Panel discusses civil liberties in Trump era


Katie Pach/Daily Senior Staffer

Khadine Bennett speaks at a forum hosted by State Sen. Daniel Biss (D-Evanston) and State Rep. Robyn Gabel (D-Evanston). Panelist told the audience advocacy groups are doubling their efforts to combat policies from the new presidential administration.

Billy Kobin, Reporter

Local lawmakers and activists told an audience at a discussion Monday evening that advocacy groups are doubling their efforts to combat policies from the new presidential administration.

State Sen. Daniel Biss (D-Evanston), Rep. Robyn Gabel (D-Evanston) and Rep. Laura Fine (D-Glenview) organized the “Protecting Our Civil Liberties” event at the Unitarian Church of Evanston, 1330 Ridge Ave. Four panelists from different advocacy organizations that advocate for shared how the audience of about 400 can protect their civil liberties and help defend others during the uncertain political environment.

Panelists represented the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, Planned Parenthood of Illinois, Equality Illinois and the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights. Each panelist, along with the three elected officials, said they believe President Donald Trump’s administration poses a threat to civil liberties, but plenty of people and organizations stand ready to help those who feel under attack.

“These are times when we need to be vigilant, when we need to pay attention,” Gabel said. “We need to be present.”

Khadine Bennett, associate legislative director of the ACLU of Illinois, said the various executive actions the Trump administration has already taken — including restricting the entry of refugees and immigrants, and rescinding guidelines from President Barack Obama allowing transgender students to use the school bathroom of their choice — are “appalling.” She added, however, that the amount of people who are protesting and attending events like Monday’s discussion is encouraging.

Additionally, Bennett said several organizations in Illinois are pushing for legislation in the state that would protect citizens that could be affected by Trump’s policies.

“We will leave no one behind in our work,” Bennett said.

Brigid Leahy, director of public policy at Planned Parenthood of Illinois, said this may be the “most threatening time for women’s health and Planned Parenthood in our 100-year history.”

“If you look at the cabinet that has been put in place, if you look at who is leading this charge, I don’t see a lot of interest in making sure that the very real needs of women are being watched out for,” Leahy said.

Leahy said her organization is fighting federal efforts to defund Planned Parenthood, also addressing the criticism from opponents of Planned Parenthood who say other sources can provide the same services for women that Planned Parenthood offers. Leahy said half of Planned Parenthood’s health centers are in “medically underserved communities” with few hospitals or no affordable health care options.

“In some communities, we are the only providers of certain services.” Leahy said.

Americans in the LGBTQ community are also feeling threatened, said Mike Ziri, director of public policy at Equality Illinois, an LGBTQ rights group. Trump’s revocation last week of a transgender bathroom order issued under former President Barack Obama suggests that transgender students are not valued in Trump’s administration, Ziri said.

“It sends a very harmful and mean-spirited message that transgender kids aren’t even safe in their schools, which is the place they should be safe,” Ziri said.

However, Ziri said Title IX “is the law” and protects transgender students. Courts have largely held up Title IX provisions in past cases, he added.

Despite fears many have over deportations, many people have stood up to protect refugees and immigrants, said Fred Tsao, senior policy counsel for ICIRR. He said it is important to remember the constitutional rights people have.

“The U.S. Constitution guarantees basic rights to everybody in the United States,” Tsao said. “The Constitution does not say these rights are guaranteed only to citizens or only to people who are lawfully here.”

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