“It’s been the worst of times and the best of times,” said Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), as he wrapped up the organization’s conference call discussing President Donald J. Trump’s first 100 days in office Thursday morning. The Dickens reference came after an opening 100 days that Romero described as “disastrous for human and civil rights and offers to have a devastating effect on real and ordinary people across the country.”
Preferring to end on a higher note, Romero said that Trump’s presidency has also resulted in a level of coordination among organizations across geographies and focuses that he hadn’t seen in his previous 16 years leading the ACLU. Citizen activism, too, has been on the rise, with Romero crediting activists with, among other things, preventing the repeal of the Affordable Care Act.
Romero also voiced a new belief that he believes the American public has in the legal system as courts have blocked a number of Trump’s executive orders. Romero said that the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit will hear appeals arguments against Trump’s second travel ban en banc on May 8. “En banc” refers to the appeal being heard by all the judges as opposed to a panel of judges. The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit will hear the appeal stemming from the Hawaiian block on the travel ban the following week.
Romero’s comments were preceded by leaders of national civil rights organizations sharing their thoughts and continuing approach to Trump’s first 100 days in office. Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, voiced particular concern regarding the actions of the U.S. Department of Justice under Attorney General Jeff Sessions, which has included law-and-order rhetoric, the spreading of false narratives about crime in New York City, and opposition to former Attorney General Eric Holder’s “Smart on Crime” initiative.
In particular, Ifill cited cause for concern respective to the Department of Justice’s decision to back out of case in which Texas lawmakers were eventually found to have intentionally discriminated against African Americans and Latinos with voting laws and efforts to delay and denounce a consent decree reforming law enforcement in Baltimore. Trump will have an opportunity to further shape the American legal system with the selection of “hundreds” of federal judges in the years to come, Ifill said, adding that it is the fund’s intention to combat federal appointments of those who have previously demonstrated hostility to civil rights.
Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, asserted that Trump is leading the world away from human rights and democracy. Roth said that America has long been seen as a leader in this respect and support on such issues is increasingly important given the global rise of populism. Roth, in particular, discussed the Trump administration’s border efforts including proposals to increase funding to U.S. Customs and Border Protection and fast-track deportations. Human Rights Watch has taken the positions that additional funding at the border should be put on hold until the deaths of 18 migrant detainees are investigated and that undocumented immigrants, after years of building families and contributing to communities, should have a level of rights.
Cristina Jiménez, executive director and co-founder of United We Dream, discussed what she described as efforts to label Latinos under the broad brushes of undocumented workers, criminals, and threats to national security. These efforts have been met with public support of immigrants, Jiménez said, adding that United We Dream anticipates launching deportation defense teams in the coming weeks.
Anti-immigrant rhetoric has also harmed the Muslim community, said Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. Collaboration between organizations has been a positive byproduct of efforts such as the travel bans against predominantly Muslim countries, but there has also been an over 1,000-percent spike in Islamophobic incidents during the past three months, he said.
Positive strides taken by the administration, such as efforts to empower women in the workforce, are inconsistent with efforts to limit healthcare with the goal to repeal the Affordable Care Act and defund Planned Parenthood, said Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood. Planned Parenthood, which assists 2.5 million men and women annually, is often individuals’ only healthcare option, Richards said, with half of Planned Parenthood’s medical centers located in medically underserved areas.
Proposed defunding comes at a time in which progress has been made in areas such as unintended pregnancy, which is at a 30-year low, Richards said. Richards interpreted the strong presence of women at congressional town halls and efforts to flood congressional call centers as evidence of Planned Parenthood’s popularity. “The administration has been around for 100 days,” Richards said. “Planned Parenthood has been around for 100 years.”