Wall Street Journal
By Siobhan Hughes, Devlin Barrett and Damian Paletta
January 31, 2017
WASHINGTON—House Speaker Paul Ryan said confusion over President Donald Trump’s executive order suspending immigration from seven Muslim-majority nations was “regrettable” but defended it as in line with past congressional votes and consistent with a mandate to ensure the U.S. was kept safe from terrorists.
“The president has a responsibility to secure this country,” Mr. Ryan (R., Wis.) told reporters. “We need to pause, and we need to make sure the vetting standards are up to snuff so we can guarantee the safety and security of our country.”
The comments came as Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly defended his agency’s performance in the wake of sharp bipartisan criticism of the order’s implementation. He said any problems were quickly resolved and that his agency complied with court orders as they were issued.
Mr. Kelly also defended the substance of the orders, saying they were needed to protect the nation from potential terrorists and that they weren’t motivated by religion.
White House Fires Acting Attorney General for Defying Immigration Ban
The White House fired acting Attorney General Sally Yates for telling government lawyers not to defend an executive order signed by President Trump suspending immigration from seven countries.
“We cannot gamble with American lives,” he said, adding, “This is not—I repeat, not—a ban on Muslims.”
Mr. Kelly replied to questions about whether he was out of the loop as the White House prepared the order by saying he had known ever since Mr. Trump was a candidate that this was his plan and that there was communication with his agency last week.
“We knew it was coming from like two years ago, when Mr. Trump ran for president,” he said.
Over the weekend, many arrivals at America’s major international airports were detained and some people were even deported back to their nation of origin amid confusion over how to apply the Friday orders, which indefinitely suspended a Syrian refugee program and suspended immigration from seven countries out of concerns terrorists might enter the U.S. from those countries.
Then, Monday night, Mr. Trump fired the acting attorney general after she told government lawyers not to defend his executive order.
Mr. Trump’s plan triggered immediate legal challenges, congressional criticism, widespread protests and confusion at airports in the U.S. and around the world. The Department of Homeland Security said 721 travelers have been denied boarding of aircraft bound for the U.S., and 1,060 green-card holders were given waivers from the order and allowed to enter since Friday.
“It’s regrettable that there was some confusion on the rollout of this,” Mr. Ryan said. “No one wanted to see people with green cards or special immigrant visas, like translators, caught up in this.”
Mr. Ryan said he had spoken with Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly and felt confident that going forward the process would run more smoothly. Mr. Kelly is scheduled to meet later this afternoon on Capitol Hill with several House and Senate lawmakers about the executive order.
Kevin McAleenan, the acting director of Customs and Border Protection, blamed the fact that people with special immigrant visas were denied the right to board flights on airline carriers that “over interpreted our guidance.”
Congressional leaders, including Mr. Ryan, didn’t receive any advance notice of the executive order Mr. Trump issued on Friday night, a senior GOP aide said.
“We were briefed on it—the contents of it—as it was being rolled out,” Mr. Ryan said.
The lack of notice led to consternation among Republicans over the weekend, as the rocky implementation spurred protests at airports and some legal permanent residents were detained. Mr. Ryan and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R., Calif.) reached out to administration officials to advise them that earlier notice on such issues would be helpful, a House Republican said. Republican lawmakers said the White House’s penchant for total secrecy had backfired in this instance.
“They were in a big hurry to get something done,” said Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, the second-ranking Senate Republican, who said he didn’t receive any heads-up about the executive order. “One of the lessons from this is a little more consultation and communication would probably be a help.”
In his comments to reporters Tuesday, Mr. Ryan also defended Mr. Trump’s action as consistent with a previous House vote to put on hold a Syrian refugee program and a separate provision that Congress put into law in 2015 to impose new restrictions that ban certain groups from visa-free travel to the U.S.
Under that measure, people from 38 countries who normally would be allowed to travel to the U.S. without a visa are required to get a visa if they had traveled to Iran, Iraq, Syria or Sudan in recent years, or if they had dual citizenship with one of those four countries.
Until Mr. Trump’s executive order, those dual citizens could still come into the country with a visa. The Obama administration later added three more countries to its list—Yemen, Somalia and Libya—for a total of seven; although it had excepted dual nationals of those three countries from the new restrictions.
“These countries were named in legislation that we talked about last year,” Mr. Ryan said, pushing back on claims that Mr. Trump’s action amounted to a Muslim ban. “There is an issue with respect to terrorists trying to infiltrate our refugee population,” he said.
Mr. Ryan’s comments follow the White House’s firing of acting Attorney General Sally Yates for telling government lawyers not to defend Mr. Trump’s executive order.
Ms. Yates learned of her firing Monday evening, in a letter from the White House hand-delivered to her office, according to a person familiar with the matter.
White House spokesman Sean Spicer said Tuesday that Ms. Yates “failed to enforce” an order that was “designed to protect the American people.” He added the ban is not “extreme,” but “reasonable,” and her refusal to carry out order was “bewildering as well as defiant.”
Ms. Yates didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.
Dana Boente, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, will be acting attorney general until Mr. Trump’s attorney general nominee, Jeff Sessions, is confirmed by the U.S. Senate, which could happen next week.
Mr. Boente was sworn in at 9 p.m. Monday, according to White House officials, and just before midnight he issued new instructions: “I hereby rescind former acting attorney general Sally. Q Yates’ January 30, 2017 guidance and direct the men and women of the Department of Justice to do our sworn duty and to defend the lawful orders of our president.’’
Senate Democrats signaled the firing of Ms. Yates would intensify their efforts against Mr. Trump’s attorney general nominee.
“The firing of Sally Yates underscores how important it is to have an attorney general who will stand up to the White House when they are violating the law,’’ said Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D., N.Y.). “Many people have doubts about whether Jeff Sessions can be that person, and the full Senate and the American people should at the very least know exactly how independent he plans to be before voting on him.”
Ms. Yates, a career prosecutor, became the acting head of the Justice Department when Loretta Lynch stepped down as attorney general this month.
The administration has said the travel ban doesn’t represent a religious test, noting there are dozens of Muslim countries that aren’t affected. Critics have denounced it as targeting Islam because the seven countries have majority populations of Muslims. The administration notes that the seven countries were initially identified by the Obama administration as posing significant security risks.
For more information, go to: www.beverlyhillsimmigrationlaw.com