Sabrina Siddiqui and Oliver Laughland, The Guardian, March 6, 2017
Donald Trump has signed a revised executive order to reinstate a ban on immigration from certain Muslim-majority countries and suspend the US refugee program.
The new travel ban blocks entry to the US for citizens from six of the seven countries named in Trump’s original order, officials at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and state department told reporters on a conference call on Monday.
The move comes after a federal judge blocked the ban and a federal appeals court upheld that ruling, denying the justice department’s request to reinstate it. The original executive order that was challenged in court was revoked by Trump on Monday.
As with the previous order, people from Iran, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen, Syria and Libya will face a 90-day suspension of visa processing. But Iraq will be removed from the list of countries affected. The inclusion of Iraq in the original order had prompted concerns from the national security community because of the country’s role in fighting terrorism alongside US forces.
The revised order will keep in place a 120-day suspension of the refugee program, but it will no longer identify Syrian refugees as subject to an indefinite ban. Officials on the call said Syrians would be treated no differently from other refugees seeking asylum in the United States.
The order will not come into effect until 16 March, according to leaked guidance documents published by Just Security, in contrast to the first order, which was implemented immediately.
The leaked guidance states that the Trump administration had removed Iraq from the second order due to the “close cooperative relationship” between the United States and Iraqi governments and “Iraq’s commitment to combat Isis”.
Other changes will include an exemption for green card holders, who were swept up in the chaos that resulted from the previous order at airports across the country. Language granting priority to religious minorities for entry has also been scrapped, officials said, while attempting to make the case that the travel ban did not seek to target individuals of any one faith.
“This is not a Muslim ban in any way, shape, or form,” an official told reporters on the call. “There are dozens and hundreds of millions, if not 1-point something billion, Muslims who are not subject to this executive order.”
The emphasis, the official said, was on countries where the US lacked “the ability to make adequate screening and vetting determinations for nationals under current procedures”.
But findings from a Department of Homeland Security report, obtained by several news outlets in recent weeks, cast doubt on the administration’s argument behind the travel ban.
The document, the authenticity of which was confirmed by the Guardian but framed by a DHS spokesperson as “incomplete”, noted that citizens from the countries identified in Trump’s ban are “rarely implicated in US-based terrorism”. It further concluded that citizenship was an “unreliable indicator” of the threat posed by terrorism to the US.
The official claimed: “This is not in any way targeted as a Muslim ban. We firmly want to make sure that everyone understands that.”
But Grace Meng, an immigration researcher for Human Rights Watch’s US program, argued the reported changes contained within Trump’s revised order were “merely cosmetic”.
“President Trump still seems to believe you can determine who’s a terrorist by knowing which country a man, woman or child is from,” Meng said in a statement. “Putting this executive order into effect will only create a false sense of security that genuine steps are being taken to protect Americans from attack, while undermining the standing of the US as a refuge for those at greater risk.”
The new order is intended to address the legal challenges that stemmed from Trump’s original travel ban, which was issued on 27 January. That order, crafted by Trump’s 31-year-old speechwriter, Steven Miller, and senior adviser Steve Bannon, sparked intense backlash against the White House.
Republicans in Washington criticized the administration for failing to consult with the relevant agencies, such as the DHS and state department, as well as members of Congress. Democrats, faith leaders and civil liberties advocates widely condemned the order as the first step in fulfilling Trump’s pledge to ban Muslim immigration to the US.
The White House has continued to defend the travel ban as a pressing matter of national security. But the administration nonetheless delayed its own rollout of the revised order last week, citing a desire not to crowd out the positive media coverage that followed Trump’s joint address before Congress.
Asked if the White House had undermined its own rationale for the travel ban in doing so, officials on the DHS call declined to weigh in after an audible silence.
“I think that question might be best addressed to the White House,” an official said. “Although I don’t think the underlying, very real security concerns are changed in any way.”