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:
- 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?
- What evidence do we have that rejecting refugees from these countries will make us demonstrably safer?
- 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?
- 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.
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.
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.
If you’ve read this blog or follow me on social media you might already know that I wasn’t a Trump supporter. I was raised to be suspicious of people who lied, cheated, and stole their way to the top. I was disgusted and terrified by the words he chose to use when talking about my fellow Americans from marginalized communities: People of color, LGBT people, the disabled, women, and especially Muslims. To me, most of his policy statements, in the rare event he gave one, rang as flippant and rooted in racist ideas about people’s motives. What makes me most nervous is that we have no idea what to expect from him other than making America great again. We learned on the campaign trail that we can’t trust the sincerity of anything he says. If he says something racist, he’s just joking. If he says something sexist like how he “grabs [women] by the pussy,” it’s “just locker room talk.” So is he serious about the wall? About banning Muslims from entering the country? About making immigrants walk around with special ID cards? We have no idea. I wasn’t a Romney or McCain supporter in the last two elections, but at least we know what we were in for if they won.
I’ve been ruminating about what all of this unease means for me, my job, and my family these last few days. I think back on the first day I sat down in the event center at 1800 F Street to take my oath of office, and the pride I felt saying those words:
I, Gregory Boone, do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.
I never really thought I’d be able to serve the federal government. I’m not a scientist or engineer or a lawyer and the jobs I did qualify for seemed out of reach. Once I was there, despite feeling really lucky and proud to walk past his portrait every morning, I didn’t really think of my job in terms of being an Obama Administration official but a US government official. There were plenty of things I thought Obama was wrong about. Trade policy, abuse of intelligence agencies, even, to some extent, healthcare. This nuance of working for the executive branch but not the administration is important and difficult to grasp to those of us who are new to it. I’ve been leaning on the wisdom of others these last few days in attempt to gain some perspective.
Susan Hennessey in the Lawfare blog talks about the ethics of serving in Trump’s National Security Agency. She served for several years and strongly believes that “an empowered intelligence community makes the world safer for people and ideas,” and “whoever the President may be, it is a critical authority necessary to keep Americans safe.” There are limits and bounds on that mission that are important for the health of our republic and we are part of the system of checks and balances. Therefore:
“It is the duty of rational, reasonable experts to serve their country in a Trump administration, even at the political level, if asked. If he will accept it, Trump must have wise and informed counsel. Americans will be served by principled individuals in government defending our Constitution and role in the world. Those who stay home to satisfy ideals of personal integrity will not make our world safer.”
This cuts at the core of the oath of office. We public servants are the front line between the government and the people of this country. We were hired to put our skill and expertise to work for the American people and the Constitution.
As Jen Pahlka, CEO of Code for America, wrote this week, we need to continue to “do everything they can to serve [our] real bosses: the American public.” Jen’s thoughts, and my colleague Noah Kunin’s, touched closer to the work we we do at 18F. Even if some of us came to 18F because they were inspired by President Obama, we ultimately came driven by the principle that the government should work better for it’s people.
At 18F we like to say we’re taking back the term “good enough for government work,” reclaiming it to mean we strive for the highest possible quality in everything we do. We can disagree with politicians about what government should be doing, and those politicians will certainly tell us what that answer is for the next 4 years, but we’re here to do. We’re here to do well and do good.
So, like Noah Kunin, I’m staying. I’m staying because Jen Pahlka is right, this is a movement happening at every level of government here in the US and around the world. We get nowhere if we don’t show up. I hoped I could serve the US government beyond my term, and I continue to hope for that.
I’m staying. I’m finishing my coffee.