Commission on Civil Rights to probe Trump administration enforcement

The US Commission on Civil Rights announced Friday that it will investigate the Trump administration’s enforcement of civil rights, saying it has concerns about the impact of proposed budget and staff cuts across the federal government.

The independent government agency, which is tasked with monitoring federal civil rights enforcement, unanimously approved a two-year probe into whether the cuts will allow federal civil rights offices to perform their duties under the law.

“Along with changing programmatic priorities, these proposed cuts would result in 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 in a statement announcing the investigation.

The commission cited proposed staff decreases in several departments and agencies as well as the actions of the Justice Department and the Education secretary in its reasons for taking the assessment. The administration’s budget would reduce money for civil rights-related offices in several agencies, making cuts of 15% and 23% in some cases, and would eliminate the EPA’s Environmental Justice program and the nonprofit Legal Services Corp., which supports civil legal aid for low-income Americans, the commission said.

The Justice, Education and Labor departments and the Environmental Protection Agency were among seven agencies and departments that the commission listed as of special concern.

The commission also criticized the Just Department’s decision to place Immigrations and Customs Enforcement officers at courthouses, saying it was a “dangerous impediment to access to justice for all Americans.”

The agency also said the revised priorities of the department’s civil rights division “do not mention the need for constitutional policing or to combat discrimination against the LGBT community or people with disabilities,” adding that the budget request calls for cutting 121 positions, including 14 attorneys.

The commission also called out Education Secretary Betsy DeVos by name, citing her “repeated refusal” in congressional testimony to promise that the department would enforce federal civil rights laws. Further, the administration’s proposed budget would cut 46 staff positions at the department’s civil rights office, which investigates sex, race disability and age based complaints, the statement said.

Committee Chair Catherine E. Lhamon said in the statement on the investigation: “For 60 years, Congress has charged the commission to monitor federal civil rights enforcement and recommend necessary change. We take this charge seriously, and we look forward to reporting our findings to Congress, the President, and the American people.”

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the commission’s announcement.