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Congressman Steve Russell

Representing the 5th District of Oklahoma

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Representative Russell asks President for exemptions to travel executive order

January 31, 2017
In The News

One of Oklahoma’s congressional leaders is asking President Donald Trump to make exceptions to his executive order banning travel from seven countries. Representative Steve Russell, R-Oklahoma, told FOX 25 he is joining with other members of Congress who are combat veterans to make the request.

“Interpreters, informants and ousted cooperative allies and political leaders who were working on behalf of the United States and our military in these war torn countries,” should make up one group of exceptions Russell said. “They stood by us at great risk to themselves; we need to stand by them.”

Russell represents much of central Oklahoma that makes up the state’s fifth congressional district. He has a special tie to Syria because a year ago it was his vote that led to a pause in refugee placement from the war-torn country. Russell said at the time he wanted a “seat at the table” to discuss refugees. He received that seat and was able to travel to Syria as part of a congressional fact-finding tour.

This experience is the motivation behind Russell’s second exemption he is asking the President for; young children who have been the victims of war and need medical care only available in the United States.

That’s where Russell heard the story of a young Syrian girl who was injured in a bombing attack on her home. The two-year-old girl, named Kawthar, had been badly burned to the point where her eyelids were missing and she couldn’t close her eyes to sleep.

Russell worked with state department officials to help clear the red tape that allowed Kawthar to come to the United States with her mother for life-saving treatment.

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“It's temporary,” Russell said of the children who travel for treatment, “You have a mother accompany; it's a travel visa; they go back when they are able to rehabilitate or heal.”

For Kawthar, doctors were able to recreate her eyelids and treat many of the burns that covered the two-year-old’s body. She is now back in Syria with her mother. Doctors say she will need additional medical care and procedures when she is older.

“What we really need to do here is have the discussion,” Russell said of the executive order and the fallout from it, “Republicans and Democrats shouting over each other on this issue is not going to help those in need.”

Russell said he believes a civilized debate is possible. He told FOX 25, that having seen it first hand, some of the countries included in the travel ban do have good procedures to vet immigrants and refugees. However, he conceded that some countries do not.

“I'm willing to give the president 90-100, 120 days what is specified in the executive order,” Russell said of the temporary ban, “Going beyond that if we are going to have any honest discussion.”

Russell said he wants to see Congress approve methods for vetting refugees and immigrants in a way that ensures for a good system for getting into the country as well as one that provides for the safety and security of the country.