It’s impossible to predict what will happen under the administration of Donald Trump, a man who seems to consider his unpredictability as one of his chief assets.
The uncertainty stretches over a range of issues, including health care, housing, education and criminal justice. But it is most dramatic and troubling in the immigrant community. Trump has said he intends to deport 2 to 3 million undocumented immigrants who he maintains have criminal records. That number appears to be highly inflated, said Fred Tsao of the Illinois Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition.
The Obama administration targeted people with more serious criminal convictions, and record levels of deportations peaked in 2013 at about 400,000, Tsao said. Whether the incoming Trump administration broadens the scope of immigration enforcement remains to be seen, he said.
“We’re worried. We’re anxious and concerned about what this guy is going to do, but many of us have gotten beyond the anxiety and are working to push back,” Tsao said. “We’re working to educate our communities as to what their rights are if the knock on the door does come. And I’d like to think we have defenders and allies among different communities and elected officials.”
One possible target would be young people who obtained work permits under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and who are registered with the Department of Homeland Security – a move Tsao said would be “unconscionable.”
“These are young people who have come here not of their own volition, who have grown up here and are Americans in all but legal status, and who have put their faith in the U.S. government,” he said. There are about 41,000 DACA recipients in Illinois, most of them in the Chicago area, he said.
DACA recipients, also known as Dreamers, are worried, said Tania Unzueta, an activist with Mijente, a new national Latino political organization. But she suspects people who have had interactions with the criminal justice system are likely to be higher on Trump’s deportation list. That includes people who’ve been arrested but not convicted, and youth who have been entered into the police department’s gang database, an arbitrary listing that can reflect nothing more than the neighborhood where someone has been stopped by police.
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“We really need to look at how police are feeding the deportation machine by criminalizing people of color,” she said, citing a report that DUI checkpoints by Chicago police and Illinois troopers have heavily targeted black and Latino communities. “We have to look at racist policing in Chicago.”
One step would be eliminating loopholes in the city’s Welcoming Ordinance, which bars most cooperation with federal immigration authorities but allows police to detain people who would not otherwise be subject to arrest – if they have a prior conviction or are pending prosecution, for example – solely on suspicion of lacking legal status.
Muslim Americans are concerned about the prospect of a Muslim registry, said Hoda Katebi of Council on American-Islamic Relations. Early in his campaign, Trump called for a registry that would include U.S. citizens who were Muslim, but backed off after fellow Republican candidates challenged the constitutionality of the proposal. He’s now reported to be considering a registry of immigrants from Muslim countries. One of his advisers cited World War Two-era Japanese internment camps as a legal precedent.
A similar program operated from 2002 to 2003 registered 83,000 Muslim men and deported 13,000, mainly for minor immigration violations; thousands of them were waiting for green card applications to be considered. And though it was touted as a counter-terrorism measure, not a single terrorist was found, Katebi said.
Obama shut down the program at the end of last year, forcing Trump to begin the bureaucratic process over again if he wants to implement a registry. “That buys organizers on the ground a little time to start preparing communities,” said Katebi.
Muslim Americans are “very committed to challenge implementation” of a registry, and “to working with a broad coalition,” Katebi said. Trump “has targeted not just Muslims, he has targeted black people, Mexicans, LGBT, and women, and CAIR is committed to working with a very broad collaboration across groups with a similar dedication to justice.”
Chicago could lose federal law enforcement funding if Trump decides to follow through on his threat against sanctuary cities – though it’s a relatively small portion of the police department’s funding. (Going after all federal funding for Chicago could be legally problematic, according to the Center on Tax and Budget Accountability.)
The big question, though, is whether Trump’s Justice Department will negotiate a consent decree to follow up on the recently completed investigation of excessive force and biased policing. The next few months represent a window of opportunity that the city should take advantage of, according to Craig Futterman, a law professor at the University of Chicago.
Health care, fair housing, public schools at stake
The future of health care under Trump is equally uncertain. Trump has said he plans to repeal and replace Obamacare simultaneously, but that is easy for him to say and much harder for Congress to do.
As a candidate, Trump promised not to cut Medicaid, but Republican leaders in Congress – and Trump’s own nominee to head the Department of Health and Human Services – appear enthusiastic about turning it into a block grant program, which would indeed constitute a major cut.
“Depending on the details, it’s somewhere between very bad and disastrous,” said John Bouman, president of the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law.
As of last summer, Illinois had signed up 646,000 people under the Affordable Care Act’s expansion of Medicaid, which covered adults below 140 percent of the poverty level. Illinois’ enactment of the expansion contained a quirk – it requires the federal government to cover 90 percent of the costs, said Margie Schaps of the Health and Medicine Policy Research Group. That was the funding level for the initial rollout of Obamacare. If Trump reduces the reimbursement rate, coverage for hundreds of thousands of people could be wiped out.
Prospects are also dire for Cook County, which reduced the number of uninsured people in its health care system by signing them up for County Care under the Medicaid expansion. About 143,000 county residents who were previously uncovered now have coverage under the program, said Frank Shuftan, spokesperson for county board President Toni Preckwinkle. And federal payments for those patients have reduced Cook County taxpayers’ subsidy for the health system from $400 million a year to $110 million this year. That reduction it possible for Preckwinkle to pass balanced budgets.
“Block granting Medicaid would be a disaster for the county,” said Schaps.
Trump’s nominee at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, physician Ben Carson, raised concerns because he has called efforts to reduce housing segregation an extension of “the history of failed socialist experiments in this country.” At his confirmation hearing, he backed off that position, recognizing that fair housing is the law of the land and promising to uphold it. Republicans in Congress, however, continue to try to roll back an Obama administration regulation to promote fair housing.
The Trump administration “will almost certainly try to discontinue HUD’s Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing program,” said Daniel Kay Herz, a housing policy analyst at the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability. He also fears “massive cuts” to HUD, including the Housing Choice Voucher program.
Even a 1 percent budget reduction – which Carson endorsed in his hearing – would translate into the loss of as many as 100,000 vouchers nationally, and up to 4,000 in Illinois, due to yearly cost increases, said Bob Palmer of Housing Action Illinois. He also points to the possibility that Republicans will move on time limits and work requirements for subsidized housing.
Herz adds that the prospect of big tax cuts for the wealthy could undermine the nation’s largest affordable housing program by lowering the impact of the Low Income Housing Tax Credits – “because tax credits become less valuable as taxes go down” – an unintended consequence he says may already be happening.
At the U.S. Department of Education, Trump nominee Betsy DeVos is, like many of his choices, a “disrupter” who doesn’t support the traditional mission of the agency she’ll head. A far-right Christian fundamentalist who has championed vouchers and charter schools, she may be charged with promoting Trump’s plan to launch a $20 billion federal voucher program.
But there are obstacles, according to Kurt Hilgendorf of the Chicago Teacher’s Union, including the new federal Every Student Succeeds Act, which returned much control over schools to the states. In addition, $20 billion wouldn’t provide enough funding to create vouchers to cover the costs of private schools. And like many states, Illinois’ constitution prohibits state disbursements to religious schools.