By Patrick Donachie
Queens lawmakers responded to President Donald Trump’s Friday executive order barring immigration from seven Muslim-majority nations with outrage at its impact and vowed to fight it, but the chairman of the Queens Republican Party said the reaction to the orders was “political hysteria.”
“I remain shocked and appalled by the detention of individuals arriving to the U.S. at major airports, including JFK in New York City,” U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-Astoria) said. “People who are studying, working and traveling abroad are now unsure if they will be able to return home based on their immigration status. It also appears that the executive order imposes an unconstitutional religious test on immigrants and refugees seeking entry to our country by giving priority to one religion over another.”
But former congressman and Queens GOP Chairman Bob Turner defended Trump’s executive order, although he acknowledged its implementation “was somewhat haphazard, and even ham-handed.”
“The executive order is not a ban on Muslims nor will it significantly reduce the annual rate of immigrants entering the U.S. each year legally,” Turner said. “President Trump was elected on a platform featuring better vetting and scrutiny of our border access procedures. He did just what he promised to do.”
Trump signed the order Friday, which restricted travel for immigrants from Iran, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, Libya and Sudan. Entry to the United States was barred for 90 days, with the refugee program suspended for 120 days. Immigration from Syria was halted indefinitely under the order.
A Brooklyn federal court judge issued an injunction staying the order Saturday evening after a day of confusion at airports throughout the country. Dozens of people were detained at John F. Kennedy International Airport by Customs and Border Patrol officials in the chaotic aftermath of the executive order, which was reportedly issued without warning or guidance for the Department of Homeland Security.
Maloney, a senior member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, sent a letter to Committee Chair Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) and ranking member Elijah Cummings (D-Maryland), calling on the committee to investigate how the executive order was constructed.
“Critical resources and personnel power have been needed to cope with the sweeping impact of this executive order, directing them away from responsibilities that actually enhance our national security and protect our borders and airports,” she wrote. “This sweeping order is causing panic for my city and millions of families across the country and around the world, while costing us critical resources and jeopardizing our national security.”
She advised the committee investigate what guidance — if any — was given to federal agencies, details of the legal analysis the Trump administration used to justify the order, and whether White House staff had overruled agency lawyers.
U.S. Rep. Grace Meng (D-Flushing), who refused to attend Trump’s inauguration, has introduced a bill called “The No Funds for Unconstitutional Executive Orders Act” that would prohibit any funds made available by Congress from being used to enforce Trump’s refugee ban.
“The decision by a federal judge to temporarily block this unconstitutional and un-American executive order was a great victory,” Meng said in a statement. “But we must make sure that it is overturned for good, and this legislation would make that happen. I urge all my colleagues to support this bill.”
On the state level, state Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) has introduced legislation to prohibit the New York Port Authority, which operates the three airports around New York City, from using any resources in support of Trump’s executive order.
“There’s no obligation for New York state or its agencies to participate in the operation of this outrageous executive order,” he said. “We want to refuse to lend any personnel or resources or facilities to this entire process.”
State Sen. James Sanders (D-South Ozone Park) said Monday he would be a co-sponsor for Gianaris’ bill.
“We must remember that an injury to one is an injury to all. Among the refugee detainees was an Iraqi interpreter who put his life on the line working with the U.S. Armed Forces,” Sanders said in a statement. “This ban is self-defeating because in the future no one will want to work with us out of fear that they won’t be protected, and American troops will die.”
Gov. Andrew Cuomo has launched a confidential hot line for family members or friends to report if someone they know has been detained due to the ban and introduced the Transportation Worker Act in response to a recent attack on a Muslim employee at JFK airport.
“As New Yorkers who live in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty,” he said, “we welcome new immigrants as a source of energy and celebrate them as a source of revitalization for our state. We will ensure New York remains a beacon of hope and opportunity and will work to protect the rights of those seeking refuge in our state.”
Opposition to the president’s anti-immigrant agenda isn’t limited to the anti-Muslim travel restrictions. State Assemblywoman Nily Rozic (D-Flushing) is pushing back against Trump’s proposed wall on the Mexican border, proposing a bill that would prevent the state from signing contracts or investing in companies hired to work on the wall. Trump made the building of the wall the center of his presidential campaign, and signed an executive order in his first week of office to start construction.
Turner said the effects of the order would be temporary, and that ultimately it would not change America’s character as a nation of immigrants.
“He has issued a temporary ban on aliens from high-risk countries until a better screening procedure is in place. It is not a ban on immigrants and it’s not an eviction notice,” Turner said. “We are a nation of immigrants and immigrants are an important part of our continued economic growth and development. Immigration occupies a noble place in our history; that’s what makes us great.”