AUGUSTA — The case of an Iranian immigrant and former Freeport resident who died fighting for the Islamic State in Lebanon last year prompted criticism of U.S. immigration policy Tuesday by two of Maine’s top Republicans.

Gov. Paul LePage and U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, 2nd District, both said the case of Adnan Fazeli is another example of why the United States needs to tighten its screening process for immigrants hoping to live in America.

LePage sharply criticized President Obama, saying his immigration policies have been an “utter failure and continue to jeopardize the safety of millions of Americans.”

Poliquin, in a separate statement, said the president “and his liberal allies are ignoring the rightful concerns of millions of Americans and moving forward with a dangerous Middle East immigration and refugee policy.”

Neither LePage nor Poliquin identified specific deficiencies in how the U.S. currently screens immigrants, suggested what specific measures might be taken to improve the process or addressed how a screening process would have kept Fazeli from entering the country since a federal investigation said he became radicalized while in Maine.

Fazeli fled Iran in 2007 or 2008 because he faced arrest as a dissident, according to federal court documents unsealed Monday. He and his family entered the U.S. in Philadelphia and moved to Maine in 2009. Fazeli was radicalized in his Islamic faith after watching hours of Islamic videos online while living in Maine, the federal affidavit said. He left for Turkey in 2013 and was killed with other Islamic State fighters in a battle in Lebanon in 2015.


The FBI investigated whether other people were aware of or assisted his plans to fight for the Islamic State, but no charges were brought and the investigation was closed, the affidavit said.

"xxx Something Poliquin said asd;lfkasdfjasf asdfl;jkasdflvw." Sen. Bruce Poliquin

“Immigration policies have been “an utter failure and continue to jeopardize the safety of millions of Americans.”      – U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin

Immigrants who enter the United States as refugees are subject to a two-stage screening process – first by the United Nations and then by the U.S. State Department. The process can take years and involves medical and security screening, as well as multiple background checks and in-person interviews.

Republican Donald Trump has made immigration a key issue in the presidential campaign, and LePage has embraced his stand on the issue during Trump’s three appearances in Maine. The governor’s statement about Fazeli did not mention Trump by name, but it echoes the candidate’s position on immigration.

“While the Supreme Court rejected the president’s overreach in his executive action to prevent deportation of millions of illegal immigrants, we must urge Congress to correct and enforce immigration policies to ensure they protect American citizens and reject those seeking to live in the United States who want to harm us or join our enemies,” LePage said.

Poliquin, who has repeatedly refused to answer reporters’ questions on whether he supports Trump’s candidacy, also did not name Trump in his statement. But he said he has voted against the refugee resettlement program because it “aims to bring tens of thousands of unknown individuals into the United States without proper safeguards in place.”

Emily Cain, Poliquin’s Democratic opponent for the 2nd District seat in November, agreed about the need to vet all immigrants to the U.S. – “so we know exactly who they are” – but pointed out that is just one aspect of fighting terrorism.


“Defeating ISIS means winning the war on multiple fronts – we need to stamp out Islamic extremists online, overseas, and in our own communities,” Cain said in a statement Tuesday night. “These Mainers, including the extremist’s own relatives, won a battle in our community by reporting him to the FBI.”

Maine’s U.S. senators, Republican Susan Collins and independent Angus King, issued a joint statement Tuesday night that echoed the belief that Americans’ safety and security had to be the highest priority.

“We remain deeply concerned about this threat, which is often the most difficult to track and prevent, and believe that both Congress and the administration must do more to implement policies that help prevent radicalization, much of which occurs online, and root out its fundamental causes,” the statement said. “We will continue to work with our colleagues and with the intelligence community in order to do so.”

In a speech in Ohio on Monday, Trump called for a tighter screening process for immigrants and renewed his call for a moratorium on allowing immigration from parts of the world that are fraught with violence or terrorism. Trump cited recent terror attacks in the U.S. and around the globe, and criticized Obama and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton for not specifically pinning the deaths of Americans on “radical Islam.” As president, Trump said one of his first acts would be to establish a Commission on Radical Islam.

“This commission will be used to develop new protocols for local police officers, federal investigators and immigration screeners,” Trump said. He also said the commission would “include reformist voices in the Muslim community.”

During an appearance this month in Portland, Trump blamed Maine’s Somali immigrant population, which includes an estimated 12,000 people, for an increase in crime in the state. That claim that was refuted by police chiefs in Maine’s two largest cities, Lewiston and Portland, where the bulk of that population resides. The claim also drew a rebuke from about 400 Portland residents who gathered to show support for their Somali friends and neighbors during a rally on the steps of Portland City Hall the day after Trump’s statement.


"xxx Something LePage said asd;lf asfdekjasf asdfl;jkasdflvw." GOV. PAUL LEPAGE

“We cannot afford to harbor radical Islamic sympathizers on our watch.”
– Gov. Paul LePage

LePage has previously taken aim at portions of Maine’s immigrant community and especially at those who overstay either a tourist or student visa and then request political asylum and depend on public benefits while they await a determination on their asylum status from a federal immigration judge – a process that can take up to 18 months.

The governor has said immigrants who come to Maine through all the legal federal channels are welcome in the state, but he has also said he would resist accepting new refugees from war-torn Syria if the federal government tried to resettle large numbers here. LePage also has charged asylum-seeking immigrants with causing an increase in the spread of infectious diseases in Maine. The claim has not been substantiated by any data within the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention and has been refuted by advocates who work with the state’s immigrant population.

Immigrants from Somalia still represent the largest group of new Mainers, according to information provided by Catholic Charities Maine, the state’s only refugee resettlement agency.

In 2015, the agency helped 192 refugees from Somalia resettle in Maine. But the largest single group of refugees to resettle in Maine in any of the last five years were the 371 Iraqis who came to the state in 2013. Refugees from Somalia, Iraq and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in descending order, contributed the largest number of immigrants to Maine over the last five years. Another 332 immigrants from 26 other countries including Iran, Afghanistan, Syria, Cuba and Russia, among other places, have settled in Maine since 2010, the data show.

And while there have been no acts of terror in Maine or elsewhere in the United States attributed to immigrants from any of these countries, LePage on Tuesday urged voters to consider the issue when weighing their options in November.

“The screening process of immigrants has failed and will continue to place Americans at risk,” he said. “We cannot afford to harbor radical Islamic sympathizers on our watch. We have an upcoming election, which is pivotal in addressing U.S. foreign policy and immigration laws, and two presidential candidates who are on opposite sides of the fence. These policies are vital to the future of our nation and our state. The safety of Americans must come first.”

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