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Senate Judiciary Committee Votes Foreign Muslims May Not Be Banned Based on Religion

In response to Donald Trump’s call for a temporary pause on Muslim migration, the Senate Judiciary Committee declared on Thursday that Muslims living in foreign nations have a global right to immigrate to the United States.

Jeff Sessions, who fought against the amendment’s passage, says the measure represents an “unprecedented effort to extend American’s constitutional rights and protections to foreign citizens living in foreign countries.” Sessions said it would “constitute a transformation of our immigration system. In effect, it is a move toward the ratification of the idea that global migration is a ‘human right’, and a civil right… and that these so-called ‘immigrants’ rights’ must be supreme to the rights of sovereign nations to determine who can and cannot enter their borders.”

The amendment offered by Sen. Patrick Leahy stated, “The United States must not bar individuals from entering into the United States based on their religion, as such action would be contrary to the fundamental principles on which this Nation was founded.”

The amendment, which passed 16-4 as a “Sense Of The Senate” resolution, was added to a larger bill entitled The Nuclear Terrorism Conventions Implementation and Safety of Maritime Navigation Act of 2015 (S. 138).

Sen. Jeff Sessions, Ted Cruz, David Vitter, and Thom Tillis opposed the amendment; while Sen. Chuck Grassley, Orrin Hatch, Lindsey Graham, John Cornyn, Jeff Flake, David Perdue, Richard Blumenthal, Christopher Coons, Amy Klobuchar, Al Franken, Sheldon Whitehouse, Dick Durbin, Chuck Schumer, Dianne Feinstein, Pat Leahy, and Mike Lee supported it.

Sessions explained how Leahy’s proposal would fundamentally redefine the nation’s conception of immigration law— a change, which recent polling data suggest is at odds with the majority of Americans. According to a recent YouGov poll, 62% of Americans including 66% women, 55% of black Americans and 63% of Hispanics believe the U.S. should not admit Muslim Syrian refugees.

Sessions said:

What this amendment would do is to turn this fundamental principle [governing the selection of immigrants for admission] on its head, I fear, and to apply some of our core domestic, legal constitutional protections to foreign nationals with no tie to the United States. The natural extension of this concept would fundamentally undermine entire provisions of immigration law and the results would quickly become radical if this principle were to be adopted. Not just on religion, but throughout the immigration system… The logical extension of this concept results in a legal regime in which the United States cannot deny entry into the United States based on age, health, skill, family, criminal history, country of origin and so-forth.

Sessions seemed to imply that this could allow for more attacks such as what occurred in San Bernardino last week, where a radicalized foreign citizen was able gain entry to the United States on a fiancé K-1 visa:

If we say it is improper to consider religion… it would mean that even asking questions of a fiancé seeking a visa about his or her views on any religious matter, say on the idea of pluralism versus religious supremacy,would be improper because it’s improper to favor or disfavor a religion. It is improper to favor or disfavor any interpretation of religion, even if it is a perversion of a religion—it’s still a religion to that person.

Sessions continued:

This amendment would mean, for instance, that the United States could not favor for entry the moderate Muslim cleric over the radical Muslim cleric. We have huge unrest in the Middle East. An argument has been made by some that we should prioritize resettling Muslim immigrants in the region and prioritizing the entry of persecuted Christians; this measure would forbid such considerations. Keep in mind, current refugee law requires us to consider persecution on account of an individual’s religion; this would ask us to discard, or undermine, that longstanding practice.

A U.S.-born citizen who subscribes to theocratic Islam has a freedom of speech that allows them to give a sermon denouncing the U.S. constitution or demanding it be changed. But, under this amendment, a foreign religious leader living overseas could demand a tourist visa to deliver that same sermon and claim religious discrimination if it is not approved. I think it is a dangerous step.

Sen. Dick Durbin, who voted for the amendment and was a member of the Gang of Eight, seemed to confirm Sessions’ declaration— by seeming to suggest that the foreign nationals ought to be granted the same protections from the U.S. government as U.S. citizens. “It is inconceivable to me that we would respect an American’s right to chose the Muslim faith and then bar the entry of any member of their family from another country because they believe in the Muslim religion,” Durbin declared. “Those two things are totally inconsistent.” 

