Trump Forced To Water Down Executive Order On Immigration

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The Trump administration ignited protests at airports around the country with an executive order on Jan. 27 that blocked travel to the U.S. by permanent residents and visa holders from seven Muslim-majority countries.

After federal judges struck down the ban, the administration went back to the drawing board. A new order signed Monday with little fanfare ― no cameras were even present ― is a backdown of monumental proportions: The only travelers banned are those without visas from six nations ― Iraq was scratched from the list. And with or without this order, those without visas were already barred from traveling to the U.S.

The new order represents a major political defeat for the Trump administration, which decided to shove aside the dozens of lawsuits that were filed after the first order was signed and just sign a new order. Top Trump officials significantly watered down their language this time around. Gone were the overt mentions of “extreme vetting” and rooting out “radical Islamic terrorism.”

“The U.S. has a right to control who enters our country and to keep out those who will do us harm,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Monday. He did note that more than 300 people who came into the country as refugees are under investigation for potential terror-related charges.

Yet, some of the first order’s core tenets are still in place. The travel ban on non-visa holders from the six targeted countries ― Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen ― is still in effect for 90 days. And the refugee resettlement program will still be disbanded for 120 days, even though there’s no singling out of Syrian refugees. And the total number of refugees who can enter the U.S. this fiscal year will still go down from 110,000 to 50,000.

What changed in the new order:

  • Iraq removed from list of countries on the travel ban

  • Applies only to non-visa holders (anyone with a valid or multi-entry visa is exempt from the new order)

  • Will not go into effect until March 16 to avoid chaos

  • Exceptions for religious minorities removed

What remains from the previous order:

  • Refugee resettlement program banned for 120 days

  • Travel ban for citizens of some countries in effect for 90 days

  • Cap on refugee resettlement for fiscal year 2017 plummets from 110,000 to 50,000

Here’s a breakdown of the changes:

Blanket ban on Iraqis removed

Iraqi citizens will no longer all be barred from entering the country in the revised order. Iraq has agreed to “increased cooperation with the U.S. about information sharing” and screening since the first order’s signing, a senior administration official said Monday.

But that doesn’t mean that any and all people from Iraq can all of a sudden make it into the U.S. Refugees from Iraq still won’t be eligible for immediate resettlement since the refugee program overall is on hold for at least 120 days. The travel ban on the six other countries ― Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen ― remains in place.

Iraqis who work with the U.S. military are eligible for a visa category called the Special Immigrant Visa. Many Iraqis and Afghans entering the U.S. on SIVs after the first order was signed faced detention at airports across the country.

Green card and visa holders are now exempt

The revised order specifies that it will not ban the entry of green card or visa holders from the six targeted countries, many of whom were barred from entering the U.S. the first time around.

“We’re talking about the future entry of individuals into the United States, we’re not talking about lawful permanent residents or folks who are already in the United States,” the administration official said.

President Donald Trump’s own Cabinet had trouble explaining the green card issue in the weeks following the original order. Chief of Staff Reince Priebus first said green card holders wouldn’t be affected by the order, then retracted and admitted they would.

Syrian refugees no longer indefinitely banned

The clause in the original order that indefinitely banned the entry of all Syrian refugees into the U.S. has been removed.

“Syrian refugees are treated the way all refugees are,” presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway told Fox News on Monday.

But the clause halting all refugee resettlement activity for 120 days is still in place, and that includes Syrians. Not to mention that Syrians who are not refugees will also be barred from entry for 90 days because the country is on the list of the six targeted nations.

Streamlined rollout of the order

The new order doesn’t go into effect until March 16 in order to phase in the implementation. This also means that those people already in transit are exempt from the order.

“You should not see any chaos at airports. There are not going to be folks stopped tonight at airports,” the administration official said.

Immigration lawyers across the country sprung into action in late January after hearing reports that people were being unlawfully detained at airports. Due to confusion surrounding who specifically was covered by the ban, officials decided to hold many people for questioning and prevent others from boarding flights altogether.

No more overt discrimination against Muslims

Finally, the new order also removes the section in the original stipulating that some refugee claims could be prioritized “on the basis of religious-based persecution, provided that the religion of the individual is a minority religion in the individual’s country of nationality.”

This was interpreted as an exception being made for Christians, since Trump has highlighted the plight of Christians in Muslim-majority countries numerous times. He also justified the signing of the order in the first place by expressing the need to keep “radical Islamic terrorists” out of the U.S.

What happens next?

The backlash from the first order hit the Trump administration from every angle. Protests erupted around the world just hours after that order went into effect. The Justice Department refused to defend it. And more than 50 lawsuits were filed in the following days.

A federal judge for the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Seattle dealt the harshest blow of them all by blocking the order’s implementation nationwide on Feb. 3. U.S. District Judge James Robart failed to find compelling evidence that immigrants from the seven countries targeted in the order ― Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen ― had committed attacks on U.S. soil.

The administration unsuccessfully appealed that decision; a three-judge panel maintained the block the following week. Trump responded to the backlash by repeatedly referring to the court’s ruling as a “bad decision” and denigrating Robart via Twitter. 

Legal advocacy organizations are now gearing up to file a fresh round of lawsuits in response to the new order.

“As long as there continues to be a ban, we will pursue our lawsuits,” Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, told Politico on Monday. “The discrimination that spurred the ban doesn’t simply disappear by the removal of a few words.”

This story has been updated with further details of the order and administration comments about it.

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