01.30.17

Peters, Colleagues Urge Clarification from Homeland Security Secretary on Executive Order Restricting Refugee Admissions to United States

Peters, Colleagues Raise Concerns on Order Effectively Implementing Religious Test for Entry to United States

WASHINGTON, DC - U.S. Senator Gary Peters (MI) today joined his colleagues on the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee in a letter requesting a meeting with Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary John Kelly amid troubling reports that he and key members within DHS were not appropriately involved with the crafting and implementation of President Trump’s latest Executive Order restricting refugee admissions to the United States. In the letter, Peters and his colleagues asked Secretary Kelly to answer a series of questions related to his role in crafting the Executive Order.

“We are deeply troubled by this unprecedented order and its implementation by the Department of Homeland Security,” wrote Peters and his colleagues. “We urge you to postpone implementation of this Executive Order until these questions have been answered, and, more importantly, you have had an opportunity to ensure that the legal, policy, and practical impacts of President Trump’s order have been fully and thoroughly reviewed.”

The Senators additionally expressed alarm at a proposed religious tests for future immigrants, and questioned Kelly about the method DHS plans to use to collect religious data, after President Trump’s assertion in a recent interview that the United States would give preference to Christians seeking to obtain visas or admission to the country.

Peters was joined on the letter by Senators Claire McCaskill (MO), Tom Carper (DE), Jon Tester (MT), Heidi Heitkamp (ND), Maggie Hassan (NH), and Kamala Harris (CA).

A copy of the Senators’ letter is available below, and online here.

The Honorable John Kelly
Secretary
U.S. Department of Homeland Security
Dear Mr. Secretary:

We write regarding the Executive Order  entitled, “Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States” signed by President Trump on January 27, 2017. We are deeply troubled by this unprecedented order and its implementation by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

In the Executive Order, President Trump suspended for 90 days the issuance of visas to nationals of Iran, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Somalia, and Libya, including individuals who have been granted lawful permanent resident status (“green card” holders). Reportedly, senior career officials at the Department of Homeland Security were not consulted about the contents of the Executive Order until Friday, January 27, the day it was signed. On Friday evening, DHS senior officials interpreted the order to mean that legal permanent residents from the seven affected countries would not be prevented from traveling to or entering the U.S, and you provided assurances to Senate Democratic leadership that legal permanent residents would not be affected. Overnight, you were reportedly overruled by the White House, specifically Steve Miller and Steve Bannon, who determined that legal permanent residents were subject to the Executive Order. On the evening of Sunday, January 29, you issued a statement outlining a third interpretation, saying that “absent the receipt of significant derogatory information indicating a serious threat to public safety and welfare, lawful permanent resident status will be a dispositive factor in our case-by-case determinations.”  

In order to better understand the analysis conducted by DHS and your plans to implement President Trump’s order as it applies to legal permanent residents, we request the following information:

1) The names, titles and qualifications of all officials who were involved in the drafting and/or review of the Executive Order prior to its issuance, including any political appointees, members of the “beachhead team”, special advisors, and consultants;

2) All legal analysis related to the Executive Order;

3) All communications within the Department and with other administration officials, including White House officials, related to whether the Executive Order applied to legal permanent residents, as well as a description of when and why you determined that the Executive Order would not apply to legal permanent residents, when and why that determination was changed, and at whose direction each determination was made;

4) What the process will be for individuals with green cards who have traveled or plan to travel outside of the United States and return; and

5) The instructions and guidance provided to DHS officials at U.S. ports of entry and all relevant international locations regarding the implementation of the Executive Order.  If these instructions differed from location to location or from day to day, include all such instructions that were given to officials.

We also have grave concerns about the President's assertion on a television interview that our country would give preference to Christians seeking to obtain visas or admission to the U.S.   This nation is founded on the bedrock principles of liberty and religious freedom, and a religious test for those seeking to enter this country abandons and abuses these principles. In order to understand your interpretation of the President’s statement and your plans to implement President Trump’s order as it applies to the use of religious information, we request the following information:

1) Any processes currently in place to identify an individual’s religion prior to receiving a visa, admission, or other immigration benefit;

2) All legal analysis related to whether the U.S. government may request information regarding an individual’s religion prior to receiving a visa, admission, or other immigration benefit;

3) Whether religion will be considered as part of your review of information needed to adjudicate whether an individual may receive a visa, admission, or other immigration benefit; and

4) If the answer to the above question is yes, how the U.S. government plans to determine someone's religious beliefs. Will this entail investigations into their place of worship or their knowledge of religious tenets?

We request a meeting with you on or before Tuesday, February 2, to discuss your responses to these questions. We also request a thorough, written response as soon as practicable, and in no case later than February 10, 2017. An attachment provides additional information about how to respond to my request.

We urge you to postpone implementation of this Executive Order until these questions have been answered, and, more importantly, you have had an opportunity to ensure that the legal, policy, and practical impacts of President Trump’s order have been fully and thoroughly reviewed.