Mormon scholars fight against Trump travel ban

A group of 19 scholars of Mormon history filed a brief in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals over President Donald Trump’s blocked travel ban, pointing out similarities between the treatment of Mormon immigrants in the 19th century and Muslim immigrants today.

“I was very concerned about the administration’s targeting of Muslims,” Nate Oman, a professor of law at the College of William & Mary and main author of the brief told CNN. Government targeting of Mormons in the 19th century was the closest historical parallel, he said, and “I thought it would be useful to look at that story and bring it to the court’s attention.

Mob violence drove early Mormons from their homes in Missouri and Illinois in the 1830s and 1840s, and for decades after, the federal government attempted to restrict Mormon voting rights and halt foreign Mormon converts from immigrating to the US.

“The Mormon experience illustrates the harms that result from the government targeting a particular religion,” the brief reads. “The federal government’s actions against Mormons occurred at a time when First Amendment jurisprudence was in its infancy and the law blessed government actions that today would be blatantly unconstitutional.”

Oman believes attempts to restrict Muslims from entering the country are based in fear, a similarity to Mormonism. “I think most of it is fear as a result of 9/11 and terrorist attacks,” he said. “People assume Muslims are dangerous.”

The brief, filed last week, calls for the court to “prevent harms of the kind committed against the Mormon community in the past.”

Trump has attempted twice to pass travel bans by executive order, and both have been blocked by federal courts. His second, a revised ban that singled out six countries in the Middle East and Africa with Muslim-majority populations, was blocked hours before it was supposed to go into effect last month.

US District Court Judge Derrick Watson, who blocked the revised ban, said the intent was to stop Muslims from entering the country, citing Trump’s campaign promise for a “complete and total shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.”

Trump called the block “unprecedented judicial overreach.”

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post incorrectly attributed a quote to W. Paul Reeve.

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Trump shifts US focus onto immigration-related crime

The Department of Homeland Security on Wednesday unveiled a new office to focus on victims of crimes linked to immigrants — the fulfillment of President Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration.

In announcing the office, the Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement office, or VOICE, at an event stocked with families of victims, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly emphasized the goal is to give resources and support to families that he said previously felt unheard.

Trump has repeatedly focused on criminal elements in public statements about immigrants, including Trump’s famous presidential announcement speech in which he referred to Mexicans as criminals and “rapists.”

Kelly said the point of the effort is to say that any crimes committed by undocumented immigrants could be prevented if they were never allowed in the US. He told the relatives of crime victims in the front row, “my heart goes out to you.”

“All crime is terrible, but these victims as represented here are unique — and too often ignored,” Kelly said. “They are casualties of crimes that should never have taken place — because the people who victimized them often times should never have been in the country.”

The office will also cover cover victims of any crime with an immigration nexus, officials said. That would cover any potentially removable individual, which include legal permanent residents and visa holders who commit crimes.

The executive order, signed in January, also called for the office to issue reports once a quarter “studying the effects of the victimization by criminal aliens present in the United States.”

Officials said the office is being stood up with resources that all existed previously, but centralizes them in one place to make it easier for victims to find.

“Until today, those victimized at the hands of illegal aliens have had no point of contact in our federal government dedicated to this issue and to them. Families would call and would send letters all over Washington hoping that someone in some agency would respond,” Kelly said, acknowledging several of the affected family members in the audience by name.

Critics say VOICE addresses a problem that doesn’t really exist. Pro-immigration organizations point to their published studies that show immigrants commit crimes at a lower rate than the general public. The American Immigration Council studied the census numbers from 1980 to 2010, and found that among men ages 18 to 49, immigrants were one-half to one-fifth as likely to be incarcerated as those born in the United States.

An existing community engagement office will remain in place, but many of its staff and resources will now be under VOICE.

All 21 community relations officers that exist now will be assigned to VOICE while continuing their other responsibilities, and 27 existing victims assistance specialists under Homeland Security Investigations will also support the office. There will also be support from an Immigrations and Customs Enforcement call center. An ICE official said the agency is “using existing resources” to determine what needs are and then will add next steps from there.

