White House spokesman Sean Spicer today dismissed concerns being raised by career diplomats over President Donald Trump's new executive order restricting immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countries, telling them to "either get with the program or they can go."
ABC News first reported this morning that dozens of American foreign service officers and other diplomats around the world were preparing to file a formal objection to the executive order, which indefinitely suspends admission of Syrian refugees to the U.S. and temporarily freezes all other refugee resettlement in the U.S. and immigration from those seven nations.
Scores of additional foreign service officers could sign onto the memo before it's transmitted to Washington, although the time frame for filing is not known.
Use of dissent memos is so serious that in 1995 then–Secretary of State Warren Christopher warned diplomats that they are "handled at the highest levels of government" and should be "well grounded and well argued." According to a State Department official, the agency usually receives four or five dissent memos each year, and it is unusual for one to be received only two weeks into an administration.
At a briefing with White House reporters this afternoon, Spicer suggested the concerned diplomats "don't understand the president's goal."
"This is about the safety of America, and there is a reason that the majority of Americans agree with the president," Spicer said. "These steps are, frankly, common sense steps ... to make sure we're never looking in the rearview mirror saying we should have done something like this."
But in a draft of the memo reviewed by ABC News, concerned diplomats say Trump's executive order will actually do more harm than good to U.S. security.
"This ban ... will not achieve its stated aim to protect the American people from terrorist attacks by foreign nationals admitted to the United States," warns the draft memo.
Instead, the order will expand anti-American sentiment and "immediately sour relations" with key allies in the fight against terrorism, particularly many of the countries whose citizens are now blocked from traveling to the United States, according to the draft.
Trump's order indefinitely blocks Syrian refugees from coming to the United States, and it suspends immigration from Syria and six other countries struggling to defeat terrorists within their borders — Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, Iran, Libya and Sudan.
The governments of those largely Muslim countries see the White House move as an attack on Islam. By "alienating" such allies, the U.S. government will lose access to valuable intelligence and counterterrorism resources, the draft says.
At today's White House briefing, Spicer said concerns and challenges with implementing Trump's new order have "been blown way out of proportion and exaggerated."
"I know the president appreciates the people who serve this nation and the public servants, but at some point, if they have a big problem with the policies that he's instituting to keep the country safe, then that's up to them to question whether or not they want to stay," Spicer added.