US acting attorney general defies Trump, tells Justice Department not to defend immigration ban

New Delhi, Delhi, IndiaUpdated: Jan 31, 2017, 03:39 AM IST

Yates on Monday told Justice Department lawyers in a letter that they would not defend in court Trump's immigration ban. Photograph:(Reuters)

The US acting attorney general, Sally Yates, said on Monday the Justice Department would not defend Trump's immigration ban targeting seven Muslim-majority nations because she was not convinced they were lawful.

"My responsibility is to ensure that the position of the Department of Justice is not only legally defensible, but is informed by our best view of what the law is," she wrote in a letter to employees, according to CNN.

"I am responsible for ensuring that the positions we take in court remain consistent with this institution's solemn obligation to always seek justice and stand for what is right."

Trump's directive on Friday put a 120-day hold on allowing refugees into the country, an indefinite ban on refugees from Syria and a 90-day bar on citizens from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

He has argued tougher vetting of immigrants is needed to protect America from terror attacks, but critics complain that his order unfairly singles out Muslims and defiles America's historic reputation as a welcoming place for immigrants.

"At present, I am not convinced that the defence of the executive order is consistent with these responsibilities nor am I convinced that the executive order is lawful," she wrote. 

The White House dismissed her comments as rhetoric and said Trump acted within his presidential powers.

"I think that's a further demonstration of how politicised our legal system has become," said Stephen Miller, a policy adviser to Trump who has been praised by white nationalists and is seen as an ally, in an interview on MSNBC.

Yates, who was appointed by former Democratic President Barack Obama, is days away from being replaced by Trump's pick for the top spot at the Justice Department, Jeff Sessions, who is awaiting Senate confirmation.

(WION with inputs from agencies)