Metro

Incoming Trump administration provokes unease from R.I. lawmakers

Politicians uncomfortable with President-Elect’s policies on immigration, reproductive rights

By
senior staff writer
Thursday, December 8, 2016

Donald Trump’s election has some Rhode Island lawmakers concerned that changes to reproductive policy could limit abortion coverage in the state.

With the proposed policies and staff of President-Elect Donald Trump’s administration becoming clearer by the day, the nature of the new leadership is appearing more and more at odds with the progressive tint usually attributed to Providence politics. From the office of Mayor Jorge Elorza, there has already been robust action to counteract Trump’s anticipated policies.

“I am more convinced than ever that the work we do at the local level is essential to safeguarding the values that define us as a community,” Elorza said in a press release Nov. 14. “We cannot stand idly as members of our community are bullied, targeted and scapegoated on the national stage.”

That declaration accompanied the announcement of Elorza’s new One Providence Initiative. As part of the program, the Mayor’s office will announce a new policy or event every week up until Inauguration Day to “give reassurance to the city’s most vulnerable and marginalized residents that the city will continue to support them,” he added in the release.

Nov. 22, the office announced the creation of a Muslim-American Advisory Board to represent the concerns of Muslims from the Providence community. A press release states that the five-seat board will “help guide Mayor Elorza’s policy decisions that affect Muslim-Americans in Providence,” as well as “enhance the understanding of the religion of Islam.” The release also cited a recent rise in hate crimes against Muslim-Americans nationwide as urgent reason for the board’s creation.

At the inaugural Nov. 12 meeting for political community organizing group Resist Hate RI, Elorza was even more adamant in his promises to the community. Before a packed crowd at Hope High School, Elorza promised action on municipal IDs, welcome centers for new immigrants and paid paternal leave for all city workers.

Elorza also promised to pass the Providence Community Safety Act, an ordinance that seeks to limit instances of police brutality. “Between now and Inauguration Day, I will be introducing the CSA to the Providence City Council and will be working to make sure it gets passed,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Providence City Council has intensified efforts to pass the act in the weeks following Trump’s election, according to Micaela Antunes, press secretary for the Providence City Council.

Most notably, Elorza vowed during the Resist Hate RI meeting to essentially transform the city of Providence into a sanctuary city. “While I am mayor, the Providence Police Department will never enforce immigration policies,” he said.

“While there is no commonly used definition of ‘sanctuary city,’ Providence is committed to being an inclusive and welcoming community to all,” wrote Emily Crowell, director of communications for the Mayor’s Office, in an email to The Herald.

Such a forceful declaration from Elorza could put city finances in jeopardy, as opposing the policies of the federal government can sometimes result in a loss of federal funding. Trump has given these fears weight, pledging in a Sept. 1 speech to “cancel unconstitutional executive orders and enforce all immigration laws.” He added that “cities that refuse to cooperate with federal authorities (on immigration) will not receive taxpayer dollars.”

“Currently, the Providence Police Department cooperates with federal immigration authorities by holding anyone with a detainer who is charged with a crime and will continue to do so,” Crowell wrote.

Representatives from the Providence Police Department did not respond to a request for comment.

Even though city-level action could provoke a reduction in funding from the national government, it might be the only level of resistance to be found in the Ocean State. “Even before the election, significant numbers of my Democratic colleagues in the (state) House and Senate were opposed to driver’s licenses for immigrants and funding for Planned Parenthood,” said Rep. Edith Ajello, D-Providence. “And on top of that, Trump won a lot of districts in the state.”

Ajello said she was doubtful as to whether or not Democrats in the state’s General Assembly would be willing or even capable of countering Trump in the way Elorza plans. For her part, Ajello said she’s focused on securing the future of reproductive rights in Rhode Island, one that has become unclear in the wake of Trump’s election.

U.S. Rep. Tom Price, R-GA, Trump’s pick for secretary of health and human services, has received a 0 percent rating from Planned Parenthood for his opposition to federal funding for the organization as well as to the practice of abortion itself. In an interview with the Blaze July 21, Trump himself said Planned Parenthood “absolutely should be defunded.”

“If Planned Parenthood was defunded by the federal government, I would hope (Gov. Gina) Raimondo would try to find state funds to earmark,” Ajello said. “I have talked with my colleagues and advocates about introducing legislation around abortion rights.”

Convincing Democrats in the statehouse to fund the organization independently at the state level would be an uphill battle, she added. “But it’s an easier road than it would’ve been 10 years ago.”

Codifying the Roe v. Wade decision remains the most critical task for Ajello, who is currently sponsoring a bill in the Statehouse looking to do just that. If a Supreme Court staffed by conservative Trump appointees ultimately reverses the landmark decision, Rhode Island could be subject to a number of legislative changes. Several Rhode Island laws still on the books but deemed unconstitutional by virtue of Roe, could potentially be reinstituted.

Rhode Island’s spousal notification law, for instance, requires that a woman inform her spouse if she plans to receive an abortion. While that piece of legislation is currently unenforceable, future Supreme Court decisions could render it valid once more.

“I’m inclined to be a little cautious about saying we’re going to do this or that because it’s potentially setting up an adversarial situation,” Ajello said of professed state and local efforts against the policies of a Trump presidency. But she added that community members and elected officials should still voice concern over policy changes when warranted. “Whether you’re a woman or a minority or an immigrant, we’re all in this together,” she added.

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