Alaska congressional delegation expresses some support for immigration order but criticizes rollout

WASHINGTON – Alaska's congressional delegation was critical of the rollout and planning surrounding President Donald Trump's immigration executive order but offered general support for its intent.

All three members of the delegation — Republican Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan and Rep. Don Young — said, to varying degrees, that they agreed with the president's intent: to keep Americans safe and make sure the immigrant vetting process is secure.

But they also agreed that the executive order was a poorly managed fiasco.

"Well, the president has done some things in the past eight days here that while I may agree in principle with the direction that he's going, I think that we have seen some consequences that were clearly not well vetted and not well thought out, and that's just this weekend's example," Murkowski said in an interview Monday.

Sullivan suggested that the situation could have gone more smoothly: "As we move forward, I would hope that the Trump administration better communicates the facts to agency officials, Congress, the American people and our allies abroad," he said. The junior senator noted that "some of our most critical allies in the war on terrorism are majority Muslim countries.

"Additionally, it's important that those foreign nationals who have served with our U.S. military abroad — in countries like Iraq — be given special consideration when examining their immigration and refugee eligibility," Sullivan said, referring to military interpreters who were reportedly held up at airports this weekend.

"As many will agree, I believe the rollout of this order was flawed," Young said in a statement Monday evening. "It left those tasked with implementing this policy with inadequate information and little direction, and resulted in what many believe to be the wrongful detention of certain lawful residents of the United States."

But the lawmakers expressed support for moves taken late Sunday to allow green card holders into the United States. (Statements were issued and interviews held before the acting attorney general said government attorneys should not defend the ban in court, and was subsequently fired by President Trump.)

"Ultimately, I support the goals of increased security, additional screening and added layers of safety. I believe we must do everything in our power to ensure our immigration system is complete, thorough and capable of examining threats — particularly from some of the most dangerous regions of the globe," Young said in a statement Monday. "This temporary pause allows our nation to review its vetting process and begin addressing some of the many national security holes identified by those in our intelligence and counter-terrorism community."

Members of Alaska's congressional delegation were silent throughout the weekend as protests ignited across the country after Customs and Border Patrol agents began detaining passengers arriving at U.S. airports, including longtime green card holders (legal residents) and refugees who have undergone years of screening. Roughly 75 percent of refugees admitted to the United States are children under the age of 14 and women, according to the U.S. government.

[How the chaotic rollout of Trump's refugee order ignited a global fallout]

While there was early disagreement about the scope of the executive order, and emergency orders issued by judges in four states, Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said Sunday evening that lawful permanent residents will be allowed to enter the country, and such a status will generally "be a dispositive factor in our case-by-case determinations" of whether a person should be allowed in the country. The order allows the secretaries of state and homeland security to admit individuals on a "case-by-case basis," if they determine it is in the "national interest."

In his statement Monday, Sullivan said the "public should know that those immigrants who hold a green card and are lawful permanent residents are not affected. The public should also know that this order does not target those who practice a specific religion."

[Hundreds gather in Anchorage to protest Trump's immigration ban]

Trump called for a ban on Muslim entry to the United States in December 2015, during his campaign for president. Sullivan and Murkowski said then that they did not support a religious test and that it would be constitutionally unsound.

Following this weekend's confusion, "we have greater clarity and I am heartened to see that the order itself does not reflect some of the misguided rhetoric used during the campaign," Sullivan said. "As I noted during that time — while we must aggressively fight against radical Islam, we cannot sacrifice our country's founding principles."

Trump said Sunday that his order was not intended to be a "Muslim ban." But former adviser Rudy Giuliani raised questions about that account with a statement on television that Trump had asked him and other advisers to find a way to enact a Muslim ban "legally." The executive order halts immigration from seven of 50 Muslim-majority countries, and exceptions may be made for a person who "is a religious minority in his country of nationality facing religious persecution."

Sullivan agreed with the administration, saying that the order "is about temporarily suspending visitors and those seeking refugee status to the United States predominantly from countries that the former Obama administration and now Trump administration deem a security risk to our country. The temporary restrictions, which I support, will be in place until our vetting and screening system is thoroughly reexamined to ensure terrorists aren't entering our country."

"President Trump has made it clear that the security of Americans is his top priority. I agree," Murkowski said in a statement.

But she urged caution:

"I also believe U.S. immigration policy must strike a balance between national security and our values as Americans and that how we implement policy matters. I will be pressing the administration to address the needs of those impacted by the implementation of this order while we work on the broader policy."

Murkowski said she spent the weekend consulting with Catholic Social Services and the Department of Homeland Security on the fallout of the order and how it would affect refugees intended for resettlement in Alaska.

No immigrants, refugees or permanent residents were en route to Alaska over the weekend, she said. But, "Catholic Social Services has been working for seven years now to get this Ukrainian family into Anchorage, to get them settled as refugees. And now they're somewhere in the system on hold," she said.

Murkowski said her Senate colleagues are often surprised to find out how "ethnically diverse" Alaska is.

"And so people don't think about Alaska as being one of these states that immigration is that big of an issue, but given our makeup, given our population, given who we are, it's important," Murkowski said.

So, "when you have these orders come that are causing the consternation at the level that it has," that affects Alaskans, she said.

Erica Martinson

Erica Martinson is a former reporter for the Anchorage Daily News based in Washington, D.C.