“We’re not sure of the volume that we’re going to see here, so this is a first step,” the official said. “This is not what the office will end up looking like. This may look different in a year, this may look different in two years, but this is a first step.”

The office will also not exclude helping undocumented immigrants who are themselves victims of crimes, an FAQ distributed at the event — where Kelly did not take questions — made clear.

“Data collected by the agency is focused on the records of those ICE arrests or removes, not on victims,” the document said. “ICE will not inquire as to a victim’s immigration status through VOICE.”

One new creation for the office is the Victim Information and Notification Exchange, or VINE, system that will allow people to register online to get information on specific criminals. The system will require them to declare themselves as a victim and will not have further verification on who is using the system.

This is similar to a system ICE has had for 10 years which allowed a manual registration system for victims to register with them to get updates on the crimes and criminals they have an interest in. The number of people registered for that over the past 10 years has been roughly 400-450, officials said.

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Trump unveils tax plan, proposes dramatic cuts for companies

President Donald Trump proposed dramatic cuts in the taxes paid by corporations big and small Wednesday in an overhaul his administration says will spur economic growth and bring jobs and prosperity to America’s middle class. But his ambitious plan alarmed lawmakers who worry about ballooning federal deficits.

The plan would also reduce investment and estate taxes aimed at the wealthy. But administration officials said that action on other key tax code elements would ensure the plan would largely help the middle class instead of the affluent.

The White House has yet to spell out how much of a hole the tax cuts could create in the federal budget, maintaining that the resulting economic growth would reduce — if not eliminate — the risk of a soaring deficit.

The outlined changes to the tax code are the most concrete guidance so far on Trump’s vision for spurring job growth.

“The president owns this plan; don’t be mistaken,” said Gary Cohn, director of the White House National Economic Council.

Cohn said Trump and his administration recognize they have to be “good stewards” of the federal budget. But the plan as it currently stands could cause the federal deficit to climb, unless it sparks a massive and lasting wave of growth that most economists say is unlikely.

The threat of a rising budget deficit could erode support for the plan among lawmakers in Trump’s own Republican Party. Administration officials intend to hash out additional details with members of the House and Senate in the coming weeks for what would be the first massive rewrite of the U.S. tax code since 1986.

“We know this is difficult,” Cohn said. “We know what we’re asking for is a big bite.”

As Cohn and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin explained it in an interview, the plan would reduce the number of personal income tax brackets to three from seven: rates of 10 percent, 25 percent and 35 percent. It would double the standard deduction for married couples to $24,000, while keeping deductions for charitable giving and mortgage interest payments. The administration plans to provide tax relief for families with child care expenses, too, although the specifics have yet to be included.

 

 

On the other hand, the proposal would also trim other deductions utilized by wealthier Americans. This would include deductions for state and local tax payments, a change that could alienate support from lawmakers in states such as California and New York with higher state taxes.

“It’s not the federal government’s job to be subsidizing the states,” Mnuchin said.

The administration has emphasized that the plan was focused on simplifying the tax code and helping middle class Americans. The median U.S. household income is slightly above $50,000 annually.

Still, the proposal could reduce the tax burden for the wealthy as well.

It would also repeal the estate tax, the catch-all alternative minimum tax and the 3.8 percent tax on investment income from President Barack Obama’s health care law. The proposal has yet to be vetted for its precise impact on top earners, as several details are still being determined.

On the corporate side, the top marginal tax rate would fall from 35 percent to 15 percent. Small businesses that account for their owners’ personal incomes would see their top tax rate go from 39.6 percent to the proposed corporate tax rate of 15 percent. Mnuchin stressed that the change for small business owners – a group that under the current definition could include doctors, lawyers and even major real estate companies – would be done to ensure that wealthier Americans could not exploit the change to pay less in taxes.

