Former Trump adviser says U.S. has ‘huge problems’ with terrorists abusing refugee program

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MILES O’BRIEN: And for a different point of view, I spoke a short while ago to Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who was a top adviser to Mr. Trump during his presidential campaign and transition process.

I began by asking him whether the U.S. is safer now as a result of the White House ban.

KRIS KOBACH, Secretary of State, Kansas: These seven countries are the hotbeds of terrorism. They include places where ISIS controls foreign territory. And they are places where people are coming in to receive terrorist training and then being pushed out to carry out acts of terrorism across Europe, perhaps in the United States and elsewhere.

And so, absolutely, it makes sense to put a temporary bar on people holding those passports from coming into the United States. Also another really important part of this executive order was the reviewing our refugee program, also putting that on hold, because we have huge problems with terrorists abusing our refugee program.

I might just give you a quick statistic there. Since the 1990s, there have been 18 major terrorists who have either committed acts of terror or names you would recognize who got into our refugee program. The blind sheik, Omar Abdel-Rahman, came in through the refugee program. The two Boston Marathon bombers originally came into the United States through the refugee program.

The Bowling Green, Kentucky, terrorists, refugee program. So, it makes sense to say, hey, we’re a very generous nation. We give out more asylum. We allow in more refugees than any other country on the planet, but we are going to reassess how we screen people because way too many terrorists are fraudulently coming into the United States as refugees.

MILES O’BRIEN: The one problem with all that argument is that, of the seven countries singled out, no refugees from those particular countries are implicated in any attacks. Were the wrong countries picked?

KRIS KOBACH: No, I don’t think so.

The Bowling Green, Kentucky, I believe those were from Iraq. The geographical locus — focus of where the terrorists are active changes with time, right? So, al-Qaida wasn’t necessarily active in the exact same countries now.

Somalia has become much more active as a place where terrorist training and terrorist activity occurs. So it only makes sense that the seven countries or 10 countries or however many we’re most interested in might change over time as the facts on the ground change.

MILES O’BRIEN: A practical question here. You mentioned Somalia.

If you’re trying to do extreme vetting of someone who comes from Somalia, how on earth do you do that? Somalia doesn’t even really have a functioning government. What does extreme vetting look like when a person comes out of a country like that?

KRIS KOBACH: That’s a great question, because what happens when someone comes in, let’s take, for example, someone coming in as a refugee.

So, they say that they have a credible fear of persecution — that’s the legal standard — in their home country. Well, if the home country doesn’t even have a functioning government, you don’t have any police departments, you don’t have any centralized database of records, you may not have any way of verifying anything that this person is saying.

And, right now, in the refugee program for the past, you know, 10 years or so, there has been a sort of get-to-yes mentality, take the refugee’s, the intending refugee’s word for it.

I think we have to be much stricter. And we have to say, look, we need some proof, we need some evidence that your story is true, because there are so many cases that we learn about after the fact where the refugee’s story was completely untrue.

MILES O’BRIEN: Seems like that would be very difficult to come up with any kind of documentation in that situation.

KRIS KOBACH: It would. It may be.

MILES O’BRIEN: Let’s talk about politics for just a — yes.

Some Republicans on the Hill are even expressing concerns about this, Senator McCain among them, saying that it basically fits in — I’m paraphrasing — fits into the ISIS narrative, in essence, that their — the propaganda that they spew out is that America is anti-Muslim, and this fits into that narrative well.

If the real concern, the real threat is homegrown terrorism, incited by the Internet, by Twitter, by Facebook, if that’s the real threat, haven’t we made ourselves less safer by adding to this ISIS narrative?

KRIS KOBACH: I don’t think so at all.

I mean, we as a nation can walk and chew gum at the same time. You’re absolutely right. Homegrown terrorism is a threat, but so is imported terrorism where the terrorists are trained overseas and they are sent to the United States to kill Americans.

So we have to do both. And there’s no reason why we can’t do both. But this is the best way to put enhanced screening on people seeking entry to the United States, the best way to protect the American public.

And, remember, that’s the first and highest purpose of the United States government is to protect American citizens. We are not facing an invasion from a conventional army anytime soon, but we are facing individual acts of terrorism. And many of those individuals come in across our border through a port of entry.

And we owe it to the American people. The U.S. government owes it to the American people to be very cautious in allowing someone in from these regions of the world where we know ISIS is active and there is active terrorist activity and training going on.

MILES O’BRIEN: Is it possible, though, we have given ISIS a case in point for their argument that the U.S. is anti-Muslim?

KRIS KOBACH: I don’t think so.

You know, I hear the argument made that this executive order is anti-Muslim, and it seems to me that that’s clearly false. I mean, the — it’s based on the country of origin. So, if you’re an atheist, if you’re a Christian, if you’re a Jew coming from one of these countries, you will be subject to the same bar on entry as a Muslim coming from these countries.

Furthermore, you have got about 40 additional countries in the world that are majority Muslim and they are not affected by this executive order. So, clearly, on its face, it is not anti-Muslim. It is a geographic-based action to secure America from people coming from dangerous places in the world.

It is a geographic ban. It’s not in any way a religious ban.

MILES O’BRIEN: OK, but there is a religious component to this. Christians, of course, are specifically singled out for priority.

Let me ask you this. You teach or have taught constitutional law. How does this square with the Constitution? You know, I’m your student for a moment. Teach me about the Constitution and how this jibes with what the founding fathers were thinking.

KRIS KOBACH: OK.

Well, first of all, the — no one who is outside of the United States and is not a United States citizen has a constitutional right to enter the United States. I have heard some people who are critics of the president’s executive order argue that it’s unconstitutional. That’s absolutely incorrect.

There is no constitutional right to enter the United States. Even if you have already been in the United States in the past, you have no constitutional right to come back in.

Second thing is, the Congress has the authority to — it has what’s called plenary authority to pass laws relating to immigration. It has the first and highest authority to pass those laws.

And there’s a statute, Title 8, Section 1182F, which gives the president a discretion that if he feels that the entry of any alien or class of aliens would be detrimental to the national interests of the United States, he can exclude those individuals.

And there are similar statutes going all the way back to the beginning in 1789 with the Alien Acts. George Washington, after they were passed, had authority to exclude or remove anyone who was a national security threat way back then.

So, legally speaking, the president is on absolutely secure ground. People may quibble about the politics of it all, but I think, in terms of the national security of the United States, these executive orders are a win. And I think that you will find that, in the end, the vast majority of Americans will be supportive.

MILES O’BRIEN: Kansas Secretary of State and former Trump adviser Kris Kobach, thank you very much.

KRIS KOBACH: My pleasure.

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