Report

Trump Signs New Travel Ban, Removing Iraq From List

The new executive order tweaks some of the big flaws that blocked the first travel ban — especially for visa holders — but still may face legal challenges.

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President Donald Trump signed a new executive order on Monday morning to again ban travel to the United States for citizens from six Muslim-majority countries, removing Iraq from a prior list of banned nations at the behest of military commanders and national security specialists.

The new order also lifts the previous, indefinite ban on refugees from Syria — they will face the same 120-day freeze as would-be travelers from other countries — and removes the the preference for religious minorities that featured in the administration’s first stab at a travel ban.

The new ban, which takes effect at 12:01 a.m. on March 16, replaces the order Trump signed on Jan. 27 that sparked chaos at airports across the country and the world, and which ultimately was blocked by a federal appeals court. The court found that the White House failed to provide sufficient evidence that citizens of those countries banned originally — Iraq, Sudan, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen — posed a national security threat, among other critiques.

Iraq is an important ally in fight to defeat ISIS,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said later Monday after the White House had confirmed the president signed the order.

But the Trump administration maintains that the order is not an acknowledgement the initial mandate was unlawful. Further, the administration still believes the courts do not have the right to review such immigration decisions — an argument it may soon find itself repeating, as the new order could well run into similar legal challenges.

The Constitution gave such power to the White House, “knowing the president would possess such extensive information” about potential threats from investigative agencies and the military, Attorney General Jeff Sessions added. “Congress gave the president the authority and duty to protect the nation. This executive order is a proper exercise of that power.”

A senior Department of Homeland Security official said on a background call before the new order was announced, “We were confident we would prevail in the ultimate disposition.” But because of the “quagmire of legal action” Trump decided to go forward with a new order. “We want to stress that there was nothing wrong with that first executive order,” the official said.

The White House sought to justify the hurried rollout of the initial travel ban on national security grounds, but deliberately delayed the release of the new order because of positive reception to the president’s speech last Tuesday, according to reports. Officials directed queries about the delay to the White House, but said their initial security concerns remain.

“I don’t think the underlying, very real security concerns were changed in any way by any external events that are ongoing,” the DHS official said.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, (D-N.Y.), pointed to those reports about the delay in saying the new ban is not a national security necessity.

“A watered down ban is still a ban,” Schumer said in a statement after the announcement. “Despite their best efforts, I fully expect this executive order to have the same uphill climb in the courts that the previous version had.”

One likely point of contention with the new order will be the administration’s argument that the six banned countries are somehow linked to terrorism in the United States. Officials on the call said the FBI is currently investigating for potential terrorist ties 300 people admitted to the United States as refugees, a number Sessions later emphasized in public remarks.

But that number is neither limited to the six countries included in the ban, nor to recent arrivals, officials said. They declined to provide any more information about the statistic that might support their contention of a security threat. Citizens from countries not included in the ban, like Saudi Arabia and Egypt, have taken part in acts of terrorism against the United States.

The officials also rejected a draft DHS report that found little evidence that refugees or visa applicants from the seven countries originally banned posed a threat. There is no known case of recently admitted refugees conducting a deadly terrorist attack on U.S. soil; nor is there research suggesting citizens of the banned countries have a proclivity for terror at rates higher than native-born Americans.

Omar Jadwat, director of the the American Civil Liberties Union’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, said the new order was simply a repackaged version of the original Muslim ban and still based on religious discrimination. “The changes the Trump administration has made, and everything we’ve learned since the original ban rolled out, completely undermine the bogus national security justifications the president has tried to hide behind and only strengthen the case against his unconstitutional executive orders,” he said in statement.

But officials said the new order targets nations from which the United States cannot adequately vet individuals, rather than singling out Muslim-majority countries.

“This is not a Muslim ban in any way shape or form, this is a temporary suspension of entry for nationals from six countries that are either failed states at this point or state sponsors of terror,” where adequate vetting is impossible, the DHS official said. Hundreds of millions of Muslims are still free to travel to the United States, the official added.

Under the new order, anyone who held a valid, multiple-entry visa, or legal permanent residence status as of the date of the initial order, will still be allowed to enter the United States. Future visa applicants from the six countries would be barred for 90 days, and all refugees, from any country, for 120 days.

The State Department and others are working to restore and assist those whose valid visas were physically revoked at airports or embassies so that they would be allowed to travel to the United States again. Initially the State Department said anywhere from 60,000 to 100,000 visas were revoked by the initial order and even more people affected by its hasty rollout.

While before Trump took office, the United States refugee screening process was among the strictest in the world, taking an average of 18 to 24 months, Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said Monday morning after Tillerson and Sessions spoke that potential terrorists are seeking to take advantage.

“Enemies often use our own freedoms and generosity against us,” Kelly said. “Un-vetted, unregulated travel is not a privilege, especially when national security is at stake.”

This story was updated at 11:55 a.m. to include remarks from Tillerson, Sessions, Kelly, and Schumer. 

This story was updated at 12:24 p.m. to include remarks from the American Civil Liberties Union. 

Kavitha Surana contributed to this report. 

Photo Credit: Zach Gibson / Stringer

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