President Donald Trump’s controversial immigration order continued to elicit mixed reactions locally as the debate also raged in Washington and across the country.
Trump on Monday fired Sally Yates, the acting attorney general and a Democratic appointee, after she refused to defend in court his controversial refugee and immigration ban.
The extraordinary public clash over Trump’s most consequential policy decision to date laid bare the discord and dissent surrounding the executive order, which temporarily halted the entire U.S. refugee program and banned all entries from seven Muslim-majority nations for 90 days.
The firing came hours after Yates directed Justice Department attorneys not to defend the executive order, saying she was not convinced it was lawful or consistent with the agency’s “obligation to always seek justice and stand for what is right.”
The Rev. Bill Coates, senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Gainesville, said he understands the responsibility Trump has to protect U.S. citizens from “zealots” radicalized in the countries listed on the ban. However, he has questions about how the president’s executive order has been carried out.
“What I have trouble understanding is, first, why not countries like Saudi Arabia and Pakistan where terrorists are known to have come and who have already harmed us?” Coates said. “Even more, however, is how this executive order was issued. It has caused chaos, confusion and uncertainty and has taken quite a toll on many innocent and good people. I do believe that how we do things matters as much as what we do.”
Coates has no doubt the intentions are good — protecting Americans from radical elements — but the way it’s been carried out could have unintended consequences.
“I fear that the manner in which it is done will only make us more vulnerable to our enemies in the long run,” Coates added. “I pray daily for our president and our nation, and for those living under dangerous regimes who want desperately for their families to live in peace and security.”
The Rev. Frank Medina, pastor of Restoration Community Church in Gainesville, cautions against reaching hasty conclusions.
“There’s so many different stories out there that you have to find out what’s true and what’s not,” Medina said. “I Know (Trump) is trying to do something and a lot of people are against it. A lot of it is politics. ... Right now it’s time to pray and heal.”
In a statement, Trump said Yates had “betrayed the Department of Justice by refusing to enforce a legal order designed to protect the citizens of the United States.” He named longtime federal prosecutor Dana Boente as Yates’ replacement.
Yates’ abrupt decision reflected the dissent over the order, with administration officials moving to distance themselves from the policy. As protests erupted at airports over the weekend and confusion disrupted travel around the globe, some of Trump’s top advisers and fellow Republicans privately noted they were not consulted about the policy.
At least three top national security officials — Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly and Rex Tillerson, who is awaiting confirmation to lead the State Department — have told associates they were not aware of details of the directive until around the time Trump signed it. Leading intelligence officials were also left largely in the dark, according to U.S. officials.
Trump’s order Friday placed a temporary ban on anyone trying to enter into the United States from seven predominantly Muslim countries — Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.
In the meantime, Nataly Morales Villa, a student at the University of North Georgia, who is a green card holder, said she felt outrage when news outlets reported initially that even travelers with green cards were being detained. Since then, the Department of Homeland Security issued a statement clarifying that green card holders will not be impacted by the ban.
“As a green card holder, I think, ‘What if for an emergency I have to travel out of the country and when I come back Trump wakes up one morning and signs an unconstitutional ban on Mexican citizens?’” she asked. “It is as if minorities were a game and Trump wakes up and decides, ‘Today I’m going to pick on the Muslims, tomorrow it’s the Mexicans.’”
U.S. Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., reminded his constituents that it’s a temporary ban on travel from seven countries that previous President Barack Obama previously identified as national security concerns.
“We are at war with ISIS, and our previous president refused to put a plan in place to deal with this threat ...,” Perdue said in a statement. “The first responsibility of any American president is to protect American citizens.”
U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville, also expressed support for Trump’s order.
“It is possible to welcome refugees to our country while maintaining robust national security measures, and it is time to restore balance to this relationship by evaluating our entry processes in light of credible threats to our citizens,” Collins said in a statement. “The executive order allows re-entry to lawful permanent residents and does not represent a comprehensive ban on entry to people from certain countries. In this temporary measure, President Trump has given us the opportunity to get refugee policy right going forward.”
Staying at a hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue at the Capitol, Brenau University President Ed Schrader took a walk to the White House. Schrader is a board member for the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, which is holding its annual meeting this week that “coincides with an interesting time politically,” he said.
While outside the White House, Schrader said he saw equal groups on both sides voicing their opinions on the immigration ban.
Brenau Vice President of Communications David Morrison said the college did not have any students on passports from the countries affected by the ban.
“We have other students from China, Asia and central Europe who don’t fall under the current ban but … now they’re concerned. Now their parents are concerned. What’s next? What’s going to happen?” Schrader said.
Brenau also has participated for years in The Initiative to Educate Afghan Women, a scholarship program.
Schrader said he and fellow members from the Georgia Independent College Association would be meeting with some members of the Georgia delegation while at the Capitol.
“I’ll be voicing that concern for those women and that cause during those visits,” Schrader said.
Times staff writers Joshua Silavent, Nick Watson and Carlos Galarza contributed to this report, as did the Associated Press.