In the weeks after Donald Trump was elected president in 2016, many of us opened our pockets and donated to groups protecting interests we saw as threatened. The American Civil Liberties Union received $15 million in the first week alone, and $79 million in the first three months after Trump's election.
Why were we concerned about our civil liberties? Unfortunately, the examples seem endless, and they just keep coming.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security published in September and began implementing in mid-October a rule that allows the government to monitor the internet accounts of naturalized U.S. citizens, legal permanent residents, and visa holders, as well as those applying for visas.
What specifically will they look for? I can see why visa applicants’ online behavior might reveal information relevant to their application — the affiliations they pursue and whether they are communicating with suspected terrorist cells, for example. But why include naturalized U.S. citizens, who have already been tested and examined, and have invested more time and thought in what it means to be a citizen under this government than most native-born citizens?
Last week, we learned the ACLU challenged the Trump administration’s policy of separating asylum-seeking parents from their children, a strategy designed to discourage other asylum-seekers around the world. The test case is a Congolese woman who escaped from the Congo fearing her life; although the asylum screening officer in San Diego felt her case was sufficiently credible to justify full asylum proceedings, officials nonetheless proceeded to send her undoubtedly already-traumatized 7-year-old daughter without her mother to a separate asylum center in Chicago, bringing to mind the Statue of Liberty’s promise:
“Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
The Trump administration detained an American in September in Iraq as a potential “enemy combatant” and systematically obstructed his request for an attorney, to which he is constitutionally entitled, despite pressure from a judge.
Under Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the Justice Department has encouraged more aggressive policing, especially in the context of drugs, and reduced its federal oversight over police abuses.
Just before Christmas, Sessions also rescinded an Obama-era guidance to state and local courts urging them to uphold constitutional protections against jailing poor people who can’t afford to pay court fees or fines.
As appalling as the Trump administration has been in flagrantly violating civil liberties, Congress isn’t much better. For example, a recently passed House Republican bill, H.R. 620, would make it much harder to hold businesses to account when they don’t make their facilities accessible to disabled people.
The list seems endless, justifying everyone’s monetary contributions to protect civil liberties. But other, more internal, actions to support democracy and protect civil liberties are also important. Sometimes comprehensive assaults on any target, such as on our civil liberties, can have a numbing effect. Witnesses to such egregious campaigns — and even victims — can become exhausted by the particular and variety of abuses. One step we all need to take is to protect our inner sense of outrage, hold firmly and articulate clearly our inner standard of constitutional liberty. Rarely have we more needed citizen support for civil liberties; rarely have they been more endangered.
Margaret Krome of Madison writes a semimonthly column for The Capital Times.
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