By David Nakamura and Matt Zapotosky
President Trump signed a new travel ban Monday that administration officials said they hope will end legal challenges over the matter by imposing a 90-day ban on the issuance of new visas for citizens of six majority-Muslim nations, authorities said.
In addition, the nation’s refugee program will be suspended for 120 days, and it will not accept more than 50,000 refugees in a year, down from the 110,000 cap set by the Obama administration.
Trump signed the new ban out of public view, according to White House officials. The order will not take effect until March 16, officials said.
The new guidelines mark a dramatic departure from Trump’s original ban. They lay out a far more specific national security basis for the order, block the issuance of only new visas, and name just six of the seven countries included in the first executive order, omitting Iraq.
The order also details specific sets of people who would be able to apply for case-by-case waivers to the order, including those previously admitted to the U.S. for “a continuous period of work, study, or other long-term activity,” those with “significant business or professional obligations” and those seeking to visit or live with family.
“This executive order responsibly provides a needed pause, so we can carefully review how we scrutinize people coming here from these countries of concern,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in announcing the order had been signed.
Even before the ink was dry, though, Democrats and civil liberties groups asserted the new order was legally tainted in the same way as the first one: it was a thinly disguised Muslim ban.
“While the White House may have made changes to the ban, the intent to discriminate against Muslims remains clear,” said New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman (D), who had joined the legal fight against the first ban. “This doesn’t just harm the families caught in the chaos of President Trump’s draconian policies – it’s diametrically opposed to our values, and makes us less safe.”
Said Omar Jadwat, director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project: “The only way to actually fix the Muslim ban is not to have a Muslim ban. Instead, President Trump has recommitted himself to religious discrimination, and he can expect continued disapproval from both the courts and the people.”
State Department, Homeland Security and Justice Department officials defended the new order as a necessary measure to improve public safety. They said the countries implicated — Iran, Sudan, Somalia, Libya, Syria and Yemen — were either state sponsors of terror, or their territories were so compromised that they were effectively safe havens for terror groups. Iraq was omitted, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said, because it is “important ally in the fight to defeat ISIS,” and its leaders had agreed to implement new security measures.
A Department of Homeland official, speaking on the condition of anonymity on a call with reporters, said Iraq was “treated differently” in part because the country had agreed to “timely repatriation” of their citizens if they were ordered deported from the United States.
The new order provides other exceptions not contained explicitly in previous versions: for travelers from those countries who are legal permanent residents of the United States, dual nationals who use a passport from another country and those who have been granted asylum or refugee status. Anyone who holds a visa now should be able to get into the country without any problems, though those whose visas expire will have to reapply, officials said.
The order claims that since 2001, hundreds of people born abroad have been convicted of terrorism-related crimes in the United States, and more than 300 people who entered the country as refugees were the subject of counterterrorism investigations. It cites two specific examples: two Iraqi nationals who came to the United States as refugees in 2009, it says, were convicted of terrorism-related offenses, and in October 2014, a Somali-native brought to the country as a child refugee was sentenced to 30 years in prison for plotting to detonate a bomb at a Christmas tree-lighting ceremony in Oregon. That man became a naturalized U.S. citizen.
“We cannot risk the prospect of malevolent actors using our immigration system to take American lives,” Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said.
U.S. officials declined to say from which countries the 300 refugees now being investigated in terror cases came, and they declined to detail the people’s current immigration status.
A Department of Homeland Security report assessing the terrorist threat posed by people from the seven countries covered by President Trump’s original travel ban had cast doubt on the necessity of the executive order, concluding that citizenship was an “unreliable” threat indicator and that people from the affected countries have rarely been implicated in U.S.-based terrorism.
The Department of Homeland Security official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, criticized the report as being incomplete and not vetted with other agencies, and he also asserted the administration should not be pressed by the judiciary to unveil sensitive national security details to justify the ban.
Source: The Washington Post