WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump revived his travel ban Monday, signing a revised executive order (EO) that temporarily bans new immigration from six majority-Muslim countries while exempting Iraqis and dual citizens, and issuing a full suspension on the refugee program into the US.
Stylistically, unlike the previous order on Jan. 27, this one avoided a media splash, with Trump signing it behind closed doors in the Oval Office, and granting nine days until implementation (March 16).
Also, instead of White House aides taking the lead in explaining the order, it was the secretaries of state, justice and homeland security laying it out for the public after a thorough review that involved Congress.
On substance, however, the revised “executive order does not differ dramatically from its disastrous predecessor,” said Noah Rothman, a policy analyst and assistant online editor at Commentary Magazine.
In a sense, it still puts a 90-day hold on visas from six Muslim-majority countries — Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Somalia, Libya and Iran — and blocks refugee entry.
Rothman told Arab News that the revised order “has been amended enough to likely pass legal muster” in an attempt to avoid the embarrassment that the previous EO encountered, leading to its defeat in a San Francisco court on Feb. 9.
These amendments included exempting dual citizens with passports not on the list, as well as excluding green-card and visa holders issued before Jan. 27. It also avoids the labeling of the new EO as a “Muslim ban.”
“This is not a Muslim ban in any way, shape or form,” a senior US official said in a call with reporters previewing the new ban. While the previous travel ban excluded Christian refugees applying from majority-Muslim countries and singled out Syrian refugees, this one suspended full refugee entry into the US for 120 days.
It also cut in half the cap for numbers of refugees that the US will take after that period from 110,000 under the Obama administration to 50,000 a year.
One of the legal hiccups that the new order tries to overcome is the judges’ conclusion, as reported by the New York Times, that the previous ban “did not advance national security, and that the administration had shown ‘no evidence’ that anyone from the seven nations had committed terrorist acts in the United States.”
US officials, ahead of rolling out this order, said the FBI is pursuing 300 terror-related cases of individuals admitted to the US as refugees. The officials did not specify when those refugees entered, countries of origin or threat level.
“That is not a small number,” a senior US official said, and probably one that the Trump administration will bring up in any court fight challenging this order.
Still Rothman viewed “the language (of the order) as one that exposes how little this action has to do with terrorism and how much it has to do with immigration.”
Rothman said exempting Iraq, a country where Daesh controls territory, “exposes the hollowness of that (counter-terror) rationale.”
Just last week, the commander of the US-led coalition, Lt.-Gen. Stephen Townsend, said there are between 12,000 and 15,000 Daesh fighters in Iraq and Syria, with around 2,000 of them isolated around Mosul.
Another criticism of the ban, said Rothman, is that “there have been no fatal terrorist events inside the US committed by refugees since the passage of the Refugee Act of 1980. Prior to 1980, three Cuban refugees were implicated in terrorism. Cuba remains, according to the Department of Homeland Security review, one of the world’s most likely terrorism exporters, but it remains exempted from Trump’s immigration order.”
Civil rights groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) were quick to criticize and pledge to challenge the revised ban. “See you in court,” ACLU tweeted. Its director for the Immigrants Rights Project, Omar Jadwat, said: “The only way to actually fix the Muslim ban is not to have a Muslim ban.”
For the Trump administration, however, this is a campaign promise and a national security issue. “Today’s executive order will make America more secure and address long-overdue concerns about the security of our immigration system,” said Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly.
According to the Washington Post, US officials at Mar-a-Lago in Florida last weekend “tried to put Trump in a better mood by going over their implementation plans for the travel ban.” Now that is signed, and if it withstands legal challenges, it would be viewed by Trump as a key early accomplishment of his first 100 days in office.