UnidosUS Convenes Forum on Civil Rights in the Trump Era

WASHINGTON, DC—Today, UnidosUS (formerly NCLR) held a forum on civil rights in the Trump era during its 2018 Annual Conference at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, DC.

The forum assembled prominent civil rights leaders—including Sherrilyn Ifill, President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund; Vanita Gupta, President and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights; Neera Tanden, President of the Center for American Progress; Chad Griffin, President of the Human Rights Campaign; and María Teresa Kumar, President and CEO of Voto Latino—to consider the latest developments in the Trump administration’s sweeping assault on immigrants and the rights of women, minorities, and disabled and LGBTQ people, and how to respond.

Janet Murguía, President and CEO of UnidosUS, moderated the discussion and set the stage with her opening remarks, noting that this year marks the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., the Kerner Commission report on racial inequality, and the birth of UnidosUS, which began as a brainchild of Herman Gallegos, Julian Samora, and Ernesto Galarza, and has evolved into the nation’s largest Hispanic civil rights organization.

“Over the years, and working alongside our friends and fellow activists from the remarkable groups gathered here, we fought hard and made major strides against inequality. Unfortunately, we are facing new and unprecedented threats from an administration that is actively sowing racial and ethnic divisions and seems hell-bent on reversing the clock and obliterating the hard-won progress we achieved. We can’t let that happen,” Murguía said.

The panelists took stock of the political landscape nearly two years after the election of Donald Trump, noting that his policies have severely undermined equality and targeted immigrants, minorities, as well as the poor, and so far, have gone unchecked by the Republican-controlled Congress. The panelists called for a renewed commitment to equality, pluralism, and social justice, and discussed how their organizations and individuals can defend civil liberties and the rights of all people in the United States.

While the panelists are urging Congress to consider the plight of the less fortunate, and pass humane legislation like the “Keep Families Together Act,” they cautioned that, ultimately, it is up to the American people, to speak out against the cruel and despicable acts being perpetrated in their names, to call and put pressure on their representatives, and take to the streets in protest.

“In my three-decade career as a civil rights attorney, I’ve never seen the officials entrusted to defend equal justice and the rule of law attack those essential ideals so relentlessly,” said Sherrily Ifill, LDF President and Director-Counsel. “As we begin the struggle over the integrity of the Supreme Court, and with it the justice system as a whole, it is vital that every American of conscience stay engaged in efforts to protect the advancements we’ve fought so hard to secure,” she added, reiterating the seriousness and urgency of the situation.

During the discussion, some common themes stood out. First, while things seem bleak, the leaders see great hope in the fact that so many Americans are mobilizing and fighting back; second, they advised people to stay the course and be patient, as it’s going to be a hard and, at times frustrating, fight for the long run. They mentioned recent wins—like forcing Trump to back away from his policy of separating families at the border—but also noted that his side holds two branches of the federal government and many of the cards at the moment (and it could soon control all three, if a new Supreme Court Justice is installed before the midterms).

“Now, more than ever, we are fighting for the soul of our nation. Our very democracy and most fundamental values of liberty and equality are at stake,” said Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. “While these past two years have been detrimental to the communities we represent, and the rollbacks of civil and human rights protections seem to never end, I’ve also seen hope and resilience from the people. Those who march, rally, protest, and have joined a movement they never before saw themselves in, demonstrate the power of the people. We will not back down, we’re in it for the long haul, and we will not stand for any assault on our civil and human rights.”

If we’re going to allay the damage and have fairer political outcomes, we must prioritize the key issues we care most about, organize and team up politically, and focus on getting people to the polls in November, so we can win more electoral seats, they said.

“The LGBTQ community is as diverse as the fabric of our nation. We are women. We are Muslim and we are Jewish. We are Black, White, Latinx, Asian, and Native American. We are immigrants and we are people with disabilities. With so much of our progress under attack, never before has it been more important for social justice movements to stand as one in our pursuit of full equality. As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of UnidosUS, this important discussion is a perfect example of how we are standing together across movements to resist the politics of hate and fear and chart a path toward a more just and equal future,” said HRC President Chad Griffin.

“In the era of Trump, defending our basic civil rights requires unrelenting vigilance and coordinated action across every segment of our society—whether it is stopping children from being ripped away from their parents at the border or preventing a rightwing takeover on the bench of the Supreme Court,” said Neera Tanden, President and CEO of the Center for American Progress. “All across our nation, Americans are rising up to stand against this administration, and I know they will continue to fight for the values of equality, opportunity, and justice for all until we take back our country from Trump and his allies.”

This is no time to sit on the sidelines, the leaders agreed.

“Time and time again, we are witnessing the American people rallying together to push back against the Trump administration’s anti-immigrant policies,” said Voto Latino President and CEO María Teresa Kumar. “We must keep up this pressure all the way to the ballot box as we fight for our civil rights and liberties. Together, Americans need to stand on the right side of history at this critical time,” she said.