A letter to the Colorado Congressional delegation regarding the Muslim immigration ban

Below is a letter sent by email to Colorado’s Senators Bennet and Gardner and Congresswoman DeGette on January 30, 2017.

I’m writing today about President Trump’s executive action barring immigration from seven countries in the middle east, suspending the refugee admissions system, suspending the Syrian refugee program and lowering the total number of refugees the United States will accept.

The totality of this order is alarming, but particularly the complete ban on arrivals from seven countries: Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. This overly vague order has barred legal residents of this country from entering it. This includes green card holders, people who are coming to our great country to work and build a life — maybe a better one than they left behind. The ban is also singles out these seven countries despite there being little evidence of any compelling national security interest.

The arguments from the president’s campaign and his supporters in Congress always said that those who were here, who waited in line, who filed their paperwork, should be allowed to stay. They came to our country, followed the law, and should be praised. These are precisely the people who were trying to get through airports on Saturday night — people who were returning to their jobs, their families, and their neighbors in Colorado and across the country. They have documents stamped in their passport or tucked into their wallets that grants them entry to do these jobs, to love these families, and to befriend these neighbors. Endowed in those documents is an agreement, with strict terms, about the terms and duration of their stay.

Immigrants to the United States go through one of the most rigorous application processes in the world. Refugees go through an even longer ordeal, they submit biometric data and identifying documents, undergo thorough security checks by the FBI, NCIC, State Department, and Department of Homeland Security — and that’s just the beginning. Refugees from Syria are fleeing terrorism, fleeing war, feeling corrupt government. Some of them arrived in the United States this weekend only to be told by our government: You are not welcome here.

Senator, I have a few questions for you about this travel ban:

  1. It’s been said these countries were on a list of places with connections to terrorism from the Obama administration. Why only these seven countries and not others with connections to terrorism in their region like Egypt, Pakistan, or Saudi Arabia?
  2. What evidence do we have that rejecting refugees from these countries will make us demonstrably safer?
  3. Why has the State Department suddenly stopped honoring visas and green cards given to immigrants who filed their paperwork and waited sometimes years to get them?
  4. Will individuals with dual citizenship in these seven countries be bared from re-entry into the United States if they travel abroad?

More broadly, I hope that as you and your colleagues in Congress will consider what message this action sends to individuals from around the world who look to the United States as a land of opportunity. What message does this action send to the Mexican immigrant who has spent months and hundreds of dollars traveling back and forth from the U.S. consulate to complete paperwork for four month work visa? What message does it send to the next war-torn country where the best choice is to leave everything behind and seek safety abroad? What does it mean to see “Give me your tired, your poor; your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” on the Statue of Liberty if you are sent right back home?

Thank you for taking the time to read this message, and for your service to the State of Colorado.

Sincerely,
Greg Boone

A letter to Senator Cory Gardner regarding Betsy DeVos: Nominee for Secretary of Education

Sen. Gardner,
I’m writing today to share a few thoughts on the nomination of Betsy DeVos for the post of Secretary of Education. After watching segments of her nomination hearing and reading her responses on a variety of issues I am convinced she is uniquely unqualified to fill this position. While she demonstrated a general lack of knowledge about the federal laws, including the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), and a flippancy toward existing whistleblower protection laws that ensure federal dollars are not being misused, her answers about student loans and higher education financial assistance were particularly troubling to me.

I am currently among the large and growing swath of Americans who carry a large sum of student loan debt. Student loans helped me buy books and pay for room and board for four years of undergraduate education but the bulk of my debt came from my decision to attend graduate school. When I graduated in 2013, I had amassed nearly $150,000 in debt to the Department of Education. Over the last four years, I have paid back about an entire year’s worth of tuition, and still owe the government more than $100,000.

The reason it felt safe to take out this much debt in order to attend school was precisely because of the federal programs available to help me pay them back. One of those programs is the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, which helps students with sizable amounts of debt take jobs in non-profit and public service organizations, rewarding us for taking low-paying jobs that support our local communities while still staying on top of our debt. Another is the Teacher Loan Forgiveness program, which similarly rewards individuals who commit to teaching in K12 schools for at least 10 years. The most impactful, and complex, of the federal student loan benefits is the variety of repayment options. These, and especially the income based plans, ensure that borrowers with high amounts of debt can take risks and live their life without risking default. My wife and I were able to afford the house we just bought because of the lessened debt burden we bear as a result of being part of these programs. We are able to consider having a child because these programs ensure that if we do, we’ll have enough in the bank to continue to support our family.

