EXCLUSIVE: US Diplomats Consider Filing Dissent Over Immigration Ban

Some diplomats worry that move on refugees and immigration could endanger U.S.

ByABC News
January 30, 2017, 6:59 AM

— -- Dozens of foreign service officers and other career diplomats stationed around the world are so concerned about President Donald Trump's new executive order restricting Syrian refugees and other immigrants from entering the United States that they are contemplating taking the rare step of sending a formal objection to senior State Department officials in Washington.

In recent days, drafts of a dissent memo have been circulating among diplomats and associates abroad expressing concern that the new restrictions — which Trump said would help "keep America safe" — are un-American and will actually paralyze efforts to stop terrorist attacks in the U.S.

"This ban ... will not achieve its stated aim to protect the American people from terrorist attacks by foreign nationals admitted to the United States," warned an early draft reviewed by ABC News.

Instead, the executive 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 six other countries still 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 said.

The draft also suggested Trump's "knee jerk" executive order was based on misguided notions about terrorism in the United States, noting that "the overwhelming majority" of terrorist attacks in the U.S. have been committed not by recent immigrants but by native-born or naturalized U.S. citizens "who have been living in the United States for decades, if not since birth."

"Given the near absence of terror attacks committed in recent years" by visa holders from Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, Iran, Libya or Sudan, "this ban will have little practical effect in improving public safety," the draft concluded.

In fact, the executive order "calls back to some of the worst times in our history," such as the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II.

"Decades from now, we will look back and realize we made the same mistakes," the draft warned.

On Sunday, as law enforcement agencies were still scrambling to figure out how to implement the executive order and as protests broke out in cities across the country, the White House defended its action, saying the move was necessary "to ensure that the people that we're letting into our country are coming here with peaceful purposes and not to do us harm."

"The safety of the American citizens, the safety of our country has got to be paramount," White House spokesman Sean Spicer told ABC News anchor Martha Raddatz on "This Week."

Asked what message the executive order sends to Muslims worldwide, Spicer said, "What it sends is that we'll protect our country and people."

He said it's "important to note" that there are "46 other countries with Muslim populations that are not part of this."

The draft memo reviewed by ABC News is separate from — and was more broadly circulated than — a memo sent over the weekend by the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad to the State Department, as reported by The Wall Street Journal. The embassy's memo warned that Trump's order could upend delicate military, political and business ties in the midst of a global fight against ISIS, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Any new memo expressing concern over Trump's order would be sent to senior State Department officials through the dissent channel, which was created during the Vietnam War to help ensure that diplomats could document policy concerns and relay opposing views to high-level department officials.

Using it is considered so serious that in 1995 then–Secretary of State Warren Christopher warned State Department officials, "Because the dissent channel is not a routine channel and its messages are handled at the highest levels of the department, authors should ensure not only that their views are well grounded and well argued but that other channels are not available to them."

In its first 24 years, more than 200 messages were sent through the channel, according to Christopher.

Last year, according to The New York Times, more than 50 diplomats filed a dissent memo with the Obama administration, expressing concern over U.S. policy in Syria and calling for military strikes against the Syrian regime.

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