Senate Democrats were open about the fact that this amendment should be seen as a political response to Donald Trump’s declaration.

“I know many on this committee—on both sides of the aisle— have rightfully expressed their outrage about the call earlier this week to shut our borders to Muslims, now let’s just go on the record of formally rejecting this reprehensible proposition,” Sen. Leahy said when introducing his amendment.

Dianne Feinstein said, “When I heard the leading candidate of the great Republican Party step up and say that he would ban one religion across the board for entry into this country, I felt like somebody had shot me in the gut because everything I believe about this great country is in antithesis of that… this is the first time we have an opportunity to say to this candidate: ‘This is not what our nation stands for.’”

Interestingly, in 2001 following the 9/11 attacks, Dianne Feinstein had called for her own pause on immigration— in particular, a six-month moratorium on student visas. At the time, Feinstein told ABC, “I have some concern about why we want to educate people from countries that sponsor terrorism, that provide money, that aid and abet, that provide support for terrorists.”

In today’s mark up, Sen. Durbin said, “I listened to the comments made by Donald Trump, the leading candidate for President for the Republican nomination today. I listened to the poll numbers that suggest he is growing in popularity since he made this statement… and I find his statements to be disgusting, outrageous, and not American… When he took this extreme position… it really was a call to arms to everyone who believes in this constitution… The offering from the Senator from Vermont to reaffirm the basic American tenet, the basic American value is appropriate and timely.”

Durbin also praised Congressional Republicans like Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell, who joined Democrats in condemning Trump’s remarks. As Breitbart News has previously reported, Trump’s remarks have similarly been condemned by Presidential candidates and Durbin’s Gang of Eight colleagues Lindsey Graham and Marco Rubio.

In his remarks, Sen. Sessions pointed out the hypocrisy that the Senate Judiciary Committee would pass immigration proposals that prioritize the interests of foreign citizen living in foreign countries, but has not promoted immigration policies that protect and defend the rights of American citizens:

It was five months ago that Kate Steinle died in her father’s arms on a pier in San Francisco because a repeatedly deported criminal alien was set free. What about the American workers at Disney forced to train their guest worker replacements? They claim they were discriminated against because they were Americans. Where is the bill for them? We have these fights over and over but we never seem to advance a bill or proposal that actually results in more protections for American citizens.

This year, the U.S. will issue about 280,000 visas to Muslim migrants. This figure includes temporary guest workers, foreign students, refugees, asylees, and those permanently resettled on green cards. As a comparison, there are about 180,000 active members of the Daughters of the American Revolution. That means that this year the U.S. will admit more Muslim migrants than there are Daughters of the American Revolution.

A new Pew report released Monday found that Muslims in America favor the Democratic Party (70%) over the Republican Party (11%) by a more than six-to-one margin. Pew notes that 68% of Muslims in America “say they prefer bigger government providing more services… over a smaller government providing fewer services.”

The same Pew report notes that several of the Muslim countries to which the U.S. issues large numbers of visas have very positive views of sharia law. Pew writes, “Nearly all Muslims in Afghanistan (99%) and most in Iraq (91%) and Pakistan (84%) support sharia law as official law.”

In the last five years, according to Department Homeland Security data, the U.S. issued 83,000 green cards to Iraq, 83,000 green cards to Pakistan, and 11,000 to Afghanistan.

As Sessions declared in his remarks:

The rights that have been neglected by this Congress are the rights of the American people. The rhetoric today would have you believe we have been operating some kind of closed-door immigration policy. The opposite is true. No nation on earth has ever let in more people over a shorter period of time. We have admitted 59 million immigrants since 1965. We have admitted 1.5 million immigrants from Muslim countries since 9/11. We have the largest foreign-born population in our history as a raw number, and soon the largest percentage of non-native-born in the history of the Republic. As a share of population, it will soon eclipse every historical record. Meanwhile, large companies are exploiting programs to replace American workers and undermine their wages. Poor screening has resulted in thousands of crimes against Americans. Our entitlement programs are stretched. Wages have been flattened for decades. Every year, we admit another 1 million permanent immigrants, nearly 100,000 refugees and asylees, and 700,000 foreign guest workers. Though it appears that day will not be today, perhaps we should have a conversation soon about how to help the tens of millions of Americans who are only just barely scraping by.

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