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Trump to review power to establish federal lands

President Donald Trump will order a review of the 1906 law that gives the president of the United States power to set aside lands for federal protection, administration officials tell CNN, setting into motion a process that could see the Trump administration rescind the protection of lands designated by former President Barack Obama.

Trump will sign the executive order Wednesday at the Interior Department, Secretary Ryan Zinke told reporters. The order could lead to the reshaping of roughly 30 national monuments that were designated by Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama after 1996.

At the heart of this proposal is Bears Ears National Monument, a 1.3-million-acre parcel of lands that includes world-class rock climbing, age-old cliff dwellings and land sacred to Pueblo Indians that Obama designated a monument in 2016.

Zinke said Tuesday in a briefing with reporters that he will make a recommendation on the contested parcel of land in 45 days and later provided Trump will a fuller report.

“We feel that the public, the people that monuments affect, should be considered and that is why the President is asking for a review of the monuments designated in the last 20 years,” Zinke said, adding that he believes the review is “long overdue.”

Utah Republicans, angry that Obama designated the land for federal protection, have called on the Trump administration to remove the protection and give the parcel back to the state — possibly to authorize drilling. But that action has been met with vocal opposition from environmental groups, outdoor outfitters and Native Americans who argue federal protection is not only better for the environment, but better for the economy in a rural, economically depressed area of the Beehive State.

“The policy is consistent with President Trump’s promise to give American’s a voice and make sure their voices are heard,” the interior secretary added, arguing that the order “restores the trust between local communities and Washington” and lets rural America know “states will have a voice” in land designation.

That argument is largely dismissed by the White House.

“Past administrations have overused this power and designated large swaths of land well beyond the areas in need of protection,” a White House official said Tuesday. “The Antiquities Act Executive Order directs the Department of the Interior to review prior monument designations and suggest legislative changes or modifications to the monument proclamations.”

The move by Trump will not resolve the Bears Ears issue. Instead, it will set up a process to review the designation and make a decision at a later date. But groups that support keeping Bears Ears in federal control believe the Trump administration’s decision, led by Zinke, is the first step in the process to give the land back to Utah.

Rose Marcario, president and CEO of the outdoor outfitter Patagonia, said the review “is an assault on America’s most treasured lands and oceans.”

“Bears Ears and other national monuments were designated after significant community input because they are a critical part of our national heritage and have exceptional ecological characteristics worth protecting for future generations,” Marcario said. “It’s extremely disturbing to see the Trump administration apparently laying the groundwork to remove protections on our public lands.”

Zinke said he is prepared for legal challenges from environmental groups — “I am not in fear of getting sued, I get sued all the time,” he said — but acknowledged that it is “untested” whether the President has the power to shrink public lands by using the Antiquities Act.

And there are likely to be legal challenges. Marcario told CNN Patagonia was “preparing to take every step necessary, including possible legal action” in order to protect Bears Ears and other national monuments.

Republicans in Utah, including Gov. Gary Herbert, have asked the Trump administration to rescind the National Monument status for Bear Ears, arguing the designation infringes on their state’s rights. Herbert signed a resolution in February that urged Trump to rescind Bear Ears’ status.

Led by Utah Reps. Jason Chaffetz and Chris Stewart in Washington, along with Sen. Orrin Hatch, Republicans are urging Congress to withhold money for the national monument in response to the designation.

Mining companies have also been eager for a decision. EOG Resources, a Texas-based company, was recently approved to drill near Bears Ears. And activists are worried that the area, which is rich in natural resources, could be offered up to oil companies if it is de-listed.

Hatch said in response to Trump’s forthcoming order that he is “committed to rolling back the egregious abuse of the Antiquities Act to serve far-left special interests.”

Hatch’s opponents argue that withholding funds or rescinding the Antiquities Act order would impact San Juan County, Utah, where more than 28% of the population lives below the poverty level.

The group Public Land Solutions, a pro-federal designation group, said in a recent report that the economic benefits of Bears Ears to the area should outweigh any benefits with mineral or oil extraction.

