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Sen. Kaine Joins Other Democrats Condemning Trump's Immigration Order


President Donald Trump defended his executive order on immigration on Sunday, saying, "this is not about religion. This is about terror and keeping our country safe." That's a quote. Here's his chief of staff, Reince Priebus, on NBC's "Meet The Press" yesterday.


REINCE PRIEBUS: Here's the deal. If you're coming in and out of one of those seven countries - by the way, identified by the Obama administration as the seven most dangerous countries in the world in regard to harboring terrorists and affirmed by Congress multiple times - then you're going to be subjected, temporarily, with more questioning until a better program is put in place over the next several months.

MARTIN: Priebus said at one point in that interview that the executive order would not apply to green card holders going forward. The Department of Homeland Security later confirmed that. Congressional Democrats are strongly condemning the executive order. Former vice presidential candidate Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia is one of them. He is on the line now with us from Roanoke, Va.

Senator, welcome back to the program.

TIM KAINE: Hey. So good to be with you guys this morning.

MARTIN: You wrote in a statement yesterday that you're, quote, "appalled by the cruelty the Trump administration has demonstrated over the past 24 hours." Trump administration officials say they recognize the order is inconveniencing people, but this is about protecting America's national security. You don't see it that way?

KAINE: No, I don't. If you want to protect security, you vet everybody in a significant way. You don't single people out from certain countries. You don't make the order apply to green card holders, people who are lawful permanent residents of the United States, as was originally the case.

MARTIN: Which has now been clarified, yeah.

KAINE: After the firestorm and after lawsuits, they finally have said, OK, maybe we were wrong on that. It won't apply to green card holders. Let me just give you an example. I actually live in Richmond, but I'm in Roanoke, Va., today. Last night, I visited with a family in Blacksburg. This is a family that, together with Commonwealth Catholic Charities, helped to resettle a Syrian family in Blacksburg about a year ago - mom and dad and four kids. Seventy-three percent of the refugees are women and children under the age of 14.

The husband in the family was helped with his English, and he got a job in a local construction firm. The guy who runs the firm told me, you know, I have some kind of conservative folks working for me. But we absolutely love this guy. He's a great worker. His family is great. And the group of families in Blacksburg was waiting for another family to arrive this week, on the 4, that they were prepping for because they're a welcoming community and they want to be able to help these children.

These are children that we're trying to help come away from the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II. And Donald Trump has taken a Statue-of-Liberty nation and turned it into a hard-hearted place with his order. There's the right way to do this, and there's the wrong way to do it. And what the administration's done has been the wrong way.

MARTIN: So I want to ask you about the right way. But first, you can argue America has a humanitarian responsibility to provide safe harbor to refugees. And yes, it's on the Statue of Liberty, but it is not required by law. And U.S. constitutional rights do not apply to people who are not U.S. citizens.

KAINE: Well, that's not completely true. The 14th Amendment says every person - every citizen is entitled to the privileges and immunities, but every person is entitled to equal protection of the laws. And there have been a number of constitutional cases that have applied rights even to non-citizens.

But let's talk about what's right for our national security. I'm on the Armed Services Committee in the Senate. When you send out a message that this sends out - that, you know, we're going to target folks from these Muslim countries no matter what their circumstance, no matter how well they are able to be vetted - we're going to target them and not let them to be allowed in, you're basically playing right into the hands of a narrative of terrorist groups in the Mideast that say what the U.S. is trying to do is conduct a war against Islam. Other members of Congress have pointed out the same thing.

MARTIN: So do we just absorb that risk then? Do I hear you saying, a terrorist might get into the country this way, but...

KAINE: No, no. I'm not saying that at all.

MARTIN: ...It's not worth changing our system or values?

KAINE: No, I'm saying we should have a vetting process. If what this order was was, we're going to increase vetting processes for anybody, refugee or travelers - we're going to do the following - that's one thing. But that's not what it did at all. It just said, if you're from these particular Muslim-majority countries - and many of the countries that have had instances of folks coming in with terrorist background are not on the list - but if you're from these countries, we're going to block you.

And as you know, this order applies to people coming to the United States under a protected status that we call the special immigrant visa, people who have worked with our troops in the field, who have been interpreters for them and assistants for them. And because of helping the United States, they've put their lives at risk. We give them a special protected status because of their help to Americans so they can be safe. People with special immigrant visas are caught up in this and turned away. This is something that Senators McCain, Shaheen and I have worked on a lot.

It was just so poorly done. And it really does amount to a religious ban because the president himself said, look, we're going to apply it to folks from these countries. But if you're from a persecuted religious minority, especially Christian, you know, there will be an exception for you. We should not have a religious test. That is contrary to everything this country stands for.

MARTIN: So how do you do it better? Because you are saying that there is a way to vet people better, that there is a way to tighten our security.

KAINE: Absolutely. You know, if he had said, look, we're going to look at every aspect of our immigration system and try to tighten it up, you wouldn't have had these protests. We made, for example, a year ago, significant changes to make it harder for people to get tourist visas to come into the United States because we realized there were some weaknesses there.

The family - just using the example of this family that's supposed to arrive in Roanoke through the help of Catholic Charities this week - they fled Syria. And they have been in a refugee camp being vetted through the U.N. to try to come to the United States for four years. They've been through a four-year vetting process. But if you want to make the vetting process harder for refugees generally - make it harder to claim political asylum in the United States, take a look at whether there are gaps in tourists or travelers - all of that we could have a productive discussion about.

But when you make it about people from particular nations, even those who have helped U.S. troops on the battlefield... Who would ever help us again if they help us on the battlefield and then we abandon them to danger because they've, you know, been brave enough to help the United States? So this thing - I mean, clearly, it was done by the political folks at the White House without getting advice from immigration officials...


KAINE: ...And others. And that's why it has backfired so badly.

MARTIN: U.S. Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia talking about the executive order on immigration from the Trump administration.

Senator, thank you so much for your time.

KAINE: Thanks.

(SOUNDBITE OF LITTLE PEOPLE'S "OFFAL WAFFLE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.