Patrick B. McGuigan
OKLAHOMA CITY – Members of the Oklahoma congressional delegation on Monday (January 30) defended – while offering words of caution — President Donald Trump’s Executive Order banning immigration from seven Muslim countries.
Several groups or individuals based in the state decried the new president’s steps — in some cases calling them excessive or anti-immigrant, in others asserting the executive actions were without merit.
Oklahoma reactions to the events of recent days intensified late Monday, after President Trump fired the U.S. Department of Justice official who had declared agency lawyers would not defend the executive order impacting immigrants and refugees from seven Muslim countries.
Fired Monday evening in Washington was Sally Q. Yates – deputy attorney general under President Barack Obama. She has served as acting executive of the agency while the U.S. Senate debates confirmation of U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Alabama, Trump’s nominee for the Justice job.
A top U.S. House Republican, Tom Cole of Moore, said Trump’s order is “intended to protect the American people. The threat it seeks to contain is real.”
Among the sharpest in-state critics of the executive order was former state Rep. Ryan Kiesel, now executive director for the American Civil Liberties Union (Oklahoma). “Banning Muslim refugees and immigrants from entering our nation is cruel, dangerous and unconstitutional. The United States has long prided itself as a haven for people seeking help. Refugees fleeing war and oppression are looking for a safety in American democracy,” Kiesel asserted.
“In a time of greater divide, it is important to remember the principles and values which have made our community and nation a place of opportunity and refuge for many,” said Moises Echeverria, President and CEO of the Oklahoma Center for Community and Justice (OCCJ).
Echeverria continued, “Emma Lazarus captured so eloquently the compassion and selflessness which we strive to emulate, ‘Give me your tired, your poor, your huddle masses yearning to breathe free . . .’ We urge leaders of our state and nation to consider the countless lives who will be negatively impacted by measures which aim to turn our backs on the most vulnerable.”
Rabbi Abby Jacobson, president of the Interfaith Alliance of Oklahoma, commented: ”We are a nation predominantly of immigrants, with each new wave of immigrants bringing new ideas, innovations, and energy to American industry and culture. They have added to the labor pool, and have become job-creators and investors in our society. The words on the Statue of Liberty remind us to provide safe harbor and a new home to these immigrants from war-torn countries. Few of us really can understand how devastated their lives have been.
“By standing up for these new immigrants, you/we will also be standing up for the values on which our country has stood for generations. We urge President Trump to refrain from his plans to stop their acceptance to our country, and we urge our legislators of both parties to resist this action against Syrian refugees in particular, and Muslim refugees from other nations.”
“It is imperative that as we fight systemic and institutional oppression, that we work together and reinforce efforts to stem the tide of hate and oppression impacting Oklahomans,” said Chelsey Branham, Director of Social and Economic Justice at the YWCA of Oklahoma City.
Veronica Laizure, a Muslim civil rights activist, said the recent U.S. government actions “do not make our country safer; rather, they marginalize our Muslim neighbors, colleagues, friends, and family, and do not reflect our nation’s values of religious and ethnic inclusion.
Later on Monday, members of Oklahoma’s all-Republican congressional delegation, in separate statements, defended the executive order – but with criticisms of some aspects of it, including implementation since late last week.
Rep. Cole defended the order “temporarily prohibiting immigration from seven countries previously identified as terrorist havens and/or state sponsors of terrorism.”
Rebuffing many of the strongest critics of the order, Cole said “the reaction against it has been all out of proportion to its intent and impact. Critics have described the order as a Muslim ban. It is not. It does not impact over 40 Muslim-majority countries. Some have claimed the order is illegal. It is not. While the courts will ultimately rule on this matter, it appears that the President is acting within the law and the recognized powers of the presidency.
“Some say the order is unprecedented. It is not. President Obama issued a similar ‘pause’ on immigration from Iraq in 2011, while more intensive methods of vetting were devised and implemented to screen immigrants from that terror infested country.”
Cole said “It is fair and appropriate to debate the merits of President Trump’s executive order and its initial implementation. But it is inappropriate to engage in demagogic, inflammatory, inaccurate and reckless rhetoric that is designed to create and exploit a political issue rather than address a real threat to our security.”
U. S. Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma City characterized the order as a “90-day pause and reevaluation of the screening process for individuals traveling from seven war-torn nations, and a 120-day pause for the refugee resettlement program. It is not a ban on Muslims or a permanent change in immigration policy.”
Lankford continued, “This executive action has some unintended consequences that were not well thought out. I encourage the president’s staff to evaluate American policy with an eye on both security and compassion for the refugees fleeing the terrors of war and persecution.”
U.S. Sen. James Inhofe, R-Tulsa, said in a statement, “the pause on visa applicants for countries that Congress and the Departments of State and Homeland Security have determined as areas of concern to national security is reasonable given the unrest and state of instability in each of those countries.
President Trump’s measures are temporary and will allow for the new administration to review and strengthen our immigration programs.” He added, “The administration should have delayed implementation of this order so that the agencies, airlines and foreign travelers could have prepared and made arrangements in compliance, but I am confident these issues will be addressed swiftly to reduce confusion and uncertainty.”
Western Oklahoma’s member of Congress, Frank Lucas of Cheyenne, had this to say: “Rather than asking in retrospect what we can do better in the aftermath of an attack, it’s the duty and responsibility of our government to take every realistic precaution to properly screen all individuals, especially those from countries that are havens or state-sponsors of terrorism.
“While I support the goal of President Trump’s executive order to strengthen America’s national security, I believe the administration must further clarify their long term objectives and the manner in which they intend to implement these new travel restrictions.”
Tulsa’s member of Congress, James Bridenstine, asserted, “The temporary pause affects only seven terror prone countries so we can better vet people coming into the United States. The goal is to balance security with access. There is no ban on any religion.” U.S. Rep. Markwayne Mullin, R-Westville, said in his Monday statement, “a lawful pause, much like President Obama’s pause of Iraqis in 2011, allows for a thoughtful review of our vetting process to ensure those determined to bring harm to our country are identified. This executive order isn’t intended to keep people out, it’s intended to keep people safe.”
One critic of Trump spoke against the new chief executive’s envisioned border wall. Arturo Delgado, Board Member of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) said:
“Building a wall is not the solution to the problem of undocumented immigration into this country – it costs money that we don’t have, and there are still methods of entering the country without documents.
Immigration from Mexico is actually decreasing, contrary to what President Trump’s rhetoric might have you believe. This action does not increase our safety, and it’s not where we should be focusing our efforts.”
Burns Hargis, President, Oklahoma State University said: “Oklahoma State University is concerned about the recent executive order restricting re-entry into the United States for citizens of certain countries. The order has created confusion as well as anxiety throughout our country and on our campus.
Many of our faculty, staff and students come from across the globe. International diversity provides perspectives, experiences and opportunities that enrich the classroom experiences at our university and prepare our students to work in a global community.
“Our international student center will be reaching out to international students, faculty and staff who may be affected by this order. We will work with our legal advisors and our Oklahoma political leaders to determine our options to support our international community at Oklahoma State. As President of Oklahoma State, I encourage all to work together in support of our international community, which through the years has greatly enhanced the OSU land-grant mission and our campus experience.”
Controversy over the order has been sustained not only through reactions at the nation’s airports (where thousands have demonstrated against the policy), but also through news reports that some Trump administration officials did not know the details of the executive order until they heard about it from reporters.