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Collins says GOP critics of Trump 'need to get some backbone'

Western New York's two Republican members of Congress Monday offered staunch defenses of President Donald J. Trump's controversial executive order on immigration, which New York Democrats lambasted as an affront to American values.

"What he's done is keeping America safe," Rep. Chris Collins, R-Clarence, said in an interview in Albany.

"He's making sure that American citizens' safety is first and foremost," said Rep. Tom Reed, R-Corning, in a conference call with reporters.

Democrats, however, drew an increasingly hard line on the Trump policy, which suspends all refugee resettlement for 120 days while blocking immigration from seven Muslim-majority nations for 90 days.

"In his first week in office the president has stomped over our proud American tradition of welcoming immigrants and refugees," said Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y.

[RELATED: Immigration order from Trump causes global chaos, outrage]

And Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, said: "The message of this order around the world is that we have sacrificed our values to score political points of dubious value."

With protests against the order continuing across the country, Collins and Reed stood in solidarity with Trump even though two of the Republican Party's leading foreign policy voices -- Sen. John McCain of Arizona and Sen. Lindsay Graham of South Carolina -- issued a harshly critical statement on the policy over the weekend.

The two senators complained that the plan appeared not to have been vetted through policy professionals.

'Sensible way'

But Collins said fellow Republicans criticizing Trump should “understand the facts” and not base their positions on emotion.

“These are people who just need to get some backbone,’’ Collins said of GOP critics of the president.

Collins also blamed “the liberal press” for criticism against the president’s new policies. He said Trump’s immigration action only tracks what he promised to do during the campaign.

"This was a promise he made. He's doing it in a very sensible way," Collins told a luncheon gathering of leaders from the small but influential Conservative Party in Albany.

Republicans who have criticized the Trump executive order are part of what Collins called the GOP's "reluctant Trump supporters."

Collins, the first member of the House to endorse Trump during the presidential campaign, said the only bump in the program involved people entering the United States in possession of green cards. He suggested that was the result of bureaucratic mistakes.

The Western New York Republican defended Trump's order to give refugee status preference to religious minorities being persecuted, an attempt to address what Trump said is the "horror" of executions of Christians in the Middle East.

"Prioritizing those who are being persecuted because of religion is a longstanding doctrine of why you even allow refugees to come in,'' Collins said. "For the liberal press to twist that into 'it's anti-Muslim' is just a sign of how egregious it can't be because that's not what it is.''

'Safety first'

In contrast to Collins, Reed acknowledged that the Trump policy may not have been perfect.

"Maybe there could have been ... a little more prep work," Reed said.

That is the point McCain and Graham made in their statement, in which they said the Trump policy was obviously not vetted through policy professionals at the Defense, Homeland Security, State and Justice departments.

While some legal immigrants who possess green cards were detained at airports because of the new policy, Reed stressed that that was not the policy's intent. In fact, the Department of Homeland Security ruled Friday night that the policy allowed legal U.S. residents to re-enter the country even if they are from the seven nations affected by the 90-day travel ban: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Sudan and Yemen.

Asked if he agreed with McCain and Graham that the U.S. should admit refugees who served as interpreters for U.S. troops and diplomats in Iraq, Reed said such cases "need to go to the top of the line."

"I am sure they will be allowed and welcomed here in the U.S. as we go through the process," he added.

Reed also rejected criticism that the travel ban did not affect nations that were home to terrorists, such as Saudi Arabia, while limiting travel from nations that have not harbored terrorists who have come to the United States.

The nations subject to the travel ban "are clearly hotbeds of terrorist activity," said Reed, adding that Trump is "putting American citizen safety first."

'Less American'

Democrats could not disagree more. Democratic lawmakers, led by Schumer, planned to gather at the Supreme Court Monday evening to protest the Trump immigration plan yet again.

At a press conference with refugees and immigrants at his side on Sunday, Schumer struggled to hold back tears as he criticized the Trump policy.

[RELATED: Dozens protest Trump's immigration order at Buffalo airport]

“We are here today to deliver a vociferous ‘no’ to both the president and these misguided executive orders that undermine American security, put our soldiers and intelligence community in harm’s way and pervert core American values," Schumer. said. "They go so much against what America has always been about. These orders make us less safe and less American. This ham-handed directive sews chaos and feeds extremism and makes lone wolves more likely, not less.”

Trump, characteristically, fired back on Twitter, saying: "Only 109 people out of 325,000 were detained and held for questioning. Big problems at airports were caused by Delta computer outage,.....protesters and the tears of Senator Schumer."

He said Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly confirmed the executive order was being implemented with very few problems.

Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand, D-N.Y., was also part of the Democratic chorus criticizing the Trump policy.

“President Trump’s actions on immigration and refugees fly in the face of our New York values and the foundation on which this country was built," she said. "Our diversity is what makes New York strong and our willingness to accept those in need who are fleeing some of the most dangerous and violent places on earth is what the Statue of Liberty represents."

She said America's willingness to take in refugees is not only the right thing to do, but that it also makes the country safer by sending a worldwide message that America cares about children and families facing persecution.

Buffalo message

Meanwhile, Higgins bemoaned the practical effect the Trump policy could have on children and families.

"Young children may remain separated from their parents, the elderly held back from their families, and students will have their education frustrated," he said.

Higgins said that in recent days, he has been meeting with representatives of Buffalo's refugee resettlement agencies and others in the city who work with refugees.

Buffalo -- which is home to thousands of refugees from Somalia, one of the nations subject to Trump's travel ban -- has a very different message for newcomers from around the world than the one the president sent with his executive order, Higgins added.

"I am proud to know that our community is welcoming to refugees from all around the world, including those countries directly affected by this order," Higgins said.

News Albany bureau chief Tom Precious reported from Albany, and News Washington bureau chief Jerry Zremski reported from Buffalo.


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