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Attorneys General Condemn Trump's Executive Action On Immigration


Over the weekend, federal judges in New York, Virginia, Washington and Massachusettes prevented deportations and raised other legal objections to the executive orders. And acting Attorney General Sally Yates now says she won't defend the White House executive order. But that decision isn't likely to hold when Donald Trump's new choice to head the Department of Justice, Jeff Sessions, is approved by the senate. In the meantime, attorneys general from 16 states signed a letter condemning the policy.

In the meantime, attorneys general from 16 states signed a letter condemning the policy. Earlier, I spoke with Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller about how far they're willing to go.

Welcome to the program.

TOM MILLER: Thank you. Thanks for having me.

CORNISH: Now, so far we've heard that the AG for Washington state, Bob Ferguson - he's confirmed that he's filing a lawsuit in federal court against Donald Trump declaring this order unconstitutional. Are you filing a similar lawsuit?

MILLER: Well, what we're going to do is take a good look at Attorney General Ferguson's lawsuit as soon as it's filed, as soon as we get a copy. You know, I think it's a very good move, a very good idea for him to file a lawsuit and to litigate this issue. What the...

CORNISH: But not one you guys are jumping on yet. How come?

MILLER: Well, you know, it's just been a few minutes. You know, I know you're accustomed to things happening very quickly, but I think a number of AGs are considering something similar. You know, we've offered to help people that are caught in this difficult situation. But Attorney General Ferguson is the first - will be the first to file. He's the leader on this one. And we will see what he does and see what it says and go from there.

CORNISH: Now, in the statement you all signed on to, you said, we condemn President Trump's unconstitutional, un-American and unlawful executive order. You know, now that the White House has clarified that this should not apply to green card holders, what in the language of the order is unconstitutional?

MILLER: Well, I think that there's a number of serious legal issues, and that's why it's so important that Attorney General Ferguson filed a suit and maybe some of the rest of us come along. There's issues concerning his authority to do this, although the authority recognized is very broad. They may have run afoul of some of the due process concerns by doing it so quickly and at times clumsily. But I think the main legal issues revolve around religion and the attempts in one form or another to restrict severely Muslims from coming to this country...

CORNISH: Now the...

MILLER: ...And also some questions about treating Muslims and Christians differently in this context. So I think the real significant issues revolve around religion and discrimination based on religion.

CORNISH: So going after that specifically because the White House has always had enormous power over immigration and border control, especially when it comes to non-citizens, right?

MILLER: That is correct. They do have a lot of power, as they should given this kind of world and this area. But still, there are restrictions of concerning the due process clause and the equal protection clause of how they do it, and they have raised a series of issues concerning religion that are legitimately litigated.

CORNISH: Now, you campaigned for Hillary Clinton, but Donald Trump won your state. And he was actually in Iowa when he was asked about the Muslim registry, and he promised one absolutely. Your voters supported this, so are you out of step with your state?

MILLER: Well. I hope not, and I don't think so. I mean Iowa is a remarkable state. We have a great tradition of supporting and welcoming refugees and immigrants. Bob Ray, the - probably the best or certainly one of the best governors in our history - a Republican - brought in refugees from Southeast Asia when it was a little bit unpopular to do that, and Iowans conclude he was right and were very supportive of that. And...

CORNISH: But what do you say to voters in your state who say, I voted for Donald Trump because I wanted something like this?

MILLER: Well, I - you know, I say that I respectfully disagree and explain why. But I don't think we should assume that everybody that voted for Trump agrees with the Muslim ban or the activity here. They vote for him for a whole host of reasons, some of them 'cause they didn't like my candidate, Hillary Clinton.

And also, of his many campaign proposals, the muslin ban I think probably had among the least support. In fact, he backed off on it from time to time during the campaign. Certainly of all the issues on immigrants, the Muslim ban had the least support among the public I think.

CORNISH: Now, over the last decade, Republican-leaning attorneys general sued the Obama administration over health care, over climate regulations, were coordinating their efforts at times. Are you and other Democrats essentially gearing up to do the same thing? I mean are you what Democrats have left in terms of challenging the Trump administration?

MILLER: Yeah, well, you know, I as a public official disagree with Senator McConnell's position of trying to be against everything the Obama administration did. And to the extent that Republican AGs followed along, I disagree with that. But I think that attorney generals have a very important role in a number of these issues, and we certainly do work together, the Democrats. We know each other. We respect each other. We've worked together in the past. We will work together in the future.

So when we disagree with something with the administration's activities when it concerns the law, we will work together, and we will work hard. And we have some terrific lawyers, and Bob Ferguson is demonstrating that this afternoon.

CORNISH: That's Tom Miller, attorney general for Iowa. Thank you so much.

MILLER: Thank you.

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