Some Texas Republicans support Trump’s refugee ban; others stay silent

Protestors stayed at DFW Airport until 3 a.m. Sunday, protesting President Trump's executive order.
Protestors stayed at DFW Airport until 3 a.m. Sunday, protesting President Trump's executive order. special to the Star-Telegram

Republican members of Congress from Texas’ Tarrant County did not break with Donald Trump’s executive order banning refugees from seven majority Muslim countries on Sunday, either siding with the president or remaining silent on the issue.

“The president is actively working to make all Americans safer and improve security measures to enter the country,” said Rep. Joe Barton spokesman Daniel Rhea in a written statement supporting the order. “We have heard of brief delays among constituents and are empathetic to any inconveniences while traveling.”

Protests over the executive order erupted at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport on Saturday and continued on Sunday after 50 people were detained at the airport, according to the DFW Chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. The airport is a major hub for long-haul international flights.

Rep. Kay Granger of Fort Worth also supported the order in a statement, highlighting that she cut funding that would allow more Syrian refugees into the country.

“I am convinced that President Trump made the decision because he believes it will make us safer,” Granger said in a prepared statement. “I cut funding that would increase the number of refugees coming from Syria when I was briefed that we could not adequately vet that population before granting them refugee status to the United States. The job of the president is to defend and protect our nation. We must also protect our well-earned position as a caring and humanitarian nation. I pray that we do both.”

Rep. Roger Williams offered the most explicit level of support for the order among Fort Worth area Republicans.

“The national security of the United States and its citizens is paramount to anything else,” Williams said in a statement. “I firmly support a temporary travel ban on individuals from countries of concern – a designation given by the Obama administration’s Department of Homeland Security. During this time we must ensure our vetting process is completely foolproof.”

Rep. Michael Burgess also supports Trump’s executive order and said in a statement that Congress should pursue legislation on the refugee issue.

“My top priority has always been to protect Americans at home and to do so by securing our borders,” Burgess said in a statement. “As he has made clear, President Trump is taking the steps well within his authority, and based off intelligence gathered in the Obama Administration, to keep our country safe. Congress should remain involved in the process and provide legislation to strengthen not only border security but vetting those who wish to enter the country through any means.”

Rep. Kenny Marchant, whose district includes the Dallas-Fort Worth airport, did not offer his thoughts on the order despite repeated requests for comment on Saturday and Sunday.

Texas Sens. Ted Cruz and John Cornyn did not make public statements on Trump’s executive order as of Sunday afternoon, although Cruz sponsored a bill in Congress earlier this week that would give governors the choice to bar Syrian refugees from their states.

“The first obligation of the president is to keep this country safe as commander in chief,” Cruz said in a statement last week before Trump’s order was signed. “I am encouraged that, unlike the previous administration, one of President Trump’s top priorities is to defeat radical Islamic terrorism.”

Cornyn in December 2015 supported an amendment offered by Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy that the U.S. “must not bar individuals from entering into the United States based on their religion, as such action would be contrary to the fundamental principles on which this nation was founded.”

The majority of Republican senators also supported that amendment, but Cruz and Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, Trump’s nominee for attorney general, opposed it.

The Texas delegation’s support or silence over the executive order stands in contrast to other Republicans such as Florida Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake, both of whom oppose the order. Most of the opposition to the order within the Republican Party came from politicians who did not support Trump during the campaign.

In contrast, North Texas Democratic Reps. Marc Veasey and Eddie Bernice Johnson oppose Trump’s order. Veasey traveled to the Dallas-Fort Worth airport on Saturday night to join the protests.

“President Trump’s latest executive action is already causing mass confusion for international airports nationwide,” Veasey said in a statement on Saturday evening. “I have been in contact with all relevant agencies and I will continue to monitor the situation closely. I have heard reports of upwards of 50 detainees and I am traveling to DFW airport to gather more information. In the meantime, DFW airport is providing cots, blankets, food and water to those detained. The Trump Administration’s refugee ban and their instruction to suspend entry from Muslim-majority countries is wholly un-American and challenges our country’s humanitarian leadership.”

Johnson echoed Veasey’s opposition in a statement released Sunday afternoon.

“I stand in solidarity with the refugees, immigrants and their loved ones who are being banned from entering our country,” Johnson said in a statement. “This does not represent the America that is made up of immigrants or the values we cherish, one being freedom of religion. Yesterday across the nation and here at the Dallas/Forth Worth International Airport many people were being detained and were not allowed entry into our country. During this time there is a lot of confusion and families being torn apart. I am aware and waiting to be fully briefed on how many people are being detained at the DFW airport, so my staff and I can fully provide assistance and guidance to those who need it.”

It’s unclear whether Trump’s executive order will withstand potential legal challenges. Judges in New York, Massachusetts, Virginia and Washington state issued rulings barring deportations of people detained at airports, though the scope and duration varies in each case.

This post was updated at 7:45pm after Rep. Michael Burgess issued a statement.

McClatchy Washington bureau staff writer Hannah Allam contributed to this report.

Alex Daugherty: 202-383-6049, @alextdaugherty