White House revises controversial travel ban
Immigration | New version allows travelers from Iraq, does not affect current visa or green card holders
by Evan Wilt
Posted 3/06/17, 12:51 pm
WASHINGTON—President Donald Trump signed a revised version of his heavily debated travel and refugee order Monday, taking Iraq off the banned countries list and eliminating the indefinite injunction on Syrian refugees.
The new directive aims to address legal questions about his earlier January order that led to widespread confusion and protests across the country. Federal courts eventually blocked the order.
Trump did not hold a formal signing ceremony in the Oval Office but instead had Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly read brief statements. All three refused to take questions from reporters after the announcement.
The revised order issues a 90-day travel ban on people from Sudan, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen and does not impact those who already have valid visas or green cards. The White House decided to take Iraq off the banned countries list after extensive internal discussions and negations with Iraqi officials.
Tillerson said Iraq will help the United States reach its long-term goals.
“This order is part of our ongoing efforts to eliminate vulnerabilities that radical Islamic terrorists exploit,” Tillerson said. “Iraq is an important ally in the fight to defeat ISIS.”
Sessions said the executive order is within the president’s authority to make decisions in the interest of national security, and he will do everything in his power to defend it.
The White House has said banning visitors from those countries is necessary to prevent terrorist attacks. Sessions reiterated those claims, stating the pause will ensure U.S. screening and vetting processes are as thorough as possible.
Sessions said the FBI is investigating more than 300 possible terrorists who came to the United States through the refugee program.
The new order came after the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco put the original on hold. Federal judges said the executive action unlawfully discriminated against a select few countries without proving credible safety concerns. Trump immediately tweeted he would appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court, but Monday’s announcement means the White House will drop the case.
Kelly adamantly defended Trump’s original order last month, calling the pause on refugees a necessary action to ensure Americans were safe. But he admitted to a House committee if he had to do it over again, he would have delayed the order’s rollout to quell confusion.
On Monday, Kelly said he spent the morning on the phone with members of Congress to explain the order before its announcement: “There should be no surprises.”
In an interview with Fox & Friends this morning, White House adviser Kellyanne Conway confirmed the revised order would not take effect until March 16, giving government agencies time to prepare.
Much of the language of the new order remains the same as the first. The U.S. refugee program will suspend for 120 days. When the pause is over, the number of people admitted will stay capped at 50,000 for fiscal year 2017, down from the Obama administration’s 110,000 limit. The first order barred refugees from Syria indefinitely, but the revised version allows Syrians to apply for entry after the 120-day suspension.
The United States has already admitted 35,000 refugees this fiscal year, so only 15,000 can enter the country between now and the start of the new fiscal year in October.
Critics of Trump’s original order said the revised version makes little difference.
In a written statement, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said the new order would face the same uphill climb in the courts the first version endured.
“A watered-down ban is still a ban,” Schumer said. “Despite the administration’s changes, this dangerous executive order makes us less safe, not more, it is mean-spirited, and un-American. It must be repealed.”
Evan is a reporter for WORLD Digital based in Washington, D.C.