New Trump travel ban: Order again targets refugees

Iraq removed from list of banned countries

President Donald Trump on Monday signed a revised travel ban for foreigners from six Muslim-majority countries, as well as refugees from around the world. The Trump administration is hoping the new ban will withstand court scrutiny after his original executive order sowed widespread confusion, triggered angry demonstrations in Atlanta and across the nation and ultimately stalled amid constitutional challenges.

The revised executive order – which takes effect at 12:01 a.m. on March 16 – comes with broad implications for the Atlanta area, now home to a large foreign-born population, the world's busiest airport and many major businesses, universities and other institutions with international ties. The region is also a popular destination for immigrants and refugees seeking plentiful jobs and affordable housing.

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Like the original directive issued in late January, the new order bars travelers from some predominantly Muslim countries for 90 days. Iraq – a major ally in the fight against the Islamic State -- has been dropped from the original list of seven nations. The Iraqi government, Trump administration officials said Monday, has taken steps to increase their cooperation in vetting Iraqi travelers.

The new travel ban instead applies to Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. Travelers with current visas will be exempted. The new order also does not apply to green card holders, some of whom were detained in January at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport after returning from trips to Iran.

Further, the nation’s refugee resettlement program will be halted for 120 days, but Syrian refugees will not be barred indefinitely as the original order required. Plus, there will be no exceptions for religious minorities, including Christians residing in Muslim-majority countries. And just as the original directive ordered, the total number of refugees who may be resettled in the U.S. in the fiscal year ending in September will drop to 50,000, from the 110,000 goal the Obama administration had set.

Trump has said the restrictions are meant to give his administration time to bolster its vetting process for visitors and to protect the United States from terrorist attacks. On Monday, administration officials disclosed that about 300 people who have been admitted to the U.S. as refugees are now the subjects of counterterrorism probes by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. They declined to identify their native countries or their immigration status, though they said they came from around the world and that some could now be lawful permanent residents or naturalized U.S. citizens.

“Not a small number. That’s a tremendous administrative burden on manpower and resources,” a senior U.S. Homeland Security official told reporters on a conference call Monday, speaking on condition of anonymity.

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President Donald Trump salutes as he stands on the tarmac after disembarking Air Force One as he arrives Sunday, March 5, 2017, at Andrews Air Force Base, Md. Trump is returning from Mar-a-Largo, Fla. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

President Donald Trump salutes as he stands on the tarmac after disembarking Air Force One as he arrives Sunday, March 5, 2017, at Andrews Air Force Base, Md. Trump is returning from Mar-a-Largo, Fla. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

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President Donald Trump salutes as he stands on the tarmac after disembarking Air Force One as he arrives Sunday, March 5, 2017, at Andrews Air Force Base, Md. Trump is returning from Mar-a-Largo, Fla. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Last month, a federal appeals court based in San Francisco upheld a temporary restraining order against Trump’s original travel ban. The states of Washington and Minnesota sued to stop the ban, arguing it was hurting their economies and universities and that it violates the First Amendment’s ban on government establishment of religion.

The states pointed out that Trump campaigned on “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.” Parts of his executive order, according to the states, were “intended to disfavor Islam and favor Christianity.” A senior Justice Department official said Monday the government anticipates the new travel ban will render moot most of the legal challenges to the original executive order.

Critics immediately assailed the new ban, saying it was no better than its predecessor.

The Southern Poverty Law Center labeled it “Muslim Ban 2.0.”

“This Muslim Ban 2.0 is still discriminatory, continues to target the Muslim community and will cause ripple effects felt by people perceived to be Muslim,” said Naomi Tsu, the SPLC’s deputy legal director.

Trump denied his initial executive order is a "Muslim ban" and he tweeted after the appeals court ruling: “See you in court, the security of our nation is at stake!”

But several internal U.S. Homeland Security documents raise questions about Trump's approach. One obtained last month by the Associated Press concludes citizenship is "unlikely to be a reliable indicator of potential terrorist activity." A separate one obtained this month by MSNBC declares: "We assess that most foreign-born, U.S.-based violent extremists likely radicalized several years after their entry to the United States, limiting the ability of screening and vetting officials to prevent their entry because of national security concerns."

After Trump issued his original executive order in January, his administration revoked tens of thousands of visas, leaving many people stranded abroad. Other travelers were detained at U.S. airports or deported.

At Atlanta's airport, for example, immigration authorities temporarily detained 11 international travelers on Jan. 28, some for several hours. A day later, thousands of demonstrators gathered at the Atlanta airport to protest the travel ban.

Edward Ahmed Mitchell, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations Georgia Chapter, criticized Trump’s new directive.

“President Trump’s new executive order is just as unconstitutional as the last executive order because it is motivated by anti-Muslim bigotry,” he said. “President Trump is attempting to fulfill his campaign promise of keeping as many Muslims as he can out of the country.”

Frances McBrayer, chairman of the Atlanta area’s Coalition of Refugee Service Agencies, called the new travel ban “deeply disappointing.”

“This new executive order will continue to cause instability in the U.S. refugee resettlement program at a time when refugees around the world need safety and stability the most,” she said. “The world is experiencing the largest forced migration crisis in recorded history with 21.3 million refugees worldwide. Providing protection to people seeking safety is one of our nation’s proudest and longest standing traditions.”

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly and Attorney General Jeff Sessions spoke in support of the travel ban during a televised briefing Monday.

“It is the president’s solemn duty to protect the American people,” Tillerson said. “And with this order President Trump is exercising his rightful authority to keep our people safe.”

Kelly said the government is undertaking a “rigorous review of our immigration vetting programs.”

“We cannot risk the prospect of malevolent actors using our immigration system to take American lives,” he said.

Sessions said the Justice Department would defend the new executive order in court.

“The Department of Justice believes that this executive order – just as the first executive order – is a lawful and proper exercise of presidential authority,” he said.

In January, thousands protested Trump’s initial immigration order outside Atlanta airport. See the video below.

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An airport official said Atlanta Police and other law enforcement personnel are on hand, as are medical teams if necessary. Authorities are watching crowds to make sure passengers and protesters remain safe.