McCain, Coons to Pompeo: Find More Immigrant-Friendly Nominee to Lead Refugee Office

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill on Oct. 31, 2017. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

WASHINGTON — To mark World Refugee Day today, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) teamed up to ask that the Trump administration withdraw a State Department nominee for being hostile toward immigration.

The White House nominated Ronald Mortensen on May 24 to be assistant secretary of State for population, refugees, and migration. The last assistant secretary, Anne Richard, left the post on Inauguration Day.

Mortensen is a retired foreign service officer who has worked with the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance, most recently serving as Disaster Assistance Response Team leader in Iraq.

Mortensen is currently a fellow at the Center for Immigration Studies, which sparked opposition to the nomination from the Anti-Defamation League. “Mortensen’s role at CIS, an organization with disturbing longstanding ties to racists and his past extreme anti-immigrant rhetoric are disqualifying,” ADL CEO and National Director Jonathan Greenblatt said. “He is simply unsuited to head a bureau whose charge it is to provide protection to refugees around the world escaping persecution. CIS was founded with the help of racist John Tanton, the architect of the modern-day anti-immigrant movement with a history of promoting ‘passive’ eugenics.”

Mortensen’s pieces written while at CIS have included opposition to Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), stating “the myth of the law abiding illegal alien is just that: a myth,” and accusing McCain of “dogged support for illegal aliens and open borders [that] has left the United States vulnerable to terrorists.”

In a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday, McCain and Coons said they are “deeply concerned about the possibility of a virulent opponent of immigration serving as the United States’ senior diplomat for migration and refugee policies.”

At CIS, the senators wrote, Mortensen “has spread misinformation about immigrants and displayed a lack of empathy for innocent men, women, and children fleeing violence and oppression,” including accusing American religious leaders who shelter and assist immigrants of “turning their back on Americans” and focusing on “illegal aliens because they are willing to join their churches.”

“At a time when more than 65 million people are displaced worldwide, the nomination of Mr. Mortensen for this position sends a chilling message to all those around the world who look to the United States as a beacon of hope and security for persecuted peoples,” McCain and Coons wrote, offering to work with the administration “to nominate a qualified individual who is committed to the United States’ legacy of promoting the human rights of displaced people.”