally after World War II in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in response to the murderous policies of fascist regimes in Europe. As philosopher Hannah Arendt noted, the right of asylum was the first to be eliminated by these regimes because it interfered with sovereign control over national borders. The U.S. withdrawal from the UN Human Rights Council will undoubtedly weaken its role as an international authority on human rights.

Seeking global allies

Despite the slogan, “Make America Great Again”, the government’s approach is not at all about putting this country first. Quite the opposite, the effect of these trends has been to divide society by engendering suspicion and hate. And, instead of bringing the country together, government leaders are reaching across international lines to ally with far-right movements in other countries.

This was clearly evident when U.S. ambassador in Berlin Richard Grenell stated in a recent interview that he would personally intervene in domestic politics in Europe to assist the far right in gaining power. This is a clear departure from State Department protocol which directs diplomats to remain neutral with regard to internal politics in other countries. President Trump himself stated that Europeans were losing their “culture” by allowing “millions and millions of people” to immigrate. “And I don’t mean that in a positive way,” he said. As London mayor Sadiq Khan pointed out, Trump’s comment has the effect of “amplifying messages of hate” and “giving credibility to far-right groups.”

At the grassroots level, racial supremacists are finding it easier than ever to locate one another across international lines. Through websites, chat rooms, and social media, false images of immigrants and refugees as dangerous criminals, rapists, and threats to white “culture” now spread like wildfire. Individuals and organizations on the far-right also gather together through conferences such as “Nationalist Solutions” held this summer in Tennessee. In calling for “political power for European-Americans,” the conference featured representatives from Switzerland and Japan along with a number of academics and former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, David Duke.

We need the human rights movement

As politics around the world swing to the far right, we need a powerful response that is international in scope. Electoral politics, political organizations, nonprofits, and religious groups all have an essential role to play in fighting back. The human rights movement offers something these entities do not, however: a message that is universal. That essential message, which is the inherent dignity and worth of every human being, has the capacity to transcend the limits of national boundaries.

At its heart, the idea that all human beings have dignity and worth signifies that all governments must have limits. Whether in the U.S., Latin America, or elsewhere in the world, human rights defenders stand up for the right to be protected from violence and poverty, to speak and organize freely, to seek justice in a court of law, to cross borders in search of safety, and to be treated in a fair and humane way upon arriving in a foreign country.

For the Denver Justice and Peace Committee (DJPC), a longstanding human rights organization in the Rocky Mountain region, it is as important to understand why people are displaced in their own countries as it is to protect new arrivals in the U.S. against inhumane treatment. In keeping with these commitments, the DJPC is taking the following actions:

  • In support of humane treatment of immigrants and refugees, the DJPC has rallied, lobbied, and petitioned against the separation of children from their parents at the border, and demonstrated repeatedly at the ICE Detention Facility in Aurora, which houses some 1,500 immigrant detainees;


  • In opposition to U.S. military intervention and militarization of the border, DJPC delegates have participated in the border “Encuentro” in Nogales, Arizona, sponsored by the School of the Americas Watch and have spoken out repeatedly on the issue;


  • In support of those living with poverty, violence, and government repression in Latin America, the DJPC has sponsored delegations to conflicted areas of Honduras to gather witness accounts, to El Salvador to observe the election process, and to Guatemala and Peru to accompany victims of conflict seeking justice through the judicial process;


  • In support of those whose water has been contaminated and land taken away, the DJPC has sponsored delegations to Mexico and Peru to take in witness accounts of the effects of dangerous mining practices, published informational articles and pamphlets, issued a report to the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and taken to the streets to protest the practice of open-pit mining;


  • In support of our neighbors in Denver, the DJPC annually engages in the “Build for Peace” project that involves cleaning, painting, building, weeding, and otherwise caring for our neighborhoods;


  • To keep our supporters informed, the DJPC provides regular updates through social media, email, and our website issues such as government repression and dangerous mining and energy extraction projects in Latin America and the U.S.

In these uncertain times, the DJPC will continue to seek and share a greater understanding of U.S.-Latin American relations while standing firm against the actions of the far right. On the eve of our 40th anniversary, we remain as dedicated as ever to the struggle for a more just and peaceful world. We hope you’ll join us.


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Burnett, John, “Arrests for illegal border crossings hit 46-year low,” NPR, December 5. 2017,

Callaway, David, “Press freedom is under attack. Don’t wait for a journalist to be murdered to protest,” USA Today, May 3, 2018,

Diaz, Daniella, “Kelly: DHS is considering separating undocumented children from their parents at the border,” CNN,

Gray, Rosie, “Trump defends white-nationalist protesters: ‘Some very fine people on both sides’”, The Atlantic, August 15, 2018,

Helm, Joe, “Hate groups in the U.S. remain on the rise according to new study,” Washington Post, February 21, 2018,

Mackey, Robert, “Germans appalled by threat from Trump’s ambassador to help far-right nationalists take power across Europe,” Intercept, June 4, 2018,

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Silverstein, Sara, The price of the America’s withdrawal from the Human Rights Council, Washington Post, July 19, 2018,

Underwood, Alexia, “‘A cesspool of political bias’: the U.S. announces it’s quitting the UN Human Rights Council,” Vox, June 19, 2018,

Vice News, “London mayor Sadiq Khan says Trump is ‘amplifying messages of hate’”, July 13, 2018,

Walker, Chris, “Medical and mental health horror stories emerge from Aurora immigrant detention center,” Westword, June 5, 2018,

Williams, Jennifer, “Gina Haspel, Trump’s controversial pick for CIA director, has just been confirmed,” Vox, March 17, 2018,


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