Tillis pens bipartisan letter asking for an exception to ban on Iraqis
By Josh Bergeron
SALISBURY — U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis on Monday joined with two Democrats to advocate for an exception to President Donald Trump’s temporary immigrant and refugee ban.
Tillis, a Republican, joined Sens. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., and Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., to ask that the president allow Iraqis who supported foreign military missions to continue to enter the United States. The trio made their argument in a letter to Secretary of Defense James Mattis.
The letter comes on the heels of an ongoing controversy about Trump’s executive order that temporarily bans travelers from seven countries and halts the admission of all refugees. The executive order indefinitely bars refugees from Syria, but refugees from all other countries are temporarily banned.
Iraq is among the seven Middle Eastern and African countries from which travelers are banned.
“This situation is unacceptable, and we fear the United States will pay significant moral and strategic costs if it continues, particularly in terms of our ability to obtain necessary local support for U.S. military missions abroad,” the senators said in the letter to Mattis. “As such, we respectfully request that you encourage the president to immediately ensure that properly vetted Iraqis who supported the U.S. mission in their country can continue to enter the U.S.”
The letter describes the Iraqi Special Immigrant Visa program and Priority-2 Direct Access Program for Iraqi refugees. The two programs have issued thousands of visas to vetted Iraqi nationals who worked with U.S. troops in Iraq, the letter states.
The letter quotes Mattis in one passage — “most of our units could not have accomplished their missions without the assistances, often at risk to their lives, of these courageous men and women.”
One of the first travelers to be affected by Trump’s executive order was a Charlotte-bound Iraqi national named Hameed Khalid Darweesh, who was detained at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York, The Charlotte Observer reported. He was an interpreter for the U.S. military. The Observer reported that Darweesh had a valid visa for 10 years and worked in various contract positions for the U.S. government.
The senators’ letter noted that implementing the executive order falls outside Mattis’ duties as secretary of defense.
“However, given that you understand the strategic and moral import of standing with, and when necessary providing refuge to, those foreigners who supported our soldiers and diplomats, we urge you to intercede with the president and we support any efforts you make toward that end,” the senators’ letter states.
On Sunday, Tillis said Trump’s executive order should be refined to ensure there are no unintended consequences that fail to make America safer. Tillis called the fact that green-card holders were denied entry into the U.S. inexplicable. While saying that America should offer safety to refugees, Tillis also said America should “be mindful of the sad reality that radical Islamic terrorists are actively attempting to infiltrate refugee programs to enter western nations.”
Contact reporter Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4246.