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GOP Rep. Dent On How Refugee Ban Affects His Constituents


On Saturday, two Syrian families arrived at Philadelphia International Airport only to be turned away and sent back to the Middle East. Those families, two brothers accompanied by their wives and children, had visas. They also had relatives who are U.S. citizens waiting for them in nearby Allentown, Pa. Sarah Assali is one of those relatives. She told WHYY's Bobby Allyn yesterday that her family submitted the paperwork to immigrate before the Syrian war started but that the conflict has made their departure more urgent.


SARAH ASSALI: We brought them here for a better future. But we're also now taking them away from, you know, a war zone where they don't have food and they don't have water. And you don't even know when you're going to have electricity next.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Congressman Charlie Dent is a Republican who represents Pennsylvania's 15th District where the Assali family lives. He's also home - it's also home to a large Syrian community. And Congressman Dent joins us on the line now. Thank you for being with us, sir, this morning.

CHARLIE DENT: Thank you, Lulu, for having me on the program.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Congressman, the relative of these two families is a constituent of yours. I understand you spoke with them about what happened yesterday. What did they say?

DENT: Yeah. Oh, I spoke them at length. My son and I visited their home last night. Well, here's what happened. Their family members had arrived from Syria via Beirut via Oman - Amman, Jordan via Doha, Qatar and then into Philadelphia. They arrived in Philly at about 7:45 a.m. I became aware of the situation around 10 o'clock from my son who happened to know the family well. He went to high school with one of them. He - my son contacted me. And I got a hold of the family. And bottom line is, we tried to find out the status of the family. And what occurred was the family was turned around and sent back to Qatar within three hours of touching down in Philadelphia, not giving us proper time to assist them.

The bottom line, I guess, is that these folks are - they're six Christians. They are not refugees. They were coming here on immigrant visas. They were - and again, they are not refugees. They have their paperwork in order for a green card. They were to be greeted and then taken up here to Allentown where the family purchased a home for them and furnished it and, you know, waiting for them. This family has been in process since about 2003, you know, long before the Syrian civil war. And so I guess what concerned me about this order is that apparently this executive order was not properly processed. You know, the Departments of - defense, state, homeland security and justice I don't believe were consulted in a meaningful way because, you know, we would've never - I can't imagine anybody from the Department of Defense and Department of State wanting to hold up a translator from Iraq who was coming into New York yesterday and being sent back. I mean, that to me...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Do you think it should be revoked, sir? Do you think that - is your advice to President Trump that it should be revoked?

DENT: Well, my advice yesterday was simply too - that this is unacceptable. I urged the administration to halt enforcement of the order until a more thoughtful and deliberate policy could be instated. And then, now, apparently, some federal judges have already more or less halted enforcement of the order, which I think is appropriate. So - and I guess that's what has me somewhat bewildered why, you know, this has gone into effect the way it did. Because the family that I'm dealing with, again, it's a Christian family. They were, you know, the family members were in flight when this order was announced and apparently then enforced. So I just think there was no - it just struck me as very unfair.

And we all want, by the way, we all want - I think every one of us has a goal to enact policy to keep America safe both at home and abroad. And I certainly think it's fair to consider ways to enhance vetting of refugees. That's fair. But, you know, but it has to be done thoughtfully and carefully. And, you know, this is not a - some people call this a Muslim ban. I don't think that's actually accurate. I mean, it's a country ban because...


DENT: ...It's virtually anybody, yeah.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: ...Just briefly we have - just in a few sentences - you keep on mentioning that these refugees in your district were Christian. Would you champion them if they were Muslim - just in a few sentences?

DENT: Well, of course. Look, my view is this - I do not support Muslim bans. I do not, you know, support Muslim registries. The point is that these people were coming here, not as refugees, but as immigrants. They were immigrants, you know, that had gone through the proper channels. Everything was done legally, lawfully, they spent thousands of dollars. People who are in that situation are being prevented from coming in.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Thank you Congressman Charlie Dent...

DENT: Thank you.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: ...Republican from Pennsylvania. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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