FEATURE: What’s Next?

By on December 6, 2016

From immigration to health care, examining how a Donald Trump presidency may affect locals.


JACKSON HOLE, WY – Jackson Hole residents continue to sift through questions about the implications of the incoming Trump Administration. It seems that each day brings to light a new consideration, a fresh reason to wonder what might be in store for families and children, the community and the planet.

Many are confronting very real uncertainty about what new policies might mean here in this little Wyoming town. Some of the most significant concerns that have swirled around dinner tables and Facebook pages alike center on people’s suddenly diminished sense of personal safety and wellbeing. It’s not feasible to know precisely what promises the Trump Administration will and will not follow through on. For some, this unknown fuels anxiety.

While many concerns are valid, the nation will not wake up on January 21 to a world altered overnight. However, exploring major changes that may be on the horizon for locals is a useful exercise.


ObamaCare Concerns

Over the course of his campaign, Donald Trump repeatedly took aim at Obamacare, promising that its demise would be among his first efforts. A recent Politico poll indicated that repealing the ACA is his voters’ top priority—more important even than defeating ISIS. His website refers to the program as not only an “economic burden,” but also “terrible legislation” that is “collaps[ing] under its own weight.” However, after meeting with President Obama, Trump indicated that he would consider maintaining some of the Affordable Care Act’s current elements.

It’s not clear what, beyond ensuring individuals with pre-existing conditions have access to coverage, that might mean. His explanation doesn’t do much by way of adding clarity, either: “It will be just fine. That’s what I do, I do a good job. You know, I know how to do this stuff. We’re going to repeal it and replace it … It will be repealed and replaced and we’ll know. And it will be great health care for much less money,” he told to a CBS reporter in an interview. Last week, Trump named Tom Price (R-Ga.), an outspoken and intense critic of the ACA, to lead the Department of Health and Human Services. Many are interpreting this appointment as further evidence that the incoming administration is very serious about dismantling Obamacare.

A late November poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation indicated that only one-fourth of the general American public would like to see a full repeal of the Affordable Care Act; nearly 50 percent of those interviewed expressed a preference to either expand or maintain what Obamacare currently does. Even among proponents of abandoning the ACA entirely, 42 percent believe that the administration should develop a replacement prior to any repeal.

Julia Heemstra, wellness coordinator at St. John’s Medical Center, has been an official navigator for the ACA since its first implementation. She acutely recognized the array of negative impacts a repeal of the ACA could have on the Jackson Hole community. She’s quick to point out that the program was never designed to solve every problem with healthcare overnight, but that during its existence has served more than 27 million Americans, including many Jacksonites.

“The ACA has done a great job serving the population it was designed to serve. We really have seen incredible success in a certain section of the population,” Heemstra said.

Loss of the program altogether would have untold impacts for families and also program funding, Heemstra noted. “Hardly a day goes by that I’m not shocked by another area that could be affected in terms of both individual and community benefits,” she said.

However, Heemstra noted the direction or extent of changes coming to the ACA remain a question mark. “Assurances so far are impossible to bank on,” she said. “But changes are likely not coming during 2017.” She also noted that the 27 million Americans who are part of the program will probably not simply be abandoned; Heemstra thinks at the very least there is likely to be some kind of transition plan.

If you already have a policy through the ACA, Heemstra encouraged a prompt review and renewal of your policy. “Making any necessary updates and changes is particularly essential this year,” she said, as rates might increase more without this up to date information. If you are not currently enrolled in Obamacare, there’s still time to do so; sign up by December 15 to receive coverage beginning in the new year, or by the end of January to start your coverage in the beginning of March. St. John’s Medical Center is hosting free navigation sessions every Thursday at the Teton County Library; professional navigators can help you explore and select what options might be best for your family.

Finally, Heemstra encouraged taking advantage of the coverage you have as soon as possible, especially the free services guaranteed by the ACA. These include a variety of preventative care options, ranging from cancer and STI screenings and an array of immunizations to annual wellness exams and contraception. For a comprehensive summary of these services, visit healthcare.gov; it’s a longer list than you might realize. Making arrangements for preventative care sooner rather than later is a proactive step folks can take immediately.


Immigration Worries

The wall. Well, it might be more of a fence now. In certain places, perhaps? Similar to healthcare, Trump’s promises on the campaign trail, and recent backpedaling on previous statements has created a great deal of uncertainty around how the incoming administration will change policies surrounding immigration. At this point, there’s no way to know which of these efforts might come to fruition, and which are pure bluster. Regardless, the threats and rhetoric have many in Jackson concerned.

