What will the Trump administration signify for Americans’ civil liberties? How will it affect immigrants, Muslims and LGBT individuals? Will laws on women’s reproductive rights remain unchanged?
Leaders of advocacy organizations for these issues offered frank thoughts at a forum sponsored by NLU’s M.A. in Public Policy Administration (MAPPA) program recently.
NLU’s Malcolm Oliver, Ph.D., set a thoughtful tone as he opened the forum by saying that much of social injustice can be traced to housing, economic development and transportation policies, and that colleges of public policy attempt to shed light on this in order to bring about justice.
“I believe we should work to develop policies that lift the human spirit, but we have to understand each other and speak to each other,” said Oliver, MAPPA program director.
He asked the panelists how President Trump’s talking points during the campaign affected their constituencies.*
“We have great concerns about immigration,” said Julian Lazalde of the Latino Policy Forum. Latinos are particularly vigilant about whether the new administration will undo President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) executive order, he said. The order defers deportation for undocumented young people brought here as children by their parents, and about 720,000 people have filed for DACA status. Reversing it could make many of the young immigrants ineligible to work; others have said they could be targeted for deportation.
“These are young people who are a large part of the civic life of this country,” Lazalde said.
Ahmed Rehab of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), observed that while on the campaign trail, Trump reserved some of his strongest statements for Muslims. They included proposing a ban on Muslims, a special registry for Muslims and requiring Muslims to carry identification, which Rehab said reminded him of Nazi Germany.
Banning Muslims, or people of any religion, from the U.S. would be unconstitutional, he said. It would also be difficult to implement.
“If you’re an officer at customs, what do you do, ask people their religion?” he questioned, adding there would be no guarantee of truthful answers.
Ed Yohnka of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said his organization is concerned about the nomination of Jeff Sessions, whom Yohnka said was turned down for the federal judiciary because of his racist views, as attorney general.
Yohnka also expressed concern that President Trump has said things, such as that anyone who burns a flag should get a year in prison or lose their citizenship, that violate Constitutional rights.
“He doesn’t understand this question has been litigated and decided and found to be a form of speech,” Yohnka said.
Brigid Leahy of Planned Parenthood Illinois said President Trump and the Republican Congress have vowed to defund women’s health services, attack legal and safe abortion with restrictions and nominate a Supreme Court justice to overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark case which made abortion legal.
If Roe v. Wade falls, the question of abortion rights falls back to the states, she said. Some states will allow legal and safe abortions, but others will not. Women living in states where abortion is not legal will travel to other states if they have the money to do so, and will fall through the cracks if they don’t, she said.
“We don’t need to go back there,” she said. “Women will still get abortions, but they won’t be safe and legal.”
Mike Ziri of Equality Illinois said the Supreme Court decision permitting marriage equality is probably secure, unless two or three new justices change the balance of the court. He was more concerned about a potential rollback of protections for transgender Americans and the selection of a vice-president who has criticized marriage equality and espoused conversion therapy for gays.
He was also concerned about a law proposed in Congress in 2015 that gives certain rights to an individual who has a religious or moral value that sex should be between a married man and woman. It would allow that individual to discriminate against gays and single mothers.
“In Illinois it would mean the Human Rights Act would be unenforceable,” Ziri said. “It creates a license to discriminate. It has 37 co-sponsors in the Senate, and Trump said if Congress passes it he would sign it.”
When Oliver asked the panelists what people could do to stand up for the rights of the vulnerable, they had several ideas.
“Subscribe to a newspaper and read it every day,” said Yohnka. “Donate to organizations you believe in and get involved.”
Ziri suggested joining an organization that reflects your identity, “But also another that’s intersectional so we can work across lines and lift each other up.”
Rehab advised that if you witness an act of hate, stand up for that person, and stand up against the bully, in real life and social media. Also, if you witness disrespectful talk on social media, push back and speak up for civil, respectful values.
Lazalde advised calling and emailing both local and national political leaders.
“A couple calls to an alderman or state senator, they are going to know who you are,” he said. “I am tired of politicians being comfortable. Connect with that politician, and be a thorn in their side.”
*The views expressed are those of the participants involved, not those of National Louis University.