By a majority vote, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights has launched a probe of the Trump administration’s handling of civil rights enforcement across at least seven agencies.
In a statement released Friday, the bipartisan commission tasked with advising the president and Congress on civil rights matters cited “concern with the Administration’s proposed budget cuts to and planned staff losses in numerous programs and civil rights offices across the federal government that enforce our nation’s federal civil rights laws.”
The budget cuts would lead to “a dangerous reduction of civil rights enforcement across the country, leaving communities of color, LGBT people, older people, people with disabilities, and other marginalized groups exposed to greater risk of discrimination,” the commission wrote.
The commission, created by the Civil Rights Act, will end its review in 2019.
The commission’s announcement highlighted several specific agencies it will probe, including the departments of justice, education, labor, housing and urban development, and health and human services, as well as the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Legal Services Corporation.
At the Justice Department, the civil rights commission accused the Trump administration of “minimizing its civil rights efforts,” including the fact that the department’s Civil Rights Division priorities do not mention combating discrimination against the LGBT community or people with disabilities.
“Tellingly, the Civil Rights Division’s budget request calls for cutting 121 positions, including 14 attorneys,” the commission said.
At the Department of Education, run by Secretary Betsy DeVos, the civil rights watchdog noted that the proposed budget targeted staff cuts of 7% at the department’s Office for Civil Rights.
According to the commission:
The proposed budget itself reflects that the cutbacks would result in an untenable caseload of 42 cases per staff member. These proposed cuts are particularly troubling in light of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ repeated refusal in Congressional testimony and other public statements to commit that the Department would enforce federal civil rights laws.
ProPublica this week published an internal memo circulated by the Department of Education’s acting assistant secretary for civil rights that discouraged regional directors from enforcing guidelines set by the administration of President Barack Obama. As Fusion’s Emma Roller noted, according to the memo, “federal civil rights overseers should not take on civil rights complaints on a case-by-case basis, but only find fault if they can prove a school or other institution has systemically oppressed a group of students.”
According to ProPublica, Commission on Civil Rights chair Catherine Lhamon, who previously led the Education Department’s civil rights office, called the changes “stunning” and “dangerous.”
Fusion also reported this week that U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has been scaling back federal oversight of local police departments, opening the door to police misconduct targeting African Americans and victims of sexual assault.
The commission also condemned Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers for targeting courthouses in their ongoing roundup of undocumented immigrants across the country. The commission called the tactic “a dangerous impediment to access to justice for all Americans.”
At the Labor Department, the commission criticized a staff reduction at the department’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs of nearly 23%, and the merging of that office—which enforces civil rights law with federal contractors—with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. This would lead to “significant reductions in the capability to monitor civil rights compliance efforts among federal contractors,” the commission said.
At housing and urban development, Trump called for a 15% budget cut, which would lead to “billions of dollars of cuts to grant programs” that support development in vulnerable communities.
At the EPA, the commission will investigate how budget cuts, layoffs, and policy changes could disproportionately affect communities of color, low–income communities, and tribal communities.