Arizona lawmakers split on Trump order halting refugee admissions

Vice President Mike Pence, left, and Defense Secretary James Mattis look on Friday as President Donald Trump signs an executive order suspending refugee admissions to the U.S. (Photo by Carlos Barria/Reuters)

The president’s order suspending refugee admissions divided Arizona lawmakers, but Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Gilbert, defended it as a “fairly temperate measure” to protect Americans. (Photo by Anthony Marroquin/Cronkite News)

WASHINGTON – Arizona lawmakers split over President Donald Trump’s executive order suspending refugee admissions and stalling travel from seven Muslim-majority nations, with Democrats predictably voicing opposition – along with some Republicans.

Friday’s order placed a 120-day hold on refugee admissions and halted Syrian refugee admissions indefinitely. It also blocked citizens from Syria and six other Muslim-majority countries: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen.

Trump said the delay is necessary to ensure the vetting process for refugees is stringent enough to keep terrorists from slipping into the country.

The order stopped some students, tourists and permanent American residents with green cards from boarding planes worldwide over the weekend, leading to protests at airports, including Phoenix’s Sky Harbor International, and a rally outside the White House.

Some Arizona lawmakers defended the order Monday, arguing that national security should take precedence.

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Click here for a fuller listing of how Arizona lawmakers responded to the order

“This temporary pause in accepting refugees and immigrants from terrorist strongholds is not only legal – it is the necessary first step to positively reforming our refugee program,” said Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Prescott, in a statement issued Monday.

But many Democrats were quick to blast the order as nothing less than un-American.

“The United States of America has never known a politics as toxic as this,” Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Tucson, said in a prepared statement Friday. He went on to say that people “will undoubtedly perish as a result of this executive order.”

White House press secretary Sean Spicer defended the executive order in a press conference Monday.

“When you note the polls that were going out this morning, the majority of Americans agree with the president,” Spicer said. “They recognize that the steps that he’s taken were to keep this country safe and to make sure that we didn’t look back and say, ‘I wish we had done the following.'”

-Cronkite News video by Tyler Fingert

While Democrats agreed that the safety of Americans is paramount, they said the president’s order fails to address that concern.

“My first responsibility in Congress is to strengthen our national security and protect our communities,” said Rep. Tom O’Halleran, D-Sedona, said in a prepared statement Monday. “President Trump’s broad executive order banning refugees from entering our country fails to make America more secure.”

Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, joined Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, to warn that the executive order could end up being “a self-inflicted wound in the fight against terrorism.”

McCain and Graham said the order would do more to boost terrorist recruitment than it would improve national security, and that it sends the wrong message to the majority of Muslims who reject the Islamic State.

The statement by the two senior Republican senators sparked a Twitter rebuke by Trump, who called McCain and Graham “weak on immigration,” “always looking to start World War III” and said they should focus their energies on national security issues.

Other Arizona Republicans who could be reached expressed full support for the president.

“Above all else, this action will uphold the most important job of the federal government – to provide for the national defense of the American people,” said Gosar, who added that we “know for a fact that terrorists are trying to infiltrate the ranks of refugees and other visitors coming to the United States.”

Like many defenders of the president’s action, Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Gilbert, claimed that it follows precedent from President Barack Obama’s administration. In 2011, Obama temporarily suspended visas from Iraqi nationals based on FBI intelligence, and in 2015 his administration eliminated visa waivers for the seven countries named by Trump.

Those actions were not as sweeping as Trump’s orders, reducing but not eliminating visas from Iraq. But Biggs welcomed Trump’s action as part of a “sincere desire to prioritize the safety and security of Americans.”

“This order is exactly what President Trump said he would do during the campaign, and he should be applauded for following through with his promises,” Biggs said. “The United States of America will always be a nation of and compassionate to immigrants, but we must ensure the safety of American citizens above all else.”