Conflagration Washington representatives join challenge of refugee order

Feb 1, 2017 Issues: Immigration Reform

Cascadia Weekly: Immigration 
Conflagration: Washington representatives join challenge of refugee order

By Tim Johnson

With President Trump’s attorney general nominee, Jeff Sessions, still awaiting Senate confirmation, Sally Yates, a holdover from President Obama’s administration, has been running the Justice Department. She was terminated this week because she believed she could not carry out an order she believed was unconstitutional.

In a dramatic statement, Yates announced she was instructing department lawyers not to defend Trump’s executive order—which restricts entry into the United States by refugees and nationals of seven majority-Muslim countries—from court challenges.

“I am not convinced that the defense of the Executive Order is consistent with these responsibilities nor am I convinced that the Executive Order is lawful,” Yates wrote. “Consequently, for as long as I am the Acting Attorney General, the Department of Justice will not present arguments in defense of the Executive Order, unless and until I become convinced that it is appropriate to do so.”

Less than an hour after the American Civil Liberties Union congratulated Yates for her “remarkable” and “powerful” refusal to enforce Trump’s controversial immigration ban, she was out of a job for taking such a stance, removed from office by the president.

At the same time, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) John Kelly, announced in a statement that Daniel Ragsdale, the acting director of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), was being replaced by Thomas D. Homan.

Though no reason was given in Kelly’s statement for Ragsdale’s removal from his position at ICE (in fact, his name was not even mentioned), his replacement was noted for serving “as the executive associate director of ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO).” In that capacity, the statement continues, Homan “led ICE’s efforts to identify, arrest, detain, and remove illegal aliens, including those who present a danger to national security or are a risk to public safety, as well as those who enter the United States illegally or otherwise undermine the integrity of our immigration laws and our border control efforts.”

Yates was joined in her criticism of the administration’s poorly drafted and executed immigration order by the attorneys general of 16 states, including Washington State Attorney Bob Ferguson, who filed a lawsuit in federal court last week, challenging the order.

“As the chief legal officers for over 130 million Americans and foreign residents of our states, we condemn President Trump’s unconstitutional, un-American and unlawful executive order and will work together to ensure the federal government obeys the Constitution, respects our history as a nation of immigrants, and does not unlawfully target anyone because of their national origin or faith,” Ferguson noted in a press conference alongside Washington Governor Jay Inslee.

“Multiple federal courts ordered a stay of the administration’s dangerous executive order. We applaud those decisions and will use all of the tools of our offices to fight this unconstitutional order and preserve our nation’s national security and core values,’ Ferguson said. “We are confident that the executive order will ultimately be struck down by the courts.”

Federal lawmakers have also begun to craft a response to the immigration order.

“Port of Seattle officials gave me an update on the travelers who were detained at Sea-Tac as a result of President Trump’s callous action that left families in limbo and caused chaos at our nation’s airports,” U.S. Senator Parry Murray said in a press conference at the international airport south of Seattle.

Early Sunday, two men were detained at Sea-Tac airport as a result of the Executive Order. The travelers, a Yemeni and a Saudi, were subsequently released following a court order. In addition—one traveler, of Somali origin, was denied entry to the U.S. Saturday and sent to Vienna as a result of the executive order. More than 1,000 people gathered at the airport to protest the detentions.

“What unfolded at Sea-Tac and in airports around the United States this weekend is nothing short of appalling and un-American,” Murray said. “We cannot stand for this—and I applaud the many peaceful demonstrators and lawyers who rushed to our airports to defend our democracy and help the people who have come to our country seeking refuge.

“We should all find strength and resolve in the many thousands of people gathering tonight in Seattle, Tacoma, and cities around the country to stand up to say that this is our country too—and we believe that America has been and will continue to be a place of safety for people around the world fleeing horrific violence in one of the worst refugee crises in recent history.”

The Washington Democrat joined her colleague, Senator Maria Cantwell, to co-sponsor two bills by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) to block Trump’s ban on refugees, visitors, and immigrants from certain Muslim-majority nations from entering the United States.

The Feinstein bill would rescind the executive order. The Murphy bill would withhold any funding to enforce the executive order and makes clear the order is illegal based on the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act, which banned discrimination against immigrants on the basis of national origin.

According to the executive director of the Washington state chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), there are 100,000 to 150,000 Muslims in the state. In addition, since 2003, Washington state has received over 32,000 refugees, mostly from Middle Eastern or majority-Muslim countries. Washington was the eighth largest refugee-receiving state in 2015, according to the Migration Policy Institute.

“This executive order scapegoats refugees fleeing war, terrorism and persecution—that is as low as it gets,” said Rick Larsen, representative of the state’s 2nd Congressional District and a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee. “‘Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free’—those are more than just words inscribed on the Statue of Liberty. The United States of America has always been a haven for everyone—regardless of religion or nationality—who seeks a better life. President Trump’s poorly thought out actions fly in the face of those foundational American values, and leave countless green card holders, international students and others with questions for which the administration has not provided answers.”