Trump also ordered a cut in the number of refugees allowed into the United States to 50,000 this fiscal year, down from 110,000. He further instructs officials to give preference to religious minorities among the refugees it does accept, and includes language intended to give state and local governments more say over whether they will allow refugees to settle in their areas.
The order, which has been expected for several days, would be historic in scope if fully implemented, and could have serious implications for Americans traveling abroad. Civil rights groups, Democratic lawmakers and others say it amounts to a cruel and counterproductive ban on Muslims who wish to enter the United States, and that it will damage America’s long-time standing as a haven for the oppressed and vulnerable.
At least one organization, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said it would file a lawsuit against the government on behalf of at least 20 people affected by what it called the “Muslim Ban.”
Trump and his team insist the order is necessary to protect U.S. citizens from what the president called “radical Islamic terrorists.”REFILE – QUALITY REPEATU.S. President Donald Trump looks on following a swearing-in ceremony for Defense Secretary James Mattis at the Pentagon in Washington, U.S., January 27, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
“We don’t want ‘em here,” Trump said as he signed the statement during a visit to the Pentagon.
Trump’s order, which he has described as “extreme vetting,” could pose some legal and procedural headaches for the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security, the two agencies largely responsible for implementing the policies. That’s in large part because some of the language is vague and hard to define.
For instance, the order at times refers to “foreign nationals” but doesn’t clarify whether that includes people with dual nationality. It talks about religious minorities, but it’s not clear if “religion” can include sects of larger religions. The barring of Syrian refugees is said to remain in effect until Trump himself has determined the program that admits them has been upgraded to that point that it is “consistent with the national interest,” but it doesn’t say what factors Trump will take into consideration when making his decision.
The pause to the overall refugee resettlement program is for 120 days, but the orders leave open the possibility of an extension if Trump’s Cabinet aides reviewing it aren’t satisfied that the program has enough safeguards.
The suspension of entry by and issuance of visas to nationals of certain countries appears to apply to at least Iran, Iraq, Syria and Sudan. Libya, Yemen and Somalia also may fall under the suspension, depending on how the rule is interpreted. All are Muslim-majority countries that are in many ways troubled, because of war, terrorist activity or general instability.
The suspension is due to last at least 90 days, but for some the likelihood is that the suspension will last much longer because Trump is demanding that other countries cooperate with the United States on providing information about their citizens. Some of the countries for whom the visa issuance is suspended do not have the capacity to share that material, or, like Iran, do not have diplomatic ties with America. (U.S. officials have long used other measures to vet foreign nationals from these countries.)
Also notable is which countries are not included. Pakistan and Afghanistan, for example, have long been scarred by terrorism and instability. The conservative Muslim kingdom of Saudi Arabia is also notably absent, despite its being the home of 15 of the 19 hijackers on Sept. 11, 2001, and being a major source of recruits for terrorist groups.
That said, the language in Trump’s declarations suggests there will be even tighter screening of would-be visa holders from all Muslim countries and even beyond.
He states that “the United States should not admit those who engage in acts of bigotry or hatred, (including ‘honor’ killings, other forms of violence against women, or the persecution of those who practice religions different from their own), or those who would oppress Americans of any race, gender or sexual orientation.” Some of the acts that Trump spells out are prevalent in, though not limited to, Muslim countries, and the president made sure to draw those links during his 2016 campaign, during which he at one point called for a ban on all Muslims entering the United States. Although it’s not clearly stated, Trump’s order appears to indicate U.S. consular officials must find ways to vet visa applicants for their personal prejudices.
As drafts of Trump’s orders circulated in Washington earlier this week, some State Department officials expressed concern that the White House had done little to no consulting with their experts on the feasibility of some of the plans. In particular, the State Department officials worry about how the moves will affect Muslim-majority countries that are critical allies in the fight against terrorist groups. Some of those nations, such as Turkey, host millions of Syrian refugees.
Another major concern is that other countries will react to Trump’s orders by making it harder for Americans to obtain visas to visit them. In theory, though not really in practice, visa programs are supposed to be reciprocal.
The drafts of the order circulated earlier had Trump asking U.S. officials to come up with a plan to create safe zones in Syria and nearby countries to help people fleeing bloodshed, but that language was not included in the final document
Refugee advocates have cried foul for days over Trump’s moves. They point out that refugees are not just among the world’s most vulnerable people, but they also are the most highly screened group of people allowed to enter the United States. Some must wait years for permission, and Syrians in particular go through extra checks.