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for people who care about the West

Western states react to Trump’s immigration travel ban

At least eight Republican Congressmen have broken with their party line in opposition.


Editor's note: On Feb. 3, a Washington state judge temporarily blocked President Donald Trump's ban on immigration and travel from Iraq, Iran, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Somalia and Libya.

As President Donald Trump begins to fulfill promises made on the campaign trail, he’s taken on immigration restrictions. In an executive order signed Jan. 25, Trump focused on “border security and immigration enforcement” by instructing Congress to find resources to build a border wall between the United States and Mexico, and defunding sanctuary cities. Despite his federal hiring freeze, he also requested 5,000 additional border patrol agents. Then, on Jan. 27, he signed another order banning any travel from seven Muslim-majority countries: Iraq, Iran, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Somalia and Libya. The order keeps out immigrants from the countries for 90 days, and refugees for 120 days. The order suspends entry of refugees from Syria entirely.

In the West, the order set off protests from citizens and bipartisan complaints from Congressional lawmakers who saw the temporary ban as overreach. The order caused confusion, as it put even legal residents and green card holders in limbo at international airports when it went into affect. Those coming from any of the seven countries were either sent back, or detained at airports as protesters gathered outside and immigration lawyers sought to free them.

Western Democratic representatives spoke out against the order, as well as at least eight Republican lawmakers. Lawsuits in three Western states have been filed to protect immigrants from the travel ban.

Protesters of the travel ban gathered at the San Francisco International Airport.
Peg Hunter/Flickr user

Arizona Sens. Jeff Flake and John McCain, both notable for their tempestuous relationships with Trump, strongly rejected the ban. Nationwide, Arizona came in sixth for the number of refugees it resettled in fiscal year 2016. “Our most important allies in the fight against (Islamic State) are the vast majority of Muslims who reject its apocalyptic ideology of hatred,” McCain said in a joint statement with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). “This executive order sends a signal, intended or not, that America does not want Muslims coming into our country.”

Another Western voice came from Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah. “I am acutely aware that many of my own ancestors in the not-too-distant past were themselves refugees,” Hatch, who is Mormon, wrote on Twitter. Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., echoed that sentiment, saying Muslim allies are some of the most important sources in the war on terror, and that “a religious test or ban is against everything our country stands for.”


It’s hard to know how many Muslims are in the Western states, because the U.S. Census does not collect information about religion. But California takes the majority of the West’s immigrants from the seven countries listed in the travel ban, according to data from the Migration Policy Institute.

In 2016, California resettled the most refugees in the country and has loudly opposed the ban, from packed protests at the San Francisco and Los Angeles airports, to a lawsuit calling for an end to the travel ban. San Francisco city officials also filed a lawsuit aimed at Trump’s order to defund sanctuary cities.

Washington state’s attorney general also sued Trump in defense of the approximately 7,280 non-citizen immigrants who live there from the seven affected countries. The lawsuit cites the booming technology industry that relies on H-1B visa holders, which allows foreigners to temporarily work in the U.S, as well as green card holders employed at Amazon, Expedia and Microsoft. On Feb. 1, Oregon Governor Kate Brown recommended that the state’s attorney general also file a lawsuit against the travel ban. In Colorado, a Libyan foreign national who studies at Community College of Denver also filed a lawsuit, and the ban was criticized by Sens. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., and Michael Bennet, D-Colo., and Republican Rep. Mike Coffman.

The ban touches on Western history: In early 1882, the United States implemented its first immigration ban, the Chinese Exclusion Act, which turned away Chinese immigrants from Angel Island in California, the Western counterpart to Ellis Island. Then, in 1942, the Roosevelt administration established Japanese internment camps in California, Idaho, Utah, Arizona, Wyoming, Colorado and Arkansas. Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif., drew that comparison in a speech on the floor of the U.S. House on Monday: “If you are silent today, you would have been silent then,” Takano said. “If you are complicit today, you would have been complicit then." 

Anna V. Smith is an editorial fellow at High Country News. She tweets