Lawmakers condemn Trump order on refugees, citizens from Muslim nations

A day after President Trump signed an executive order halting refugees and nationals from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States, several legislators -- from both sides of the aisle -- are condemning the immigration action. 

“During the Holocaust we failed to fulfill to our duty to humanity,” Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, warned in a statement Friday, also commemorated internationally as Holocaust Remembrance Day. “We cannot allow mindless fear to lead us into another regretful chapter in our history.”

“History will judge where America’s leaders stood today,” Durbin continued. “Faced with the humanitarian crisis of our time, the United States cannot turn its back on children fleeing persecution, genocide, and terror.” 

The executive order -- signed by Mr. Trump the same day the White House issued a statement on the Holocaust promising to “make love and tolerance prevalent throughout the world” -- directed the State Department to stop the processing of Syrian refugees indefinitely. It also included a four-month suspension of the broader U.S. refugee program and a ban on citizens from seven countries with majority Muslim populations (Iran, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Somalia and Libya) traveling to the U.S. Mr. Trump has also said his refugee plan will prioritize Christians fleeing persecution over those with other religious affiliations.

Mr. Trump’s actions were felt immediately: the crackdown on the refugee program was swift, with refugees -- traveling in the air to the U.S. when the order was signed -- already encountering detentions upon their arrival at U.S. airports. According to one New York Times report, at least one of the Iraqis detained at John F. Kennedy International Airport had worked on behalf of the U.S. government in Iraq for a decade.

Sen. Claire McCaskill referenced the Times report in a critical tweet early Saturday, saying the incident “makes me want to throw up.” 

Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon, a Democrat and member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, slammed the immigration order as a “smokescreen for religious discrimination that is entirely contrary to our founding values and core constitutional principles.” 

Another Senate Foreign Relations Committee member, Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Connecticut, went further: In an op-ed that ran Friday in the Huffington Post, Murphy predicted ominously that Mr. Trump’s proposals were “likely to get Americans killed.”

“The ban doesn’t cover every Muslim globally,” Murphy wrote, “just a set of Muslims from countries Trump perceives, rather arbitrarily, to be dangerous.”

“[T]he fact that every country on today’s list is a Muslim-majority nation confirms that he meant what he said -- that Muslims are dangerous and need to be treated differently than any other set of people,” he said. 

A host of other Democratic legislators blasted the order, with some, like Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota, striking a tone of solidarity with refugees affected by the ban. 

“To everyone afraid of what this executive order will mean for you and your country, I say: ‘You are not alone. We are with you. And we will fight for you.’” 

Republicans, for their part, have largely remained silent since Mr. Trump signed the order. 

There have been some exceptions, including Republican Rep. Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania, whose district includes large communities of immigrants from the Middle East. 

Dent, the first GOP congressman to speak out against the executive order more than 24 hours after its signing and after multiple detentions of refugees at airports around the country, said the action “appears to have been rushed” without thought to its “wide-ranging impacts.”

“As a result,” Dent said in a statement Saturday afternoon, “I fear that this order may imperil lives, divide families, and create uncertainty for many American businesses that operate internationally.” 

Citing one Syrian Christian family (who held valid visas and were not refugees) detained at the Philadelphia International Airport and then forced to leave the country as a result of the Executive Order, Dent said the family “now faces the uncertain prospect of being sent back to Syria.” 

“This is unacceptable,” Dent said, “and I urge the Administration to halt enforcement of the order until a more thoughtful and deliberate policy can be instated.”

Sen. Ben Sasse, a Republican from Nebraska who serves as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, also issued a condemnation Saturday, calling the order “too broad.” 

“If we send a signal to the Middle East that the U.S. sees all Muslims as jihadis, the terrorist recruiters win by telling kids that America is banning Muslims and that this is America versus one religion,” Sasse said in a statement.

Several lawmakers have, in the past, condemned prioritizing certain religions over others when it comes to immigration to the U.S.

In July, House Speaker Paul Ryan tweeted a statement saying he rejected then-candidate Trump’s proposed Muslim ban. 

“A religious test for entering our country is not reflective of America’s fundamental values,” Ryan wrote at the time.

Despite his previous stance, Ryan, in a statement released Friday, praised Mr. Trump’s latest executive order. 

“Our number one responsibility is to protect the homeland,” Ryan wrote, calling the U.S. a “compassionate nation” but that it was “time to reevaluate and strengthen the visa vetting process.” 

“President Trump,” he added, “is right to make sure we are doing everything possible to know exactly who is entering our country.”

Similarly, in December of 2015, then-Indiana Gov. Mike Pence tweeted his own message about Mr. Trump’s call to bar Muslims from stepping foot in the U.S., which he said was “offensive and unconstitutional.”

Pence, now the vice president, stood by Mr. Trump on Friday as the president signed his executive order.