A coalition of immigrant, labor and faith groups on Long Island is calling on Reps. Peter King and Lee Zeldin to reverse their positions and oppose travel and refugee restrictions sought by the Trump administration in two executive orders.
Ten groups, brought together by the Long Island Civic Engagement Table in Brentwood, sent letters Thursday to King (R-Seaford) and Zeldin (R-Shirley), demanding that they oppose the orders to halt entry from certain Muslim-majority countries and to suspend the refugee program.
The letters called the restrictions a “ban that seeks to exclude human beings based on nothing but their religion or country of origin.”
King, a member of the House Homeland Security Committee, defended the policy as a matter of national security.
“It is not a Muslim ban. It is an anti-terrorist ban,” he said in a phone interview from the nation’s capital. “My concern is to protect the lives of innocent Americans.”
Zeldin, in a statement, said he supports “the temporary halt of refugees from certain nations” until it is clear they don’t represent a threat.
“Like every American, I have sympathy for the innocent person who is looking to come to America for a better life,” Zeldin said, “but I believe that the process must without exception prioritize America’s national security first and that it cannot allow someone entry until we know for sure they will not pose a risk.”
The two congressmen have backed the restrictions, included in orders issued by President Donald Trump to temporarily stop the entry of immigrants, refugees and visitors from nations deemed terror threats. The administration proposed the measures while it looks into stronger vetting procedures.
Implementation of both Trump’s initial order of Jan. 27 and the revised order of March 6 has been halted by federal judges hearing challenges of their constitutionality. The revised order was to become effective Thursday before judges in Hawaii and Maryland blocked it.
The Long Island advocacy organizations include the labor union 32 BJ SEIU, the largest such service employees’ group in the country, immigrant-rights group Make The Road New York, and The Muslim Center of Long Island in Bay Shore.
“We expect our representatives to stand up for all of their constituents and speak out against xenophobia and bigotry in all forms,” their letter says. “Your support for this ban under the pretext of national security is concerning, and your silence on the Trump administration’s scapegoating and continued dishonest, dangerous rhetoric about Muslims, refugees and immigrants is unacceptable.”
The advocates asked that the congressmen reply to their letter within a week and also meet with them.
King, in the interview, said he didn’t appreciate the characterization of the policy as bigoted. He said a meeting with the groups would be “a waste of time.”
“I am concerned with stopping terrorism and that’s what I want to spend my time doing,” King said. The countries in both executive orders were flagged as terror threats by the administration of President Barack Obama and Congress, he noted.
A spokeswoman for Zeldin said he is willing to meet with district residents and with members of the groups upon request.
Countries in the order issued earlier this month are Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. Iraq, included in the January order, was dropped. All have Muslim majorities.
The order also seeks to suspend admittance of all refugees, as did the initial action in January.
Muhammad Jabbar, imam of The Muslim Center of Long Island, also known as Masjid Darul Qur’an, said the restrictions are hurting his community. Many Muslims, he said, are afraid of being kept out of the country if they travel and others have experienced increased scrutiny at airports.
“There are so many of our attendees who have fear in their minds,” Jabbar said. “We want them [the congressmen] to pay heed to these genuine demands of their electorate here.”