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BLOOMINGTON —Policy changes promoted by the Trump administration threaten civil liberties in many areas and put vulnerable people at risk for discrimination, a leader with the Illinois American Civil Liberties Union told a Twin City audience Wednesday.

Ed Yohnka, director of communications and public policy for the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, highlighted three areas where he said the potential for discrimination and reversal of current policy is greatest: civil rights based on sexual orientation, women's reproductive rights and immigration.

The concerns expressed by citizens who view the president's policies as dangerous should not be viewed as personal attacks, said Yohnka.

"It would be a mistake to think this is about opposition to the president — it's about opposition to policies and their impact," said the speaker. That opposition has led to tremendous growth in ACLU membership, said Yohnka, and participation in the group's programs.

Gay, lesbian and transgender people face new challenges to employment and other opportunities since Trump's election, said Yohnka.

The government has filed court briefs "that argued people in the U.S. should be able to be fired because they are gay and lesbian," said Yohnka, noting that the shift in policy is contrary to previous anti-discrimination positions taken by the federal government.

Arguments at the U.S. Supreme Court scheduled for Dec. 5 on whether a bakery in Colorado had the right to refuse to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple will provide guidance on the employment issue. A wedding cake may seem like an unlikely premise for a Supreme Court challenge, but the potential for discrimination posed by the case should not be ignored, according to the ACLU spokesman.

The direct correlation between access to birth control and the increase in employment opportunities for women could be broken, said Yohnka, if the Trump administration is successful in making contraception less available.

Immigrants who entered the country illegally and who live in fear of deportation, including those who are part of the program that allows young people to attend college and work without the deportation threat, find themselves facing Trump's relentless campaign to tighten immigration laws, said Yohnka.

"An immigration policy has to be rational. You can't deport 11 million people overnight," Yohnka told the audience of more than 100 people.

The speaker noted the elimination of a priority system for determining who should be deported has resulted in fewer people being sent back to their country of origin since January, an ironic twist for a president determined to reduce the number of immigrants who entered the U.S. illegally.

Yohnka urged people to contact their representatives in Congress and urge swift action on legislation that would allow young immigrants to remain in the country under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

"We ought not leave these kids hanging into the new year," said Yohnka.

Follow Edith Brady-Lunny on Twitter: @pg_blunny

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McLean County Courts Reporter

McLean County courts reporter for The Pantagraph.

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