A gathering of more than 250 people at St. John’s Episcopal Church two weeks ago illustrated the intensity of this worry. The forum, hosted by a handful of local organizations, addressed the anxieties that many immigrant families are feeling. Haunted by campaign trail promises to deport millions and abruptly end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) initiative, many Latinos in Jackson have serious concerns about what the next months hold.

Local attorneys Elizabeth Trefonas and Rosie Read addressed the hundreds gathered in Hansen Hall, discussing the possible implications of new policies. While some changes to immigration policy struck Trefonas and Read as simply implausible (for example, the wall), other possible developments have more potential for impact. “The hardest thing we think is going to happen—that Trump can do without the support of Congress or the Supreme Court—is that DACA has been promised to not exist on day one,”  Trefonas said.

There are 1.3 million individuals legally in the United States on DACA. “There are numerous individuals in this room that will be impacted,” added Trefonas, meaning not only those with DACA status, but also their families, friends and employers.

Advice for those who are eligible for DACA but do not currently have it is conflicting among attorneys at this point, but Trefonas and Read are not encouraging new applications. They have some concern that submitting an application might not only be a waste of time and $450, but also might draw new attention to your current status and residence in the country. Those who already have DACA status and are eligible for renewal, however, should pursue it as soon as possible, Read and Trefonas said.

When it comes to large-scale deportations, the attorneys just don’t see how that kind of action would be feasible in the near future. Constrained by the sheer costs of deportation, the Obama Administration has deported around 400,000 individuals per year, Read pointed out. The price tag of deporting millions is simply prohibitive. “President Trump can’t deport everyone,” she said.

However, should an undocumented individual find themselves arrested for a crime, they will likely not benefit from the discretion that officers were encouraged to use under Obama. An arrest under the Trump Administration, for a crime large or small, will very likely trigger the deportation process. Trefonas and Read advised the gathered group that nobody is required to answer questions about their immigration status to a law enforcement official; you can always politely decline to answer, and request a lawyer. “Even if you’re here unlawfully, Trump cannot take away your constitutional rights,”  Trefonas said.

Moving forward, Read advocated for the community to continue to stay educated and engaged on the issues. “As lawmakers begin discussing and considering reform, let them know what you want,” she said. And in the meantime, she encouraged the group to find strength in numbers, and the power of sticking together as a community.

After Read and Trefonas’ presentation, some community members advocated exploring “sanctuary” status for Jackson. Sanctuary cities across the nation are standing up to these threats of mass deportation. While the definition of “sanctuary” varies from place to place, the underlying theme is the same; protecting immigrant community members who are not violent criminals. Some of Jackson’s leadership has expressed interest in what kinds of policies can be created locally in this vein.

Mayor-elect Pete Muldoon told PJH he’s considering all feasible actions to ensure no one here is living in fear.

“The facts before us today are that we welcomed immigrants into our community, we asked them to work in our businesses and we watched them put down roots,” Muldoon said. “We hired them or patronized the businesses that did so. We happily took their sales tax dollars and used them to build roads and schools and housing. We charged them social security tax for benefits they will never collect. We asked them to work long hours at difficult jobs while living in substandard housing in order to have a shot at the American Dream, and they said ‘yes.’”

The mayor-elect continued, “We’re all in this together, but Donald Trump is asking only one group to pay the price. That is morally indefensible. We cannot and will not break federal law, but we should speak out against any policy designed to tear families and our community apart and refuse to help enforce it unless required to by federal law. We must resist this temptation to scapegoat. We asked our Latino community to help us, and they did. Now it’s time to help them.”

Both Teton County Sheriff Jim Whalen and Jackson Chief of Police Todd Smith stated that while they do not answer directly to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, they understand that cooperation with ICE is relevant to public safety, and a respectful balance of interests is necessary from their perspective. Ultimately, Smith pointed out, we can all agree that dangerous individuals or those committing violent crimes are not welcome in Jackson Hole regardless of their background.

Mary Erickson, executive director of One22, says she wants law enforcement to view this issue from multiple lenses.  “I hope we can all agree that violent criminals should be arrested and eventually deported. But I would like our local police to be allowed to use their discretion and not ask for documentation during simple traffic stops.”

161207coverfeat-4_origPride and panic

Flanked by an openly anti-gay Vice President-elect, Mike Pence, Trump is likewise causing considerable anxiety for LGBTQ+ individuals and families across the country. Pence has a dark and troubling history ranging from support of gay conversion therapy, funneling of money away from HIV/AIDS programs in Indiana, criminalizing gay marriage in the state, signing the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which permits blatant discrimination, and more.

