Senators McCain, Coons call on Pompeo to withdraw nominee

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Aug. 25: Sen. John McCain died after a battle with glioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer. He was 81. McCain was a former prisoner of war who ran for U.S. president twice.

A bipartisan pair of senators penned a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urging him to withdraw the Trump administration’s nominee to a high-profile role over concerns that he has “spread misinformation” about immigrants and displayed a “lack of empathy” towards refugees.

In the letter sent Tuesday, Arizona Republican John McCain and Delaware Democrat Chris Coons urged the withdrawal of Ronald Mortensen’s nomination to the position of assistant secretary of state for population, refugees and migration.

In that position, Mortensen would be overseeing the unit within the State Department that controls the US Refugee Admissions Program and the US assistance program for refugees’ repatriation, local integration and resettlement in the United States.

The call for the withdrawal of Mortensen’s name comes as the Trump administration faces pressure from both sides of the aisle in Congress to stop its “zero tolerance” policy that’s resulted in undocumented immigrant parents being separated from their children on the southern border. Both Coons and McCain have publicly decried the practice, and McCain released a statement Monday calling it an “affront” to American decency.

“We are deeply concerned about the possibility of a virulent opponent of immigration serving as the United States’ senior diplomat for migration and refugee policies,” the letter reads.

“Mr. Mortensen has spread misinformation about immigrants and displayed a lack of empathy for innocent men, women and children fleeing violence and oppression.”

A State Department official confirmed the receipt of the letter and stated that the department “will respond as appropriate.”

Mortensen was a foreign service officer and is a fellow at the Center for Immigration Studies, a conservative think tank that advocates for tighter immigration policies. Mortensen also founded the Utah Coalition on Illegal Immigration, a coalition tasked with addressing “the negative impacts of illegal immigration with a focus on illegal alien driven child identity theft.”

Mortensen has been public with his views on illegal immigration, at one point writing an op-ed in The Hill in which he argued that “the myth of the law-abiding illegal alien is just that: a myth.”

In one article Mortensen wrote in September 2004 for the Center of Immigration Studies, he referenced McCain’s immigration policy directly, writing that McCain has “guaranteed that the southern border remains vulnerable to any terrorist wishing to exploit that means of entering the United States.”

In the letter, McCain and Coons suggest the nomination instead of “someone who is committed to the United States’ legacy of promoting the human rights of displaced people.”

“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,” the letter adds.