Some might look at these programs and see them as ways of getting out of paying a debt we owe, but they are not. These programs do the opposite: They make repayment possible. Public servants like myself only earn debt forgiveness if they make 120 on-time, regular payments on their loans. If I qualify for this program, the amount forgiven will be small compared to the amount of interest I have repaid on my loan to the Department of Education. The repayment programs still obligate the borrower to pay some money every month, it’s just capped to a percentage of their family income. For many like myself, these programs are the only means of survival. Without them, we would have to put on hold large, potentially risky decisions like taking a low paying job, starting a business, or starting a family.

Not only did Ms. DeVos never take out loans for her education, she doesn’t know anybody who did. She grew up a kind of wealthy most people can hardly even imagine, so did her children, her friends, and family. She doesn’t know any Pell Grant recipients, and in her testimony on the Hill this week, did not demonstrate she recognizes the importance of ED’s role in helping people who aren’t billionaires afford college. These programs are not perfect but they are helping millions of Americans, young and old, afford higher education. We need a leader in the Department of Education who will work with us borrowers to improve these programs and keep us from default. In her testimony yesterday, Ms. DeVos demonstrated she is not aware of these programs, and cannot, or will not, have the empathy with borrowers required to make thoughtful decisions about the future of these programs.

The Secretary of Education does not need to be intimately familiar with every one of the Department’s programs. But the Secretary does need curiosity, thoughtfulness, and empathy for the individuals who are impacted by the Department every day. Her testimony demonstrated a lack of all three. For these reasons, I urge you to vote against her confirmation.

Thank you for taking the time to read this letter.

Sincerely,
Greg Boone
Denver, CO

A letter to Senator Cory Gardner regarding conflicts of interest in the incoming White House

Senator Gardner,
My name is Greg Boone, a resident of Northwest Denver and a proud public servant in our federal government since 2014. I’m writing you today because your voicemail has been full for several days and I got a busy signal when calling your local office here in Denver. It should go without saying but, for the record, I make these remarks freely as a concerned citizen, independent of the agency I serve. I’ve been told that email is less effective than phone calling, and I sincerely hope that is not true for your office.

I’m writing today about conflicts of interest, specifically as they relate to President Donald Trump. The president is not bound to the same ethics laws I am as a public servant, but he is bound, like all of us and every president before him, by the Emoluments Clause of the U.S. Constitution. As you know, the clause expressly prohibits anybody holding office in the United States from accepting “any present, emolument, office, or title, of any kind whatever, from any king, prince, or foreign state.”

This clause was written into the constitution to protect our republic from the influence of foreign governments. It’s also the bedrock of a strong set of anti-corruption laws this country has built itself on since its founding. Divestiture from businesses owned or operated by the president is a key component of avoiding a violation of this clause precisely because any representative of a foreign government who does business with those companies would constitute an “emolument,” or profit from a foreign government.

With President Trump, this means any foreign officials visiting Washington who stay at Trump’s hotel in the Old Post Office Building, will be giving an emolument to the President of the United States. Because he has properties around the world, even when foreign leaders are not traveling in the United States, he’ll be profiting from their stay. When President Trump goes the the G8, the UN, or any convention of world leaders, foreign governments have an opportunity to curry favor with him by staying in his hotels.

In his press conference this week he offered a possible solution to the DC hotel’s problem: All profits from the Trump Hotel in DC will be donated to the U.S. Treasury. This is hardly a solution and perhaps makes the problem even worse. Now, when a foreign leader is coming to Washington, they have to think about their choice of where to stay and whether their decision not to stay in a Trump Hotel will be seen as a choice to not donate to the U.S. Treasury.

Never before in history have all foreign diplomats had to think about the politics of how their hotel choice will affect their standing with the U.S. Government. The only way to avoid it would be for the president to relinquish complete and total, and divest himself from his companies. Every other president in history has been held to this standard, and it’s up to the Congress to hold President Trump to the same.

Some in the Administration, Congress, and in the press seem to be OK with these conflicts of interest. Even if you think they’re OK, you should be demanding his divesture because of the precedent it will set going forward. The next president could own a business that supports a known terrorist organization and use the same arguments President Trump is using to retain ownership in them. Will it hurt his stake in a business he’s owned and built for decades, maybe, but that hardly seems too price to pay for the stability of our republic.

