Local congressional representative John Faso, a Republican representing the Catskills and Hudson Valley in the 19th District, has joined a small group of Congressional Republicans criticizing President Donald Trump's recently-issued executive order on immigration.
Signed on Friday, the order halts the U.S. refugee program entirely for 120 days, bans all immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries for 90 days, and bans all Syrian refugees indefinitely. Enacted without legal review from the Department of Homeland Security, the agency charged with enforcing it, the executive order has resulted in an unknown number of people, some of them legal U.S. residents with valid visas and green cards, and sparked chaos at airports across the country as confused customs agents sought to carry out the surprise order.
On Saturday night, in response to a petition filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, a federal judge in Brooklyn granted a stay of the executive order, followed by similar rulings in Virginia and Massachusetts. Lawyers attempting to help the detainees say that some customs agents are refusing to comply with the federal court orders, and that detained travelers are being coerced into leaving the country and barred from contacting lawyers.
Protesters have gathered at airports across the U.S. to voice opposition to the order, some of them joined by Democratic Congressional representatives. At New York's JFK International Airport, where many were detained including Iraqi U.S. Army translator Hameed Darweesh, taxi drivers went on strike in protest.
The order, widely dubbed a "Muslim ban," does not explicitly ban Muslims, but Trump has said in an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network that Christian refugees will be given priority. The order contains a provision allowing Homeland Security to prioritize refugees of minority religions fleeing religious persecution in their home countries.
Freshman U.S. Rep. John Faso, R-Kinderhook, said the executive order was not well-drafted or well-implemented. Faso said the nation needs immigration reform through legislation, while acknowledging the president may act in the event of a national security or emergency situation.
“There is no doubt that we need to thoroughly vet people coming from countries where there is ISIS and al-Qaeda activity,” Faso said, “but, at the same time, we have to balance that against the need to respect the rights of U.S. citizens and people who are subject to valid immigration proceedings, such as holders of green cards.”
Republican Senators Lindsey Graham and John McCain were more forceful in their condemnation of the executive order, in a joint statement on Sunday that drew the ire of the President:
"We fear this executive order will become a self-inflicted wound in the fight against terrorism," McCain and Graham said in a joint statement, adding that Trump's executive order "may do more to help terrorist recruitment than improve our security."...
...Trump responded, tweeting: "The joint statement of former presidential candidates John McCain & Lindsey Graham is wrong - they are sadly weak on immigration. The two ... Senators should focus their energies on ISIS, illegal immigration and border security instead of always looking to start World War III."
Faso is facing increasing pressure from constituents to speak out on Trump's executive orders, and on the Republican effort currently underway to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. On Saturday, protesters gathered outside Faso's Kinderhook home, and were greeted by the Congressman, who came out to address them and was handed a bullhorn, according to an account on Columbia County citizen journalism site Imby.com:
Smiling and shaking hands, he walked slowly down the line of demonstrators amidst continuing chants, taking time to speak with several of the protestors. After about five minutes he was given a bullhorn and, though often interrupted by shouts and questions, he calmly spoke.
Faso said he was adamant in his opposition to defunding Planned Parenthood. His position had previously been unclear. He also said, “I don’t support a Muslim ban.” Executive orders from Trump late on Friday ordered immigration officials to block people from seven Mideast countries from entering the US. At the time of Faso’s comments, protests against the orders were gathering at JFK airport. Later in the evening, a federal judge in Brooklyn issued a stay of the president’s order.
The countries listed in the executive order are Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen. The list was derived from a 2015 program under the Obama administration that prohibited people with dual citizenship in listed countries from participating in a "visa waiver" program that currently allows citizens of certain countries to visit the U.S. without a visa. Trump's order, which expands the restrictions of that program dramatically in the name of fighting terrorism, has come under criticism for not including countries that were home to 9/11 terrorists: Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, all countries where Trump has done business.
The Iranian government has reacted to the U.S. ban by announcing a ban on all American citizens from entry, although foreign minister Javad Zarif says that the country will still honor previously-issued visas.
Update, 12:45 p.m.: Faso has posted a written statement on his website and Facebook page. Here's the full text:
“After careful review of the recent executive order regarding immigration policy, I believe that the order was neither well drafted nor well implemented. Given recent events both here and abroad, we need to take steps to strengthen our nation’s security; however, this is most effectively pursued through thoughtful and deliberative legislation. While I acknowledge that the president may act in the event of a national security threat or emergency situation, this process was rushed and led to confusion. There is no doubt that we need to thoroughly vet people coming from countries where there are strongholds of ISIS and al-Qaida. At the same time, we have to balance our security with the need to respect the rights of US citizens and people who are subject to valid immigration proceedings, including lawful permanent residents.”