• US President Donald J. Trump attends a meeting on cyber security, in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, in Washington, DC, USA, 31 January 2017. (AAP)
Roughly 900 US State Department officials signed an internal dissent memo critical of President Donald Trump's travel ban for refugees and immigrants from six Muslim-majority countries, a source familiar with the document said on Tuesday.
Source:
Reuters
1 Feb 2017 - 8:34 AM  UPDATED 1 Feb 2017 - 10:58 AM

About 900 US State Department officials signed an internal dissent memo protesting a travel ban by U.S. President Donald Trump on refugees and immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries, a source familiar with the document said on Tuesday, in a rebellion against the new president's policies.

A senior State Department official confirmed the memorandum had been submitted to acting Secretary of State Tom Shannon through the department's "dissent channel," a process in which officials can express unhappiness over policy.

White House spokesman Sean Spicer said on Monday he was aware of the memo but warned career diplomats that they should either "get with the program or they can go."

A draft of the dissent memo seen by Reuters argued that the executive order would sour relations with affected countries, inflame anti-American sentiment and hurt those who sought to visit the United Spates for humanitarian reasons.

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It said the policy "runs counter to core American values of non-discrimination, fair play and extending a warm welcome to foreign visitors and immigrants.

Trump on Friday signed an executive order that temporarily bans refugees and people from seven Muslim-majority countries, sparking tumult at U.S. airports and protests in major American cities.

The ban affects Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

Even before the executive order on immigration was issued, concern among State Department officials had been growing over news reports that Trump was about to ease sanctions against Russia, said one State Department official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The resignation of at least four top State Department officials, including Under Secretary for Management Patrick Kennedy, who formally left the department on Tuesday, also caused some unease among diplomats who worried about a power vacuum.

Immigration ban faces more legal challenges

San Francisco became the first US city to sue to challenge a Trump directive to withhold federal money from US cities that have adopted sanctuary policies toward undocumented immigrants, which local officials argue help local police by making those immigrants more willing to report crimes.

Massachusetts joined the legal battle against Trump's order banning travel into the United States by citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries, a move the White House described as necessary to improve national security. A lawsuit contends that the order violated the US Constitution's guarantees of religious freedom.

The legal maneuvers were the latest acts of defiance against executive orders signed by Trump last week that sparked a wave of protests in major US cities, where thousands of people decried the new president's actions as discriminatory.

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Both policies are in line with campaign promises by Republican businessman-turned-politician Trump, who vowed to build a wall on the Mexican border to stop illegal immigration and to take hard-line steps to prevent terrorist attacks in the United States.

San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera filed suit over Trump's order cutting funds to cities with sanctuary policies, a move that could stop the flow of billions of dollars in aid to major U.S. population centers also including New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.

"If allowed to be implemented this executive order would make our communities less safe. It would make our residents less prosperous, and it would split families apart," Herrera said.

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Sanctuary cities adopt policies that limit cooperation, such as refusing to comply with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainer requests. Advocates of the policies say that, beyond helping police with crime reporting, they make undocumented immigrants more willing to serve as witnesses if they do not fear that contact with law enforcement will lead to their deportation.

Both the San Francisco and Massachusetts actions contend that Trump's orders in question violate the 10th Amendment of the US Constitution, which states that powers not granted to the federal government should fall to the states.

Michael Hethmon, senior counsel with the conservative Immigration Reform Law Institute in Washington, called the San Francisco lawsuit a "silly political gesture," noting that prior federal court decisions make clear that the U.S. government "can prohibit a policy that essentially impedes legitimate federal programs."

WATCH: World leaders react to travel ban


Establishment clause 

Massachusetts contended the restrictions on U.S. entry by citizens of seven majority-Muslim countries run afoul of the establishment clause of the 1st Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits religious preference.

"At bottom, what this is about is a violation of the Constitution," Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey said of the order halting travel by people with passports from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen for 90 days. The order also barred resettlement of refugees for 120 days and indefinitely banned Syrian refugees.

"It discriminates against people because of their religion, it discriminates against people because of their country of origin," Healey said at a Boston press conference, flanked by leaders from the tech, healthcare and education sectors who said that the order could limit their ability to attract and retain highly educated workers.

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Massachusetts will be backing a lawsuit filed over the weekend in Boston federal court by two Iranian men who teach the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth. A federal judge blocked the government from expelling those men from the country and halted enforcement of the order for seven days, following similar but more limited moves in four other states.

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker, like Trump a Republican, said he supported the lawsuit, calling the executive order "an abrupt and overwhelming decision."

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman on Tuesday said the state was joining a similar lawsuit filed in its federal courts challenging the ban.

In Colorado, a Libyan national who attends the Community College of Denver filed a separate federal lawsuit on Tuesday seeking to have a judge issue an injunction barring the executive order from being enforced.