Acting Attorney General Sally Q. Yates to Justice Department: Don’t Defend Trump’s Refugee Ban
The acting US attorney general, who was appointed by former president Barack Obama, ordered the Justice Department on Monday not to defend President Donald Trump’s highly controversial and possibly unlawful ban on people from seven Muslim nations.
“I am responsible for ensuring that the positions we take in court remain consistent with this institution’s solemn obligation to always seek justice and stand for what is right,” Acting Attorney General Sally Q. Yates wrote in a letter to Justice Department lawyers, the New York Times reports. “At present, I am not convinced that the defense of the executive order is consistent with these responsibilities nor am I convinced that the executive order is lawful.”
“For as long as I am the acting attorney general, the Department of Justice will not present arguments in defense of the executive order, unless and until I become convinced that it is appropriate to do so,” Yates added.
Yates’ move was largely symbolic; Trump’s pick for attorney general, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), is expected to be confirmed soon. While the president has the power to fire Yates, she is the only official authorized to sign foreign surveillance warrants; it is highly unlikely she will be terminated.
Last Friday, Trump, who described the move as “extreme vetting,” signed an executive order titled Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States. The order implemented an immediate 90-day suspension of visas for citizens of select Muslim-majority nations, currently Iraq, Iran, Syria, Yemen, Libya, Sudan and Somalia. More than 200 million people are now banned from entering the United States. US officials initially said even permanent legal residents — holders of so-called green cards — would be subjected to the ban, but the White House later walked back an earlier statement.
All seven of the banned countries have been bombed by the United States. However, there have been no fatal terror attacks on US soil by any citizen of the seven nations. In contrast, 15 of the 19 9/11 hijackers who killed nearly 3,000 Americans were from Saudi Arabia, which is not on the ban list. The other four were from the UAE, Egypt and Lebanon, none of which were included on the list of banned countries.
While the Trump administration insists the ban is not religion-based, former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani claimed over the weekend that the president personally asked him how he could legally implement a “Muslim ban.” Giuliani said he assembled a commission that concluded the way to ban Muslims without the appearance of religious discrimination was by focusing on the alleged danger posed by people from the seven banned nations.
Numerous federal judges issued emergency stays temporarily blocking the removal of refugees, immigrants and travelers detained at airports across America following Trump’s order. However, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents at airports including Washington Dulles International Airport in Virginia openly defied the order and continued detaining arriving passengers from the seven banned nations.
Trump’s executive order sparked widespread worldwide outrage, with major protests erupting at airports across the United States in cities including New York, San Francisco, Washington, DC, Chicago, Dallas and Los Angeles on Saturday and Sunday. Some critics drew historical parallels between Trump’s action and the refusal of the United States and other nations to come to the aid of Jewish refugees trying to flee the horrors of the Nazi Holocaust or Rwandans fleeing genocide in 1994.