If Congress doesn’t demand his divestiture now, they need to be watching the money flowing from foreign governments into the Trump Organization and making absolutely certain that no emoluments have been accepted without Congressional consent. If Congress doesn’t do this, you can be sure that the voters will.

Thank you for your service to the State of Colorado, and to the United States of America.

Sincerely,
Greg Boone
Denver, CO

What I learned not reading books by white dudes in 2016

In 2016, I didn’t read any books by white men. I already knew so many, that I decided to press pause on them for the year. I looked at the books I’d read in the last few years since grad school and ones I’d put on the ever-growing reading list, and realized that many were white, mostly Christian or Athiest, men. I’m a white man who grew up Christian and drifted toward Atheism as I grew older, why only read books that reinforce that point of view. Perhaps, I thought, there was a lot to learn from people who didn’t look like, sound, or grow up the way I did.

And oh, was I right.

I started this discipline with Reservation Blues by Sherman Alexie, the first novel by a Native American writer I think I’ve ever read — certainly the first I’ve read as an adult. Alexie is a wonderful writer I had known about but never gotten a chance to read until last winter when I picked up this novel. Other books of his, The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven and The Toughest Indian in the World, are already on my list for 2017.

Another book that impacted me this year was The Bean Trees, by Barbara Kingsolver. I didn’t realize it at the time, but this was a great book to read while moving west. Her whip smart characters and their observations and timeless insights into a world marked with uncertainty and impossible choices made this a provocative and enjoyable read.

Perhaps the most powerful books I read were the ones I ended the year with: Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates.

Americanah tells a story of a woman who emigrated from Nigeria to the United States in pursuit of education. But as the main character, Ifemlu, says, books are never ‘about’ just one thing. This book is about hair, it’s about love, about racism, wellness, politics, media, culture, internationalism and survival in the United States in the 21st Century. As I read this book, I thought about interactions I had with international students at the small, liberal arts college I attended. Did I lead with questions, or by asserting some sort of worldliness I wasn’t entitled to? Did I make false equivalencies like saying the week I spent in a German high school is the same as their leaving their home country to go to university in rural Minnesota? Did I ignore geographic and cultural differences between places rather than showing a genuine curiosity about their home country? What about in high school? The Somali students I went to school with might have been refugees, but they might have been kids like Ifemlu’s cousin, Dike — children of parents who left for one reason or another. They were harassed, taunted, abused by our peers. What was their broader experience in suburban Minnesota? I don’t have answers to these questions but Americanah has made me think more carefully about how I can listen better, learn harder, and be a better citizen.

Between the World and Me I think deserves a second read. It’s a dramatic letter to his son who recently witnessed the justice system decline to press charges against the police offer who murdered Michael Brown. Ta-Nehisi Coates’ perspective is scholarly. He shows himself persistently pondering the question: How do we protect, affirm, and celebrate black bodies? The black body, the individual and the collective, permeates the book and offers a forceful argument that they have always been systematically used, pillaged, and destroyed to advance the economic and political agenda of people who “need to be white.” Reading it showed me the world of decisions my parents never had to make, daily considerations about my personal security I never have to think about, and worries I’ll never have as a future parent, but ones that black parents and their children have to struggle with every day.

All of these books provide a much needed perspective in a world where Americans of color, immigrants, and religious minorities are inundated with stereotypes and daily inundated with bigotry and the threat of hate crimes. The books are invitations for empathy for those of us from outside those communities. Yes, these books make observations about white people, and those observations might make you uncomfortable if you’re a white person reading them. That’s OK. Really, fellow white folks, it’s OK to be uncomfortable. The reality is that the people of color around you are probably just as uncomfortable on a weekly, daily, maybe even hourly basis. Think about how you can use your discomfort to ask better questions, and be a more proactive ally for all in your community.

I thoroughly enjoyed my year of avoiding white male authors. I enjoyed it so much I also branched out of my other media bubbles to try and bring more diversity to what I watched and listened to. Podcasts I’ve discovered as a result include Buzzfeed’s Another Round and See Something, Say Something, Call your Girlfriend, 2 Dope Queens, and Good Muslim, Bad Muslim. These podcasts might not be for me, but as an outsider they, too, are invitations for empathy. In 2017, I want to continue to further diversify my media consumption. If you have a good recommendation, please let me know on Facebook, Twitter, or drop me an email.