Delegation vows to fight refugee ban

MONTPELIER — Vermont’s congressional delegation is promising to stand up to a presidential executive order that will halt the arrival of Syrian refugees in Vermont and stop people from seven predominantly Muslim countries from entering the U.S. for at least 90 days.

President Donald Trump signed an executive order Friday afternoon indefinitely barring Syrians from entering the country and suspends all immigrants from entering the country for 120 days. Meanwhile, citizens of seven countries — Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen are forbidden to the enter the U.S. for 90 days.

People from those countries, as well as students, tourists and even those with legal permanent status in the U.S., were stopped at airports beginning Friday and prevented from entering the country. Some were sent back overseas.

A federal judge in New York issued a stay Saturday on parts of Trump’s order, ruling that those being stopped at entry points should not be sent back. The stay did not allow them to enter the U.S., however.

Sen. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Sen. Patrick Leahy (AP/J. Scott Applewhite)

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., plans to support legislation crafted by Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., that would overturn the executive order, Leahy spokesman David Carle said. But Leahy and other Democrats expected Senate Republicans to block the measure, he said.

Carle said Leahy believes the order violates the U.S. Constitution.

“Senator Leahy agrees with the federal judges who have reviewed the executive order that there is a substantial likelihood that it violates individuals’ constitutional rights to Due Process and Equal Protection under the law,” Carle said in an email.

Leahy is also crafting legislation “ that would reaffirm that the United States should remain a global leader in welcoming refugees and asylum seekers, and that no person should ever be banned from entering the United States because of their nationality or religion,” Carle said.

Other steps against Trump’s action are being considered by Leahy and his staff, he said.

Rep. Peter Welch, a Democrat and the state’s lone congressman, told reporters Monday at a news conference in Burlington that Trump’s actions are “damaging.”

“I’ve never seen an action by the United States — by the president of the United States — that has been so damaging to the tradition of religious liberty and open acceptance of people who are seeking asylum as this order by President Trump,” he said.

Rep. Peter Welch

Rep. Peter Welch

Welch said the order is “essentially a ban on Muslims.”

“There is no debate, from me, about the absolute wrongness of having a religious ban and that being the determination upon which people are allowed to come in,” he said.

Welch said he was returning to Washington later Monday and planned to bring the stories of the two Syrian families living in Rutland to the attention of other members of Congress.

Also, Welch said he will begin working with colleagues on legislation to overturn the order and planned to attend a vigil Monday night on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court with other members of Congress in protest.

“It’s got to be overturned,” Welch said.

A spokesman for Sen. Bernie Sanders, Vermont’s independent junior senator, pointed to a Facebook post from Sanders on Saturday. In the post, Sanders said the order is “an ugly stain on everything this country is supposed to stand for.”

“Trump has given ammunition to the anti-American terrorists who hate this country and want to do us harm. This executive order must be rescinded,” Sanders wrote. “Trump’s latest executive action will not make us safer. In fact, his anti-Muslim actions play right into the hands of those anti-American fanatics who wish to do us harm. Love and compassion trump hatred and intolerance.”

The spokesman said Sanders also plans to attend the vigil at the Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, Vermont Attorney General T.J. Donovan announced Monday he has joined with 16 other attorneys general across the country in a coordinated effort to respond.

The attorneys general issued a statement Monday condemning Trump’s “unconstitutional, un-American and unlawful” order. They pledged to work together “to ensure the federal government obeys the Constitution, respects our history as a nation of immigrants, and does not unlawfully target anyone because of their national origin or faith.”

Vermont Attorney General T.J. Donovan

Vermont Attorney General T.J. Donovan

The 17 attorneys general hailed federal court rulings that have temporarily halted some elements of the order.

“Yesterday, multiple federal courts ordered a stay of the Administration’s dangerous Executive Order. We applaud those decisions and will use all of the tools of our offices to fight this unconstitutional order and preserve our nation’s national security and core values,” they wrote in their statement. “We are confident that the Executive Order will ultimately be struck down by the courts. In the meantime, we are committed to working to ensure that as few people as possible suffer from the chaotic situation that it has created.”

The sweeping executive order is affecting some Vermont residents. University of Vermont spokesman Enrique Corredera said no students, faculty or staff who are foreign nationals included in the seven countries singled out for special restrictions are currently outside the country. But there “fewer than two dozen” from those countries who hold valid visas currently on campus.

“We are advising them not to travel outside of the United States at least during the 90 days of the order,” Corredera said. “We continue to monitor the situation closely, and will steadfastly and vigorously support and protect members of our university community to the maximum extent allowed by the Constitution and federal and state laws.”

neal.goswami @timesargus.com

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