NEW YORK - Immigrant and refugee advocates on Wednesday denounced White House plans to temporarily stop receiving refugees and suspend visas for people from seven Middle Eastern and North African countries, saying they target Muslims and will make America less safe.
Making good on campaign promises, President Donald Trump is expected to sign executive orders blocking visas to anyone from Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen, all Muslim-majority nations, according to several congressional aides and immigration experts briefed on the matter.
Trump, who took office last Friday, is also expected to order a multi-month ban on allowing refugees into the United States except for religious minorities escaping persecution, until more aggressive vetting is in place, said the aides and experts, who asked not to be identified.
The administration's aim is to head off Islamist violence in the United States, but critics say the measures soil America's reputation as a welcoming place for immigrants of all kinds.
"The president needs to know he's an absolute fool for fostering this kind of hostility in his first few days. This will inflame violence against Americans around the world," said Seth Kaper-Dale, a pastor at the Reformed Church of Highland Park, New Jersey, which he said helped resettle 28 refugee and asylum-seeking families in the state last year.
Before his Nov. 8 election victory, Trump, a Republican, pledged to stop taking refugees from Syria and immigrants from countries deemed to pose a terrorism risk.
"Muslims, we believe, are the sole targets of these orders," said Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Muslim civil rights group.
"These orders are a disturbing confirmation of Islamophobic and un-American policy proposals made during the presidential election campaign," Awad told a news conference in Washington.
"Never before in our country's history have we purposely, as a matter of policy, imposed a ban on immigrants or refugees on the basis of religion."
During the campaign, Trump originally proposed a ban on all Muslims entering the country, a measure that almost certainly would have faced legal challenges for discrimination on the basis of religion.
He later altered his stance to target countries known to be sources of terrorism.
"Actions to build a wall around us, criminalize a religion, and to strike fear in the heart of immigrants make Trump's America look more like a police state than the republic we truly are," Wade Henderson, president of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said in a statement.