Politics & Government

Refugee ban will increase anti-American sentiment, State Dept employees argue in dissent

State Department employees have drafted a memo arguing President Donald Trump’s refugee executive action will damage American national security and sour relations with the Muslim world.

The memo was drafted for submission through the State Department’s dissent channel, which allows employees to express opposition to administration policy without fear of reprisal. Foreign service officers and diplomats are objecting to the executive action signed Friday that suspends the U.S. refugee resettlement program for 120 days and stops people from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen from entering the country. Syrian refugees are banned indefinitely.

“As consular professionals, foreign service officers and members of the civil service, we see every day the value that ‘secure borders and open doors’ brings to our nation,” said the draft, which was first reported by ABC News. “A policy which closes our doors to over 200 million legitimate travelers in the hopes of preventing a small number of travelers who intend to harm Americans from using the visa system to enter the United States will not achieve its aim of making our country safer.”

The State Department employees argued that such targeted action against citizens of Muslim-majority countries will only create further anti-American sentiment which terror groups use to radicalize people. They also express concern over the humanitarian impact of refusing admission to some of the world’s most vulnerable people, as well as restricting access to life-saving medical care for which many travel legally to the U.S. to receive.

The letter argues that “alternative solutions are available to address the risk of terror attacks which are both more effective and in line with Department of State and American values.” Suggestions include improving and refining the visa process to detect people who wish to exploit it, strengthening law enforcement databases and screenings, and increasing interagency cooperation.

The executive order has caused mass chaos and confusion at airports around the country and world as customs and immigration officials struggle to interpret the new policy. People were detained over the weekend at airports in the U.S. because they were en route when the action was signed. Lawyers arrived at airports to assist those who had been detained and feared they would be sent back to their country of origin even though they had already passed the thorough vetting process to receive a visa to the U.S. Green card holders, who are permanent legal residents of the U.S., were also caught up in the confusion, with Customs and Border Patrol agents unsure who should be admitted.

A federal judge in New York blocked part of the executive order on Saturday, ruling that the administration could not remove people who arrived from one of the seven Muslim-majority countries.

Thousands of protesters demonstrated against the ban at airports around the country, and protesters gathered at the White House Sunday afternoon and marched to the U.S. Capitol.

In the face of legal challenges and public outcry, the administration has stood by the executive order. Trump said in a statement the travel ban was not about religion but “about terror and keeping our country safe.”

The State Department draft letter references the fact that in the “isolated incidents of foreign nationals entering the U.S. on a visa to commit acts of terror,” they have arrived from countries like Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, which are no included in the executive order.

Once a memo is filed in the State Department’s dissent channel, staff must acknowledge they have received it within two days. The department must issue a substantive response within 30-60 working days.

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