After federal judges blocked a ban on travelers from seven predominantly Muslim-majority countries, President Trump unveiled a more limited version Monday.
“With this order, President Trump is exercising his rightful authority to keep our people safe,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Monday. “While no system can be made completely infallible, the American people can have high confidence that we are identifying ways to improve the vetting process and thus keep terrorists from entering our country.”
The new executive order, which supersedes the order issued on Jan. 27, drops Iraq from the list of countries, bars travel from the remaining six countries for 90 days, no longer bars Syrian refugees from resettlement in the U.S. and drops a provision that would have made the process easier for Christian refugees.
“This is not a Muslim ban in any way shape or form,” a senior Department of Homeland Security official said Monday. “This is a temporary suspension of nationals from six countries that are either failed states at this point or state sponsors of terror.”
Under the new order, nationals from Sudan, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia and Yemen are not permitted to travel to the U.S. for 90 days starting after the order goes into effect at midnight on March 16. Nationals with valid visas from those countries are free to travel.
As previously reported, Iraq is no longer included on the list of countries impacted by the order. Senior Administration officials say they have received “firm commitments” from the Iraqi government that they will comply with the vetting, screening, and information sharing the Trump administration has deemed adequate.
The Trump Administration is delaying the implementation of the order until next week in an effort to ensure that the process is orderly, standing in stark contrast to the first order which was met with chaos. Officials say that any reports of people being stopped by Customs and Border Protection in the next few days should relate to laws currently on the books and will not be due to the executive order.
“There is going to be a very orderly process. You should not see any alleged chaos,” an official said Monday. “There are not going to be folks stopped tonight because of this Executive Order.”
Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly said Monday his Department will “work closely to implement the order humanely, respectively, and with professionalism but we will enforce the law.”
During the 90-day pause, the Department of Homeland Security will perform a “global, country-by-country review” of the information provided to the U.S. during screenings. Each country will have 50 days to comply with any requests from the U.S. government for better or more information. Officials will still have the ability to issue waivers to certain individuals who wish to enter the U.S. while the ban is in place.
Officials said on a conference call Monday morning that the new order was constructed via close collaboration between the departments of Homeland Security, State and Justice.
“There is no daylight between the White House and those executive departments,” a DHS official said Monday.
The Trump Administration’s approach to refugee admittance was also adjusted in the new executive order. The order still halts the resettlement of refugees for 120 days, but there is no longer a blanket ban on refugees from Syria, a country that is the midst of a lengthy and brutal civil war. The order no longer includes language suggesting there will be a preference for refugees who are “religious minorities,” which many took to mean persecuted Christians. The Trump Administration will still only admit 50,000 refugees during the 2017 fiscal year, a steep drop from the 110,000 the Obama administration wanted to admit this year.
A senior State department official said Monday that while refugees already undergo a stringent vetting process, the Department will be reviewing the procedures currently used during the 120-day pause.
The Trump Administration faced criticism for targeting refugees in the initial order given reports that refugees had not been involved in any major terrorist attacks that resulted in deaths. Senior officials said Monday that the Federal Bureau of Investigations is currently investigating cases of 300 people who were admitted to the U.S. as refugees for terrorist activities. Officials would not say which countries the individuals came from.
Senior officials from the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice say the president’s first executive order was legally strong despite the challenges it faced in court. A Justice official says the new order should effectively “moot” the current legal challenges.
“The Department of Justice believes that this executive order, just as the first executive order, is a lawful and proper exercise of presidential authority,” said Attorney General Jeff Sessions at an appearance with Secretary Tillerson and Secretary Kelly on Monday. “This Department of Justice will defend and enforce lawful orders of the president consistent with the core principles of our constitution.”
Unlike the first executive order, the revised version was met with little fanfare by the commander-in-chief. There was no signing ceremony streamed from the White House or a major event featuring the president. There was instead, what appears to be a concerted effort to present as much information about the new ban to the public as possible.