Housing discrimination is how Donald Trump got his start in public racism.
If you are unfamiliar with the history, the Department of Justice sued the Trump family real estate management company in 1973 for barring rentals from prospective non-white tenants in New York City. The government found that the Trump company did everything from marking up applications with a piece of paper marked “C” for “colored” to hiding applications altogether to simply lying and telling African Americans looking to live in a Trump building that there were no open apartments. One DOJ lawyer on the case, Elyse Goldweber, recalled that during a break in his deposition testimony the future president said to her: “You know, you don’t want to live with them either.”
Trump’s White House has adopted a similar approach to immigrants. After the president pushed out acting ICE director Ronald Vitiello and Homeland Security director Kirstjen Nielsen, the press uncovered various plans backed by the fanatical immigration restrictionist Stephen Miller that were extreme even for him. Just this week, the Washington Post uncovered a Miller-backed plan to lay siege to several major cities with arrests, en masse, of undocumented families in their homes. Another sadistic scheme called for releasing incarcerated migrants into “sanctuary cities” as political retribution against Trump’s opponents, as if their presence could be viewed as nothing but punishment. (We really should talk about Miller, and I say that as a concerned teacher might address parents about a child caught torturing woodland animals during recess.)
Neither of those ideas seem like they will come to pass. Another one backed by Miller that is quietly edging closer to reality, however, comes straight from Secretary Ben Carson and his Department of Housing and Urban Development. It is not as cinematically villainous as the catch-and-release or mass-raid plans. But it may actually happen, and it would potentially put tens of thousands of children on the street. And Carson knows this!
The secretary wants to use the ironically abbreviated Homeland Security program SAVE, or Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements, to verify citizenship of everyone in a household that receives assistance, even children. That would reportedly affect anywhere between 22,000 and 32,000 households (According to HUD, there are approximately 1.2 million total households living in public housing units.)
On April 18th, the very same day that Attorney General William Barr released a redacted version of Robert Mueller’s findings, Carson announced a proposal that would reinforce a 1980 law stating that undocumented immigrants are ineligible for any financial assistance related to public housing and make it even more strict. (That this new rule targets Hispanic, Latinx and Muslim communities goes without saying; if American public housing was traditionally packed with Scandinavian families, I sincerely doubt that Carson would be displaying the kind of haste manifested in the quote below.)
“Given the overwhelming demand for our programs, fairness requires that we devote ourselves to legal residents who have been waiting, some for many years, for access to affordable housing,” the secretary proclaimed in a statement. On its face, I can see that appealing to a lot of folks who are waiting in line. America First, right? But he prefaced that with this: “We need to make certain our scarce public resources help those who are legally entitled to it.”
As a consequence of tightening the 1980 law, Carson will end up evicting people who are, in fact, legally entitled to those public resources. HUD itself released an analysis last Friday, right as Carson officially published the text of the new rule in the Federal Register (public comment on it is open until July 9th.) Most significantly, it concluded that more than 55,000 children are in jeopardy of being displaced and potentially left without a home. Not that it should matter, but those are U.S. citizens and legal residents, children who were either born here or played by the rules that so many immigration hardliners insist upon.
Democrats are pressuring Carson to reverse course and withdraw the rule, and Politico reports that they plan to light him up in a House hearing next week. Twenty of them, led by Financial Services Committee chairwoman Maxine Waters, sent a letter to the secretary last Friday calling his move “consistent with the Trump administration’s previous egregious attempts to intimidate immigrant communities, separate families, and undermine American values.” More succinctly: Carson is now guilty of authoring the very discriminatory housing practices that, by the law of the land, he is charged with eliminating.
For all of the racial progress that America has made, consider this regression: More than 45 years after Trump and his father were busted by the federal government for shielding their properties from black tenants, Trump now has a black deputy trying to use the federal government to kick mostly brown and black citizens and legal immigrants out of their homes.
Some may label Carson a “sellout” for such work, but given that more than 55,000 kids may end up evicted, I see this more as a betrayal of his calling. He is not just the only African American member of Trump’s Cabinet. He also may be the only one who has taken the Hippocratic Oath. But Carson has long ceased being the famed neurosurgeon that I first learned of as a boy, the gifted hands that became an avatar of black uplift for so many of us. He is little more now than a pimp for his own folk tale, a Horatio Alger myth wrapped around a simplistic and materialistic idea of the American Dream. He is still evangelizing, in fact. It is a wonder why he ever bothered with public service and didn’t do something a little more suited to his talents, like prosperity gospel.
Perhaps he has that ready as a fallback. Perhaps Carson has made enough friends in his conservative cocoon to keep him happy and rich once he returns to the private sector after Trump’s first term ends. But of all the people who have wrecked their legacies for this president’s sake, his may be the most pathetic case. I have no sympathy for him, certainly not with those children poised to lose their homes. Carson is sacrificing tens of thousands of them at the altar for a man whose company once upon a time would likely have told him that there were no vacancies — or may have just hidden his rental application in a drawer, with that “C” for “colored.”
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