In addition to this exclusive rhetoric, the nation has witnessed a frightening uptick in harassment and outright violence toward LGBTQ+ people in recent months. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, there were 867 individual hate incidents across the nation in the 10 days following the election, 95 of which were aimed at LGBTQ+ people. The incidents ranged from graffiti and property destruction to vicious verbal and physical assaults. Countless individuals and families are now not only worried for their own personal safety, but also unsure as to whether years of progress and civil rights will be erased under the Trump Administration.

Mark Houser is the coordinator of the Jackson chapter of PFLAG. He recognized similar uncertainty surrounding the future of LGBTQ+ rights as is swirling around other civil rights issues.

“President Obama provided many protections to the LGBTQ+ community through executive order. This includes protections for workers of federal contractors, safeguards in health care and housing as well as anti-discrimination protections for transgender students in our schools. Trump could rescind any of these protections through new executive orders,” he said.

It’s not possible to know what the new administration may or may not target.

One specific point of concern for many is the potential impact on same-sex marriage. According to Lambda Legal, a nationwide nonprofit championing LGBTQ+ rights, marriage equality legislation cannot be reversed overnight, and likewise cannot be decimated by the president alone. Instead, it would take a full reversal of the ruling by the Supreme Court, which would not only take quite some time to accomplish, but is also relatively unlikely. In other words, if you’re married, your marriage is safe. Trump cannot undo it. Additionally, if you’re intending to tie the knot in the next year or so, don’t cancel the band and head to city hall just yet. Your plans are likely safe for now.

Lambda Legal also recommends that same-sex couples make sure that they have written documentation that details their wishes regarding hospital visitation. Under policy developed by Obama, all hospitals that receive federal funding must respect these documents in a non-discriminatory fashion, and ensuring that living wills and other paperwork is in order will protect your rights in a medical capacity.

Additionally, same-sex couples with adopted children should speak with an attorney to ensure that both parents have equal status in terms of their children’s guardianship.

In good news, Jackson has a stalwart record supporting LGBTQ+ community members. “Jackson has already been at the forefront of equality efforts,” Houser said. “In 2014, the Town of Jackson became the first community in Wyoming to offer its employees protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity. In 2015, the town passed a non-binding resolution speaking to these same protections.”

Chief Todd Smith of the Jackson Police Department echoed Houser’s sentiment. “We really haven’t seen any hate crime-type issues,” he said. “We’re fortunate that we have a healthy and pretty civil community here.”

That being said, he encourages anyone who feels unsafe or is the victim of harassment or harm to immediately contact law enforcement. “Public safety is what we do,” he said; regardless of gender, orientation, race, religion or ethnicity, the Jackson Police Department will respond to any concerns of safety.”

For non-emergency problems, Houser encouraged reaching out to other local and regional organizations. “Jackson PFLAG can offer support and advocacy for individuals and connect folks with resources to address particular needs,” he said. “The Jackson Hole Community Counseling Center, through their sliding fee scale, can offer mental health support to individuals, and Teton County Access to Justice can provide guidance to community members who believe their civil rights have been violated.”


Protecting public lands

Among other issues in the crosshairs at this point, the Trump Administration’s denial of climate change and desire to exploit public lands for natural resources challenges the whole nation’s environmental safety. While, again, it is impossible to know with complete confidence what changes to anticipate and when, there are certainly some ominous clues.

Local environmentalists are most concerned about the potential for public lands to be transferred into private or state hands, and suffer in terms of access, wildlife and habitat quality and unchecked mineral development, including drilling and fracking. In other words, lands like Bridger-Teton National Forest could go from publically-owned and open for everyone’s use to off-limits for hunting, fishing, hiking and camping, or even be subject to development projects.

“We are looking at a short-term economic vision over a long-term sustainable one that threatens the health and wealth of our planet,” observed author and environmentalist Terry Tempest Williams. She believes the largest threats to public lands will be three-fold: increased fossil fuel development, the removal of regulations protecting threatened species, and the possible transfer of public lands into private ownership.

“640 million acres of public lands are under threat by these radical measures set forward by President-elect Donald Trump. It is important to remember these public lands are our public commons, they belong to all Americans, not just the privileged few that will benefit from the corporate taking of our natural resources, be it oil, timber, or coal. It is our natural heritage that deserves protection for the greater community, both human and wild.”

