HRE USA Advocates for Migrant Rights in the U.S.

By Carina D’Urso, ARTE Intern in collaboration with Marissa Gutierrez-Vicario, HRE USA Co-Chair and ARTE Executive Director 

Over the last few months, HRE USA has been focusing on immigration and the detention of children at the United States – Mexico border. In February, a representative from HRE USA joined the action coordinated by the US Human Rights Network to deliver 80,000 petition signatures to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, calling upon the United Nations to launch an “investigation into US violations of the human rights of asylum seekers.” At the beginning of this month, HRE USA continued this work, through an event organized by HRE USA Regional Representative, Michelle Chouinard, entitled, “Immigration, Detention, & Resistance Through Art.”


HRE USA held the event on Wednesday, May 1, 2019, in collaboration with Art and Resistance Through Education (ARTE), the Human Rights and Humanitarian Policy Concentration at SIPA at Columbia University, and the Human Rights Working Group.  It was a  lively night of art creation and human rights advocacy. The walls of the room were lined by work curated by Pastor Isaac Scott, an artist and the program director of The Confined Arts and Columbia University Justice-in-Education Scholar. As individuals reflected upon the themes of justice and narrative, guests were encouraged to contribute to a collaborative collage. Participants used moving imagery and text to create messages of resistance and solidarity.

The night was completed with a panel discussion which highlighted the voices of a passionate group of human rights activists, artists, and academics. Through moderation by Khalil A. Cumberbatch, the chief strategist of New Yorkers United for Justice, they welcomed the audience into their conversation of justice, creating a universal call for social change.

IMG_7239Panelists: (left to right): Khalil A. Cumberbatch (moderator), Tsion Gurmu, Geraldine Downey, Angy Rivera, Pastor Isaac Scott, and Ximena Ospina

Surrounded by art, the panelists highlighted the connection between art and activism. Ximena Ospina, trans activist and founder of the undocumented student group at Columbia University, pinpointed that art is about disruption. She passionately spoke for art that promotes a version of storytelling that is owned and amplified by the teller. This art is individualistic and active, radiating into the world unapologetically. Simultaneously, she claimed art as a demand for justice, rather than a humble request to be seen.

Angy Rivera, co-executive director at New York State Youth Leadership Council, praised art that exists on the margins. Rivera emphasized that art does not need to yearn for the acceptance of the mainstream in order to thrive. She identified that assimilation into whiteness is both unnecessary and counterproductive. After her community of undocumented artists struggled to find spaces that would accept their voices, they vowed to create their own spaces. With strength of purpose and a great commitment to justice, Rivera fosters art that is unconstrained and liberated, one that welcomes the authentic stories of individuals.

Tsion Gurmu, the legal director of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration and the founder and director of the Queer Black immigrant project encompasses the journey towards justice through her work. She calls for solutions that are based on a transnational approach to migration. She reaches into the foundation of this issue in order to unearth the root issue of forced migration. Gurmu desires an international transformation in the laws and policies that force individuals to flee their homes in the first place. The United States should not simply be a responder to crisis, but rather an active and solution-seeking partner for those outside of the country.

Professor Geraldine Downey, the director of the Columbia University Center for Justice, strives to use her work to intertwine art and criminal justice. She is actively working to bring Columbia into prisons in order to serve incarcerated communities. Through the lens of art, she believes people can discover all that they are capable of. She was moved by one woman who found her vocation in creating coloring books. After making them for her own child, she spread her creativity to other children. It is stories such as this one which resonant perpetually, capturing the humanity of those who are incarcerated.


Pastor Isaac Scott tirelessly works to unearth the dehumanization of human beings who are incarcerated. Through the significance of linguistics, it is difficult to find a single positive word that has the same power as a negative word. Names serve as powerful identifiers, just as signs in a space to communicate rules and facts to people. In this way, language can be warped into a tool for incarceration. Through his research at Columbia University, Scott discovered that words such as “prisoner” and “criminal” have quantitatively negative impacts on those who they refer to. They are knives that cut into the humanity of individuals, leaving them wounded and scarred. They create an unjust association with being innately and entirely flawed. As Scott keenly described, these words do not give identity to anyone.

Together, the panelists called for the re-humanizing of language in order to revitalize humanity and in order to shift our perspectives towards the needs of the marginalized, while embracing their voices in their entirety. Oral history, especially when it is intertwined with the visual arts, allows for choice and agency. By deeply understanding the complexity of storytelling, we may better understand those who share their narratives.

HRE USA was able to continue to take action on immigration beyond the event by co-signing onto a public comment submitted to the United States Commission on Civil Rights regarding immigration detention centers and treatment of immigrants. The public comment can be viewed here.

Join HRE USA Campaign on the Convention on the Rights of the Child

The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) is turning 30 this year.  The CRC is the most comprehensive human rights treaty on children’s rights and notably the most widely ratified treaty since its introduction 30 years ago. The treaty has been ratified by every country with one notable exception — the United States, which has never even sent it to the Senate for consent and approval. 

While there is no good reason for the United States not to ratify the CRC, there are several reasons why we urgently need it. Ratifying the convention is not just about saving face in the international community — it will require us to confront some hard truths about the exceptionally bad way we treat children in this country, work to bring our laws and practices in line with international law, and ensure that children’s rights are human rights. 

In honor of the upcoming 30th Anniversary of the CRC, HRE USA is galvanizing support to not only work towards the ultimate goal of U.S. ratification of the CRC, but also, to partner with individuals, organizations, institutions, and communities to achieve the short-term goal of the endorsement of the CRC at state, local, and school district levels. Overall we hope the campaign will increase awareness of the importance of the CRC and how the U.S. falls short in fulfilling the rights of the child. 

