COMMENTARY: Gov. Susana Martinez’s 2013 decision to freeze Medicaid funding for 15 New Mexico health organizations is one of the most destructive government actions I’ve witnessed. Without warning, she unnecessarily put most of those organizations out of business, cost health-care workers their jobs, and disrupted services for tens of thousands of the most fragile people in our state.
President Donald Trump’s Jan. 27 executive order banning refugees, which also impacted many other visa and green card holders, reminds me of Martinez’s Medicaid freeze because of the unnecessary crisis it created and Trump’s callous attitude about the damage it caused.
The immediacy of the order’s implementation, like Martinez’s funding freeze, created chaos. People were in the air when Trump signed his order. Some were sent back home when they landed at U.S. airports. Others were blocked at foreign airports. The order separated families and likely put refugees at risk.
After a judge temporarily halted Trump’s order on Friday, people rushed to airports. The New York Times told people’s stories: Somalis “at a sweltering refugee camp on the Kenya-Somalia border” who cleared security and medical checks and were getting ready to fly; a medical student from Iran who, in Pittsburgh, “finally got back to school after a chaotic journey that left him sleeping on a chair for four days;” a six-year-old boy in New York sprinting to hug a family friend who was “marooned for a week” in Sudan.
Trump, meanwhile, complained, lashed out and deflected, which is similar to what Martinez’s administration did in response to criticism of her Medicaid freeze. While the media told stories about people impacted by Trump’s ban, the president tweeted that there are “a lot of bad ‘dudes’ out there.” He said giving advance notice about the order would have created “a rush into our country.”
Trump should have apologized. He instead dug in his heels in spite of the obvious: Even U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, a New Mexico Republican and Trump supporter, said the order’s implementation was “poorly executed.”
People deserved a day or two of notice so they didn’t get on planes. The idea that such a heads-up would give terrorists time to apply and gain legal access to the United States defies logic.
Whether intentionally or due to ineptitude, Trump’s administration harmed people – some already living here legally, some who went through lengthy processes to get legal permission to come.
Government must take into account the people its actions impact. Dramatic policy changes should be implemented in the least painful way possible.
Martinez, when seeking to get tough on Medicaid fraud, was instead reckless. She could have initiated investigations into possible fraud without freezing funding. All 15 organizations were later cleared of wrongdoing. The governor’s knee-jerk reaction unnecessarily harmed New Mexicans needing treatment for drug addiction, suicidal thoughts and other issues. She shut down businesses and nonprofits in an economically depressed state that can’t afford to lose homegrown organizations and jobs. The behavioral health system still hasn’t recovered.
Trump is also acting recklessly. His order was implemented without concern for those who tried to enter the United States legally – which is how we’d all prefer people come here. Given his attitude and power, what’s the incentive to apply for a visa when you can instead pay a coyote, walk across the border, and keep your name off a government list?
If Trump keeps this up, there won’t be any incentive to follow our immigration laws.
Heath Haussamen is NMPolitics.net’s editor and publisher.