If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the sheer volume of dramatic policy shifts in recent days, it is with good reason. In President Donald Trump’s first week of office, he has signed more Executive Orders (EO) abruptly changing federal policy than President Obama did in his first 100 days. In week one, Mr. Trump signed EOs to unravel health benefits for 20 million low and middle income households, freeze hiring in the federal government, limit health care for women throughout the world, reduce federal funding to cities providing sanctuary to undocumented immigrants, and direct work to begin on building a massive, expensive wall along the Mexican border. Throughout the week, Mr. Trump and his senior staff vilified the media while putting forward their own “alternative facts.” They repeated long-debunked falsehoods about massive voter fraud, a possible precursor to efforts to further erode the voting rights of disenfranchised people.
Mr. Trump’s EO threatening to halt all federal funding to “sanctuary cities” (jurisdictions with policies in place to limit local law enforcement cooperation with or involvement in federal immigration enforcement actions) is likely illegal. The Supreme Court has ruled that only federal funds related to law enforcement or related activities may be withheld in such cases. It remains to be seen how this will play out: most large cities that provide sanctuary to all its citizens have pledged to continue doing so and to fight the Trump Administration’s threatened consequences. The same EO also directed the Department of Homeland Security to crack down on undocumented immigrants who have “abused any program related to receipt of public benefits.” While there is little evidence that this occurs, especially in subsidized housing programs, we must expect new scrutiny and oversight of these programs and the households served by them.
Mr. Trump also directed the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to begin building a massive wall along the Mexican border. Despite promising throughout the campaign that Mexico would pay for the wall, Mr. Trump will soon request funding from Congress. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) estimates the initial cost for such a wall will be in the range of $12 billion to $15 billion; design and construction experts estimate a much higher price tag. An investment of this size could end homelessness for the hundreds of thousands of children, veterans, seniors and families sleeping in shelters or on the streets, with enough money left over to end housing poverty for millions more. Instead, Congressional Republican leadership have indicated they will appropriate funding for the border wall, possibly seeking to pay for it through cuts to affordable housing and other non-defense spending programs.
And then, late in the week, came perhaps the deepest and most alarming assault on American values yet: Mr. Trump signed EOs to halt all refugees – some of the most vulnerable, suffering and oppressed children, women and men in the world – from finding refuge in our country, and to cease all immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries.
Most Americans have an immigration story to share. As children, my Jewish grandparents fled the Russian pogroms on a ship. When the ship landed in the US, some of my extended family were permitted to enter. The rest kept sailing to Argentina, where my grandparents and great-grandparents were welcomed as refugees. Decades later, my father first came to the US as a medical student, barely knowing a word of English. He came to love this country, and my mother, too much to leave. He stayed and became one of its proudest citizens, contributing so much to this country.
Our country is built upon and made great by stories like these, of people coming to the US for a better life. We are a nation of immigrants. With each new addition the richness of our diversity grows, strengthening the country. A ban on immigration from Muslim-majority countries and an exclusion of desperate refugees fleeing war-torn countries from taking shelter in our country are antithetical to the very values that make America great. Members of Congress, local, state and national leaders, each one of us - must stand united in opposition to bigotry, exclusion, and discrimination based on nationality or religion.
This week, much of the president’s cabinet is slated to be approved in Committee or on the Senate floor, and another stack of potentially harmful EOs are ready for his signature. At the same time, the opportunities to increase investments in affordable housing solutions through reforming the mortgage interest deduction and a comprehensive infrastructure plan are growing. So please buckle up, keep vigilant and stay tuned – we have so much work to do.