Mason Amnesty International Club prevents deportation of pastor

Abby Waechter | Staff Writer

Amnesty International members are striving to make a difference by advocating for human rights.

Amnesty International is a chapter of the largest human rights organization in the world that aims to fight against human rights abuses. Co-president Maya Morjaria, a junior, said that the new club has worked closely with other branches of Amnesty International in order to advocate for the re-evaluation of people who are in need of safe havens because of dangers they face by returning to their home countries.

Pastor Steven Tendo is a human rights activist from Uganda who advocated for social justice. After being placed in many life-threatening situations of governmental backlash from his activism, he fled Uganda to seek asylum in the United States. Tendo was then detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for over a year, sustaining health problems while in custody due to insufficient treatment for his Diabetes. During the same week he was set to get a much needed surgery, ICE planned to deport him back to Uganda. 

“Pastor Steven was trying to seek asylum in America from Uganda because he was very vocal about social rights issues and social justice,” Morjaria said. “Within two days, Amnesty International and other clubs like ours were able to stop his deportation, and now he’s going to get a trial to determine if he is allowed to stay or not.” 

The club was able to quickly utilize their resources in order to take action and get their opinion known to the leaders of important organizations. Members of the club made calls to the ICE Phoenix Office, emailed ICE officials directly, made calls to the Arizona governor’s office, signed various petitions and expressed their concerns to ICE directly over social media platforms. Morjaria said that the club did whatever they could in order to gain 

the attention of ICE and pressure them to re-evaluate the situation. 

“We were calling the governor’s office and different government officials and signing various petitions to do whatever we could in order to put a lot of public pressure on the government to stop his deportation,” Morjaria said. 

“There’s power in numbers and our platform’s flow has continued to grow, so with everyone helping, it was really helpful getting circulation and attention.” 

On September 2, 2020, ICE released a statement saying that Tendo would be deported back to Uganda. If returned to Uganda, Tendo could face persecution, torture, attack, or death. Junior and Amnesty International co-president Tulasi Rao said that the quick and crucial actions taken by members of the club 

ended up changing ICE’s decision on when Tendo should be deported.

“People from Uganda who opposed his beliefs had announced their intention to kill Pastor Steven upon his arrival there, so Amnesty International announced urgent action to all of its members to take immediately.” Rao said. “Eventually, his deportation was delayed for a week after the first wave of action, and a few days later it was delayed again until after he received a fair trial regarding his asylum appeal.”

Although the club is completely online oriented due to the pandemic, they were able to make a difference and recognize their potential to create change. Rao said that the actions that the club members took gave them insight into some of the projects they can achieve as students.

“[The opportunity] allowed our members to preview an important unknown injustice and [learn] how to advocate while completely online,” Rao said. “It shows how much of a difference a group of passionate high school students can make in the world.” 

Members of the new club continue to stress that students have power in numbers and can make a difference in the world by advocating for those who are in complicated situations where they are not able to exercise basic human rights. 

Morjaria said that with the help and resources of the International Amenesty organization, students Mason’s chapter of the group are able to help others in need both locally and globally.

“It’s really easy for someone to say that they want to help out the community or make a change in the world, but it’s a different thing to actually be able to do it.” Morjaria said. “Since Amnesty International is already a global organization, we have the resources to make that change.”