“Show me the money,” said Ashley Korenblat from Public Land Solutions. “We are confident that a fact-based review of the national parks and public lands protected as monuments by the Antiquities Act will show year-over-year economic growth.”

Bears Ears is not the only site that has experienced a push to give up federal protection.

Republicans in Maine, including Gov. Paul LePage, have asked Trump to stop national monument status for Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, an expansive piece of land that includes much of the Penobscot River watershed. Like Bears Ears, that parcel was designated a national monument by Obama in 2016.

The order will review any monument created between Grand Staircase Escalante in September 1996 to Bears Ears in 2016 that impact more than 100,000 acres or more. Under this designation, Katahdin Woods and Waters — an expansive piece of land in Maine that includes much of the Penobscot River watershed that was enacted by Obama in 2016 — would not be reviewed, despite the calls.

The monuments the Trump administration will review include Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and Basin and Range National Monument, as well as a host of Pacific Ocean monuments, including the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument. All but one of the monuments set to be reviewed is west of the Mississippi.

Should Trump and his administration opt to de-list these sites, they would be going back on some off their promises to both voters and members of Congress who oversaw Zinke’s confirmation process.

“I don’t like the idea because I want to keep the lands great,” Trump said in January 2015 during an interview with Field & Stream when asked about transferring public lands to state control. Donald Trump, Jr. has also said he is in favor of “refunding” federal lands to keep them out of private control.

Those views aren’t in line with much Republican orthodoxy, which has long said the federal government should control less land, not more.

But Trump isn’t the only Republican who expressed this view: Zinke also told senators during his confirmation process that he was against giving public lands back to the states.

“I am absolutely against transfer and sale of public lands. I can’t be more clear,” he said when Sen. Maria Cantwell, a Washington Democrat, asked if, under Trump, federal land would be “unbelievable attack by those who would like to take these public lands away from us and turn them over back to states.”

Zinke stood by that statement Tuesday, arguing that it is wrong to suggest the review will lead to the transfer of public lands.

“I think that argument is false,” he said, blaming “modern media” for the polarized views on Bears Ears.

Cantwell said Tuesday that Trump’s decision to de-list would be “illegal” and faulted Zinke and others for doing the “bidding” for coal and natural resource companies.

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Budget director: Trump would sign a funding bill without wall money

With a potential government shutdown set for Friday at midnight, White House budget director Mick Mulvaney confirmed on Tuesday that President Donald Trump would, in fact, sign a funding bill that did not provide money to build his border wall.

“The offer that we received from the Democrats the last couple days included a good bit of money for border security,” Mulvaney said on CNN’s “The Lead with Jake Tapper.”

When Tapper asked if Trump would sign the bill even without funding for a border wall, a clear administration priority in early talks, Mulvaney said “yeah.”

He added that the border security money in the bill would allow Trump “to follow through on his promise to make that border more secure.” However, he said the administration was not backing down from its demand for border wall funding.

“We just thought that it would be a good first step to get these things that everybody agrees on and take that idea of a government shutdown off the table,” Mulvaney said.

The discussion for what to do in fiscal year 2018, which starts October 1, starts “as soon as this bill is signed,” he added.

But despite the White House tabling the border wall money request on this bill, Mulvaney said avoiding a government shutdown was not yet a sure thing. He said they had yet to get a response after they told Democrats they would accept a bill without wall funding.

“We’ve not heard anything from them today,” Mulvaney said. “We thought we had a deal as of yesterday.”

Trump pledged throughout his campaign to construct a wall between the United States and Mexico. He insisted that Mexico would pay for the wall. In his campaign’s “Contract with the American Voter,” Trump promised he would get Congress to pass a bill fully funding his wall, with the caveat that Mexico would reimburse the United States for it, in the first 100 days of his presidency.

In March, the administration requested money from Congress as a “down payment” on the wall, which Trump said would be recouped later from Mexico.

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