WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. State Department officials on Monday circulated a draft memo criticizing President Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration, prompting a retort from the White House that they should “get with the program or they can go.”
The order, which Trump issued on Friday, banned immigration from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen, and temporarily halted the entry of refugees. Chaos broke out as border, customs, and immigration officials struggled to act on the directive amid loud protests at major U.S. airports.
The draft memo in the “dissent channel,” through which dissenting views are sent to the secretary of state and other top department officials, argued the policy would be counterproductive and damage America’s image abroad.
“The end result of this ban will not be a drop in terror attacks in the United States; rather it will be a drop in international good will towards Americans and a threat towards our economy,” said the draft memo seen by Reuters.
The document argued the policy would sour relations with the affected countries, inflame anti-American sentiment, and hurt those who seek to visit the United States for humanitarian reasons such as medical care.
“Moreover, such a policy runs counter to core American values of nondiscrimination, fair play, and extending a warm welcome to foreign visitors and immigrants,” it added.
White House spokesman Sean Spicer said he was aware of the memo and thought media reporting on the executive order had been “blown way out of proportion and exaggerated.”
“These career bureaucrats have a problem with it? I think that they should either get with the program or they can go,” he told reporters at his daily briefing.
Acting State Department spokesman Mark Toner, however, called the dissent channel an “important” vehicle to convey alternative views that Acting Secretary of State Thomas Shannon and the department as a whole “value and respect.”
Separately, U.S. officials said the department had received multiple cables from U.S. embassies over the weekend reporting foreign dismay at Trump’s executive order. Host countries expressed unhappiness, and U.S. embassies have questioned how to implement what homeland security and other officials said was a poorly conceived policy.
A cable from the U.S. embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia, the country with the world’s largest Muslim population, reported Indonesians had taken to social media to express “outrage,” and cited the order as “an example of the Islamophobia of the new administration,” said a U.S. official, reading from the cable.
A cable from the U.S. embassy in Khartoum said Sudanese businessmen worried the new order would hurt “their ability to attract U.S. business to Sudan in the wake of the lifting of U.S. sanctions a week earlier,” the official said.
The Obama administration took steps on Jan. 13 to lift a 20-year-old trade embargo against Sudan, unfreeze assets, and remove financial sanctions in what it said was a response to the country’s assistance in fighting Islamic State and other extremist groups.
The U.S. embassy in Baghdad said many Iraqis viewed the order “as an affront to Iraq’s national pride (in a part of the world where pride and honor are often considered more important than concrete signs of support),” the U.S. official said, quoting from the embassy cable.
Iraq, which is allied with the United States in the battle against the Islamic State extremist group and hosts more than 5,000 U.S. troops, had no immediate comment on the order.
The cable said there were 7,000 U.S. contractors associated with the U.S. mission in Iraq, 2,000 of whom are regular passport holders who could be affected if Iraq retaliated with reciprocal steps, the official said.
Asked about the cables, a State Department spokesperson said: “We will not comment on internal communications.”
Additional reporting by Susan Heavey, Emily Stephenson and Yeganeh Torbati; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn and James Dalgleish