To get involved and join the working group, please contact Benil Mostafa

Become a Regional Representative in D.C.

HRE USA has a national network of chapters with regional representatives who volunteer to serve as contact persons for human rights educators in their region, state or city. 

Spread the word – HRE USA has an opening for a DC Metro Area Regional Co-Representative!

Regional Representative Job Description:  

  • Serve as a “live-and-in-person” contact for area members to turn to with ideas, questions, and concerns.
  • Provide opportunities for members in your area to connect, share ideas, and support each other’s HRE efforts.
  • Provide HRE USA with an overview of regional members’ interests, needs, and concerns so that the network can better serve them.
  • Seek opportunities for adding new individual and organizational members.
  • Uphold the mission of HRE USA to promote human dignity, justice, and peace by cultivating an expansive, vibrant base of support for human rights education (HRE) within the United States.

If you are interested in becoming a regional representative in Washington, D.C. or in another city or region, contact Emily Farell, Coordinator for HRE USA Regional Representatives.

>> Learn more

Teach Climate Change!

Happy Earth Day! Help develop the next generation of environmental leaders by teaching Climate Change!

We already know that the earth and its inhabitants are experiencing impacts from climate change as a result of global warming, including deadly heat waves, extreme weather events, and threats to life on earth. There is no denying that human activities, including the burning of fossil fuels and destruction to our natural environment, is behind global warming.

For over 10 years, Climate Generation has been building climate literacy and action among educators, youth and the broader public with tangible results. They offer a suite of Grades 3-12 curriculum resources in the form of curriculum guides, as well as online modules that can be downloaded for free.

All of these resources are interdisciplinary and can be used in the following classes: earth science, life science, physical science, civics, economics, history, media, English Language Arts, environmental science, geography, and art.

Interested in increasing your confidence in teaching climate change in the classroom. Join Climate Generation’s 14th Annual Summer Institute for Climate Change Education this August in Washington, DC. Scholarships available.

>> Download curriculum
>> Learn more and register for institute

Human Rights Cities

We are used to thinking of human rights as a matter for states to deal with. Much less investigated is the question of what cities do with them, even though urban communities and municipalities have been discussing human rights for quite some time.

In this volume, Grigolo borrows the concept of `the human rights city’ to invite us to think about a new urban utopia: a place where human rights strive to guide urban life. By turning the question of the meaning and use of human rights in cities into the object of critical investigation, this book tracks the genesis, institutionalization, and implementation of human rights in cities; focusing on New York, San Francisco and Barcelona.

Touching also upon matters such as women’s rights, LGBT rights, and migrant rights, The Human Rights City emphasizes how human rights can serve urban justice but also a neoliberal practice of the city. This book is a useful resource for scholars and students interested in fields such as Sociology of Human Rights, Sociology of Law, Urban Sociology, Political Sociology, and Social Policies.

>> Learn more and purchase

Pass the Dream & Promise Act Now!

Dreamers (who were brought here as minors) and recipients of Temporary Protective Status are educators and students, our colleagues, neighbors, and friends. They are teaching in our schools, organizing in our union, serving in the military, and contributing to our communities. This country is their home.

Now there is finally a bill in Congress to give this group of aspiring Americans the rights and protections they deserve.

Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives introduced an updated Dream Act that gives hope and dignity to aspiring new Americans while aiming to provide a pathway to citizenship for the millions of individuals known as “Dreamers” who came to the United States as minors.

The introduction of the Dream and Promise Act of 2019 (H.R. 6) reflects the tireless work of legislators, students, activists, and organizations on behalf of immigrants. Together, these advocates are exhibiting their respect and concern for Dreamers and other beneficiaries of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) and Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) from ongoing attacks by the Trump administration.

The bill would help approximately 3.6 million Dreamers, including the 800,000 who have been shielded from deportation and granted a work permit under DACA. The legislation provides protection and certainty to our neighbors, friends, many who are students and educators in our schools. The bill not only helps families stay together and secure long-term economic stability but also enables thousands of students to pursue their education and career goals by opening financial aid and college loans.

>> Learn more
>> Contact your representative 

Event: Building and Sustaining Human Rights Cities Together in the South


When: April 26-28
Times: Friday April 26th: 5pm – 8pm; Saturday April 27th: 9am – 5pm; Sunday April 28th: 9am – 1pm
Where: Atlanta, GA
Cost: FREE and open to the public

The convening will feature discussions on topics such as Housing, Displacement, and Economic Rights; Reproductive Justice and Voting Rights; Human Migration, Mobility and Freedom; and Water and Resource Rights, with facilitators from SisterSong, AFSC, Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights, and other human rights organizations.

The National Human Rights Cities Alliance is a member-led and organized initiative of the USHRN. It works to strengthen relationships among Human Rights Cities organizers, including grassroots and local advocates for Human Rights Cities, national and international human rights advocates, scholar-practitioners, and others working to advance human rights.

The upcoming Atlanta gathering reflects the principles of a people-centered human rights movement that is both intersectional and transformational. Together we aim to shift the discourse to center human rights and press policymakers to prioritize people and communities over corporate profits and economic growth.

Registration is available on a sliding scale according to need; no one will be turned away for lack of ability to pay. The registration fee includes lunch on Saturday and coffee/tea/snacks/ water throughout the gathering.

If you have any questions please contact Jacob Flowers at

Organized by National Human Rights Cities AllianceAmerican Friends Service Committee (AFSC), US Human Rights NetworkTurn South: Southern Women for ChangeOrganization for Human Rights and DemocracySisterSong9to5 Georgia, and Ubuntu Institute for Community Development.

>> Learn more about Human Rights Cities
>>Register for Event