Connie Wilbert is the regional chapter director for the Sierra Club. She expressed similar concern that prioritization of short-term economic benefits of mineral development might outweigh long-term balanced management of public lands. With some Wyoming state officials advocating for state acquisition of federally managed lands, including BLM and Forest Service property, Wilbert said that it’s unclear whether or not the new administration would support such transfers. “There’s no doubt that if the state did manage some of these lands, we would see outright sale of the best parcels to the highest bidder. The remaining land would likely be subject to unchecked surface development,” she said.

These changes would not only strip Wyomingites of access to these lands, but could also seriously damage wildlife populations, habitat and other resources.

Expanding access for oil and gas mining could have serious impacts on rural communities’ air and drinking water. Williams cited the recent example of Pavillion, Wyo., where the levels of toxic chemicals in the town’s water have rendered it unsafe to drink. “This kind of disregard for regulations and laws from EPA standards to the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts to the Endangered Species Act is a blatant disregard for decades of federal checks and balances that ensure a healthy environment for all species. This becomes even more irresponsible and egregious given the realities and perils associated with climate change in the 21st century.”

Wilbert expressed similar concern for the fallout from gutting the current EPA standards. “Safeguards for our clean air and water will be gone,” she said. “If federal management isn’t guided by principles of balance, development will trump all other values.” Wilbert fears that the impacts of such deregulation will have grave consequences on the human communities and Wyoming’s environment alike.

Both Williams and Wilbert agree that this can be a unifying issue. One of the best approaches moving forward will be to build new coalitions among groups who want to protect public lands, even if those groups haven’t always seen eye to eye on specific management issues in the past. “As citizens who love these lands—be it our national parks, monuments, wildlife refuges and the open spaces that surround them—we will have to amass public opinion on behalf of our public lands.” These efforts will likely include everything from writing and calling local and national representatives, creating collaborations among conservationists, hunters and anglers, outdoor recreation enthusiasts and ecologists.

Chances are that new policy with the incoming administration will quickly threaten public lands, but with visionary voices like Williams, resistance can make a difference in how much damage this area’s landscape sustains. “Our public lands are breathing spaces in a society where we are increasingly holding our breath,” Williams concluded. “The protection of beauty is not optional, it is literally a strategy for survival.”

Wilbert agreed. “People can affect how these things go, but only if everybody is willing to get involved and speak up.”


Engaging and disengaging

From personal and family safety and civil rights to the planet’s fragile health, there is no shortage of worries to keep many awake at night.

Licensed professional counselor Daniela Peterson has seen a significant increase in the last month of individuals experiencing acute concern and anxiety. “The most common responses I’ve seen among both children and adults, and not only in immigrants, is some kind of ‘Post-Election Stress Disorder,’” Peterson said. She described this phenomenon as a collective sense of threat and anxiety, characterized often by fear, sleeplessness, anger, hopelessness and a feeling of insecurity. “It’s important to acknowledge that these feelings are coming from a real threat and are not just individuals overreacting,” Peterson said.

Difficult as it is, one of the best things anyone can do at this point is to find patience and resist the desire to catastrophize, she advised. “Avoid making impulsive decisions, educate yourself about facts instead of rumors, and avoid over-exposure to media,” Peterson said. Now, this is not to say people should not be having realistic and meaningful conversations and taking steps to keep their family, community and environment safe. “It’s always good to find a healthy, soothing activity that can decrease physical and emotional tension, like meditation, yoga, exercise, spending time with positive people and increasing self-nurturing behaviors in general,” she said. If these kinds of things are not helping, and one is overwhelmed to a point of inability to function on a day-to-day basis, it’s important to seek professional help.

Peterson also highlighted the importance of helping children manage their feelings. “What we do as adults will affect the way our children feel and behave, therefore, we need to provide them an emotionally safe environment and answer their questions, but don’t provide excessive details that they don’t need to hear.” She also recommended keeping them from too much media exposure, especially in the hours prior to bedtime. “The most important thing is to tell our children that it’s OK that other people have different points of view. Treating others with respect and tolerance is key.”

Getting involved can feel empowering as well. Of course, notifying Wyoming’s state and national representatives your thoughts on any given issue is an excellent place to start. Most make sending an email via their websites easy, and also provide phone contact information. Also, consider supporting local, regional or national organizations working to address the issues that concern you most. From legal resources and healthcare to animal rights and environmental protection, Jackson Hole is home to myriad nonprofits.

Finally, it’s OK to switch off the internet, TV and radio for a bit. It’ll be there when you get back. PJH

About Melissa Thomasma

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