Some North Carolina Republicans give Trump support on refugee order; others go silent

A handful of North Carolina Republicans in Congress were quick to get behind President Donald Trump’s controversial executive order to freeze immigration and refugee resettlement, yet some of those said the abrupt change to immigration policy through unilateral action had created uncertainty and confusion.

Trump’s order “came with little clarity and caused much uncertainty for foreign travelers,” said U.S. Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C. Foxx, in a statement Monday, also said the order needed “additional implementing guidance.” Foxx’s statement also acknowledges “shortcomings in the current screening process.”

Others have refused to say publicly where they stand. But all Republicans from North Carolina – except one who wasn’t in office at the time – supported similar proposals more than a year ago to at least limit travel and refugee status for people from Syria and Iraq, in favor of beefing up security screenings.

The roll-out of Trump’s executive action this weekend resulted in people approved for entry being detained at airports nationwide and drew immediate legal challenges in federal courts. Thousands protested the White House directive locally in Asheville, Charlotte and Raleigh. Pressure mounting, Trump’s team has since walked back some of the order’s enforcement.

But those who support Trump’s move say it’s precisely the way to handle possible security vulnerabilities and steep screening challenges within the refugee program.

U.S. Reps. Robert Pittenger, George Holding and Richard Hudson, Republicans from North Carolina, offered full support for temporarily stopping refugees and other forms of immigration from countries deemed to be high-risk for terrorism.

“Keeping America safe by temporarily halting the refugee program and properly vetting those coming from terror hot spots was the right decision,” Holding, from Raleigh, said in a news statement to McClatchy over the weekend.

Charlotte-area Congressman Pittenger defended Trump’s order, saying in a radio news interview with WFAE, “It is on (Trump’s) watch, for the security of this country.” Pittenger said current vetting procedures lacked “thorough evaluation” of refugees.

Hudson, from Concord, said “grave security threats” justified Trump’s suspension of the refugee resettlement program. He noted FBI and Homeland Security directors have said the vetting process isn’t foolproof.

But the implementation of Trump’s order, Hudson said, gives him some concerns.

“I do have grave concerns that the executive order has caused confusion for those with green cards and will work with my colleagues and the administration to clarify it,” Hudson said in a news statement.

Other lawmakers from North Carolina expressed similar concerns, including U.S. Rep. Mark Walker, from Greensboro, who is head of the conservative Republican Study Committee in the House of Representatives.

“We need to slow things down and examine the flaws in the system so that it can be strengthened,” he said. Walker wants the order to not apply to legal U.S. residents, McClatchy reported Sunday.

Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., who has lately positioned himself in bipartisan territory on broad federal immigration restructuring, said Sunday in a statement that Trump’s order had been rolled out in a confusing way and needed to be “refined.”

He appeared to criticize the result of federal officials “inexplicably” detaining green card holders, who are legal U.S. residents. But Tillis’ statement showed he agrees with Trump’s broader position that current refugee vetting systems are weak.

Tillis said the United States should continue to be a welcoming place for refugees fleeing persecution.

The office of North Carolina’s senior Republican U.S. senator, Richard Burr, did not respond to McClatchy asking for his position. Other members of Congress from North Carolina had also not said by late morning Monday where they stand on Trump’s executive order.

But almost every House Republican in the N.C. delegation supported legislation in 2015 to do much of what Trump’s order seeks to put in place. That bill – which stalled in the Senate – was called the American SAFE Act and would have temporarily ceased refugee resettlement for asylum-seekers from Iraq and Syria.

Eastern N.C. Republican U.S. Rep. Walter Jones did not support the bill, saying it didn’t go far enough to resolve security screening flaws. In the Senate, Burr and Tillis both gave initial support to get the bill to the floor for a vote but Senate Democrats blocked debate.

The three Democrats in North Carolina’s congressional delegation all issued statements of outrage over and opposition to Trump’s order.

U.S. Rep. David Price, from Chapel Hill, condemned the order on Twitter on Sunday, saying “it flies in the face of all we hold dear as Americans.” On Monday, he planned a public news conference in Durham to appear with refugee families and to show support for advocacy groups helping people resettle in North Carolina.

Price also said he’d participate in House and Senate Democrats’ planned rally protesting the “ban” on the steps of the Supreme Court, scheduled for Monday night.

“I will demand a complete accounting of the execution of this shameful order, and I will hold the Trump administration accountable,” Price said in a tweet.

U.S. Rep. Alma Adams of Charlotte is pushing for “no ban, no wall,” saying she opposes Trump’s refugee executive order and his plans to build a wall on the border with Mexico. Adams wrote Sunday on Twitter that her North Carolina district office staff is working with U.S. Customs and Border Protection to help local families affected by the abrupt immigrant freeze. She also joined protests at the Charlotte-Douglas International Airport on Sunday.

The Democratic congresswoman also expressed support for the American Civil Liberties Union’s lawsuit, filed almost immediately after Trump’s order went into effect. Adams called Trump’s first week in office “dreadful” and said his first actions amounted to “codifying religious and racial bigotry.”

U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield slammed Trump’s action as “banning Muslim immigrants and refugees.” He called the executive order unconstitutional and said it “advances Islamophobia and plays into ISIS propaganda, putting American lives in danger.”

Butterfield also criticized Trump’s White House team for allowing the order to go into effect “without any guidance from the Departments of Homeland Security, State and Defense.”

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article gave the wrong name for U.S. Customs and Border Protection and misstated how many attempts were made to reach Sen. Richard Burr’s office.

Anna Douglas: 202-383-6012, @ADouglasNews