Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill, the top Democrat on the Senate’s Homeland Security committee, has asked for an emergency meeting with the agency’s secretary, John Kelly.
McCaskill, along with six other Democrats who serve on the committee, requested on Monday that Kelly meet with them within 24 hours to explain his role in implementing President Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration.
The order, signed by Trump on Friday, suspended the issuance of visas to nationals of Iran, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Somalia and Libya for 90 days. In the first 24 hours after implementation, the order resulted in the detention of at least 109 refugees and other travelers from those countries who held valid visas, including some green card holders with permanent resident status in the U.S.
The confusion that ensued at airports around the country sparked protests that continued throughout the weekend. The upheaval — along with reports that the White House had left Kelly and his agency in the dark in the rush to get the order signed — has driven a growing number of Republicans and Democrats in Congress to critique the order, or at least its implementation.
From her new perch as the highest-ranking Democrat on the Senate’s Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs, McCaskill is poised to play a high-profile role in any probes into how the order came to be and how immigration officials carried it out. The committee has oversight jurisdiction over Customs and Border Protection, the federal law enforcement organization responsible for screening immigrants.
It could prove to be a balancing act for the two-term senator from Missouri, who faces re-election in 2018 in a state Trump won by nearly 20 percentage points.
McCaskill has said she doesn’t plan to be an obstructionist, and she voted to confirm Kelly on Inauguration Day, Jan. 20. “When it comes to well-qualified nominees charged with protecting America’s security interests at home and abroad, party labels shouldn’t get in the way of good public service,” said McCaskill at the time.
McCaskill asked for the meeting with Kelly in a letter to him on Monday, signed by every Democrat on the committee, including Tom Carper of Delaware, Jon Tester of Montana, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Gary Peters of Michigan, Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire and Kamala Harris of California.
In the letter, McCaskill and other Democrats say they were “deeply troubled by this unprecedented order and its implementation by the Department of Homeland Security.”
The letter requests the names, titles and qualifications of all officials who were involved in the drafting or review of the executive order, including any political appointees, members of the presidential transition team, special advisers and consultants.
It requests all legal analysis related to the order and all communications within the Department of Homeland Security and with other administration officials – including White House officials – related to whether the order applied to green card holders, or legal permanent residents.
The letter asks Kelly to describe “when and why you determined that the executive order would not apply to legal permanent residents, when and why that determination was changed, and at whose direction each determination was made.”
The letter also seeks to clarify the process for travelers with green cards and what instructions and guidance DHS gave to officials at U.S. ports of entry and other locations affected by the order.
“If these instructions differed from location to location or from day to day, include all such instructions that were given to officials,” the letter says.
The letter goes on to say that the Democrats who signed it “have grave concerns” about Trump’s assertion in a TV interview that U.S. officials would give preference to Christians seeking visas.
“This nation is founded on the bedrock principles of liberty and religious freedom, and a religious test for those seeking to enter this country abandons and violates these principles,” the letter says.
The Democrats ask for Kelly to report any “processes currently in place to identify an individual’s religion prior to receiving a visa, admission or other immigration benefit” and “all legal analysis related to whether the U.S. government may request information regarding an individual’s religion prior to receiving a visa, admission or other immigration benefit.”
The letter urges Kelly to postpone implementation of the order “until these questions have been answered, and, more importantly, you have had an opportunity to ensure that the legal, policy and practical impacts of President Trump’s order have been fully and thoroughly reviewed.”