President Trump’s ban on refugees entering the United States drew sharp reactions Saturday from three members of Maine’s congressional delegation – and from a Portland specialist in immigration law, who called the move “cruel.”

Trump signed an order Friday to suspend admission of all refugees for 120 days while a new system is set up to tighten vetting for those from predominantly Muslim countries and give preference to religious minorities. Trump said that the goal is to screen out “radical Islamic terrorists” and that priority for admission will be given to Christians.

The order placed a temporary entry ban on citizens of seven countries: Iraq, Iran, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Libya and Somalia.

Asked if they support Trump’s ban, and whether Christians should be granted priority over Muslims when entering the country, most of Maine’s congressional delegation expressed deep concern over the consequences of such actions.

Republican Sen. Susan Collins said in a prepared statement that while improvements could be made to the nation’s refugee screening process, the worldwide ban ordered by Trump “is overly broad and implementing it will be immediately problematic.”

Collins said the ban “could interfere with the immigration of Iraqis who worked for American forces in Iraq as translators and bodyguards – people who literally saved the lives of our troops and diplomats during the last decade and whose lives are at risk if they remain in Iraq.”


Maine’s senior senator added that while it is “appropriate” to consider religious persecution when reviewing a request for refugee status, “a preference should not be given to people who practice a particular religion, nor should a greater burden be imposed on people who practice a particular religion. As I stated last summer, religious tests serve no useful purpose in the immigration process and run contrary to our American values.”

“The United States remains the largest contributor of humanitarian aid to deal with the Syrian refugee crisis,” Collins added, “and we should continue to aid those who are assisting refugees in neighboring countries like Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon.”

Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat, said Trump doesn’t understand what America is about.

“Over the past week, President Trump has struck terror in the hearts of communities throughout Maine which are strengthened by immigrants and refugees. I will do everything I can to assure Maine’s refugees and immigrants, no matter their religion or the color of their skin, that they are welcome here, ” she said in a statement Saturday.

“With these executive orders, President Trump has shown his lack of understanding for American history. The words etched on Lady Liberty – ‘Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free’ – are the values that truly make America great,” Pingree said.

Pingree, who represents the 1st District, said it is wrong for the American government to prioritize or show preferential treatment to one religious group over another.


Scott Ogden, spokesman for Sen. Angus King, an independent, said in a statement that King believes the country must pursue solutions “that will actually protect our homeland,” which is why King voted for the extensive border security provisions in the comprehensive immigration reform bill passed overwhelmingly by the Senate in 2013.

“The latest actions taken by this administration, however, don’t protect us, but actually compromise our nation’s security,” Ogden said. “They only isolate America from our allies, marginalize this country’s Muslim population who are often the source for information that helps prevent terrorism, and are inconsistent with who we are as a country.”

Worse, he continued, Trump’s executive order “plays right into the hands of ISIS, which has been trying for years to bait us into converting our opposition to their isolated brand of radical terrorism into a war of America against the entire Muslim world. Unfortunately, President Trump has taken the bait – and the fight against ISIS just got a lot harder.”

Beth Stickney, a former lawyer with the Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project and now a Portland immigration law and policy consultant, said there are people in Maine who are feeling the impact of Trump’s decision to close U.S. borders to refugees. Stickney said immigrants with refugee status are allowed to bring over only their immediate families, including a spouse and children under the age of 21 but excluding any other relatives such as parents or siblings.

“There are definitely people in Maine, just like there are around the country, who have started the process nearly two years ago who are just waiting for them to come,” said Stickney.

Stickney said those family members have had their final interviews and are waiting to be notified of their travel arrangements by the Internal Office of Migration, the U.S. government contractor that makes the travel arrangements for refugees.


“These will be people who have been waiting for a really long time. This is just cruel for them,” said Stickney.

Republican Rep. Bruce Poliquin, who represents the 2nd District, did not reply to specific questions about Trump’s executive order, but his spokesman, Brendan Conley, said Poliquin’s policy in Congress “has been to increase border security, end sanctuary cities and stop Syrian refugee admissions until national security agencies put in place effective processes to ensure that no suspected or potential terrorists are allowed to cross our borders.”

Trump’s order stops the entry of refugees from Syria into the United States until further notice and suspends all refugee admissions for 120 days until analysis determines which countries harbor the greatest threat.

Some people flying into the country were detained at U.S. airports on Saturday. Portland International Jetport and Bangor International Airport do not have regularly scheduled international flights.

The U.S. accepted 84,995 refugees, including 12,587 people from Syria, in the last budget year. The U.S. annual intake of refugees for fiscal year 2017 would fall to 50,000 from more than 110,000 authorized now.

The president’s order also includes a new policy that states and localities should have a say in determining whether refugees can resettle there. It calls for the secretary of homeland security to propose a way to make their involvement routine.

Comments are no longer available on this story