Capitol Alert

California AG and 16 counterparts condemn Trump’s refugee ban as unconstitutional

Democrat Xavier Becerra is sworn in as California's first Latino attorney general with his wife, Dr. Carolina Reyes, in Sacramento on Tuesday.
Democrat Xavier Becerra is sworn in as California's first Latino attorney general with his wife, Dr. Carolina Reyes, in Sacramento on Tuesday.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and counterparts from across the country on Sunday sharply criticized President Donald Trump’s “extreme vetting” order blocking immigration from the Middle East, denouncing the action that set off mass weekend protests as “in so many ways unjust and anti-American.”

“It discriminates against human beings based on their faith. It denies entry to those with proven and legitimate fears of death and persecution. It tramples on centuries of American tradition,” Becerra said in a statement late Saturday, adding that the order should not stand. “Justice in America doesn’t live or die on the stroke of one man’s pen regardless of how high his office,” he added.

Becerra, the state’s new top law enforcement official and a former congressman from Los Angeles, did not announce any legal actions, but on Sunday afternoon he joined 16 other Democratic attorneys general in calling Trump’s executive order “unconstitutional, un-American and unlawful.”

The group said it would work together to ensure the federal government “obeys the Constitution, respects our history as a nation of immigrants, and does not unlawfully target anyone because of their national origin or faith.”

Trump, delivering on a campaign pledge that many of his fellow Republicans rejected at the time, moved Friday to freeze refugee admissions and bar entry for people from seven Muslim-majority countries – Iraq, Iran, Syria, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen. The order, pertaining to an estimated 134 million people, spurred refugee and civil rights groups to warn that the new president was formalizing his anti-Muslim campaign rhetoric.

A legal challenge came Saturday from two Iraqi men with U.S. visas who were in transit at the time Trump issued the order and were detained when they arrived at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York.

Large demonstrations followed at JFK, and in Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles and other airports before Judge Ann M. Donnelly of Federal District Court in Brooklyn reviewed the challenge and put a hold on part of Trump’s actions. More judges have since stepped in, yet the protests continued into Sunday, including a gathering at Sacramento International Airport. A number of Democrats, including U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, are planning legislation.

California Republicans were mostly silent on Trump’s order, with Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Tulare, chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, standing out as a rare early exception.

Nunes, in a statement Sunday, said he has repeatedly noted that refugee flows from certain war-torn regions pose a serious security threat to the U.S.

“In light of attempts by jihadist groups to infiltrate fighters into refugee flows to the West, along with Europe’s tragic experience coping with this problem, the Trump administration’s executive order on refugees is a common-sense security measure to prevent terror attacks on the homeland,” Nunes said.

He added that there should be accommodations for green-card holders and those who’ve assisted the U.S. armed forces.

Becerra, who upon taking office last week pledged his state’s loyalty to its millions of immigrants, said he would work to ensure that refugees who have met the country’s legal test for admission can escape death and persecution.

He issued his remarks before joining forces with his colleagues in New York, Pennsylvania, Washington, Massachusetts, Hawaii, Virginia, Oregon, Connecticut, Vermont, Illinois, New Mexico, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Rhode Island, and the District of Columbia.

Becerra added: “We will use every tool within our authority to offer victims of the Trump administration’s overreach a fighting chance to overcome but another cruel barrier to their flight to freedom.”

President Donald Trump signed an executive action at the Pentagon in January, tightening the United States' refugee and visa policies.

Christopher Cadelago: 916-326-5538, @ccadelago

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