N Korea, Venezuela Feature in Version 3 of Muslim-Entry Ban

(CN) – A new executive order signed Sunday night by President Donald Trump adds North Korea and Venezuela to the list of Muslim-majority countries whose citizens face restricted entry to the United States.

Set to take effect Oct. 18, this third iteration of the travel ban indefinitely bans U.S. travel by citizens of Syria, Yemen, Chad, Somalia, Libya, Iran and North Korea. It also incorporates specific restrictions on travelers from Iraq and Venezuela.

“Making America Safe is my number one priority,” Trump tweeted Sunday. “We will not admit those into our country we cannot safely vet.”

Trump signed the first travel ban in January, just a week after is inauguration, unleashing chaos at the nation’s airports and sparking a flurry of legal challenges. Though the White House characterized the ban as necessary for national security, a federal judge who enjoined it found that the president’s anti-Islamic rhetoric on the campaign trail betrayed the ban’s discriminatory intent.

Trump’s addition of North Korea and Venezuela to the latest ban appears to be an effort to circumvent those legal challenges.

The executive order further details what administration officials are touting as a rigorous months-long analysis that explored the security measures and immigration vetting apparatus of more than 200 countries, concluding that the countries on the list were deficient in those areas.  

“The Secretary of Homeland Security, in consultation with the Secretary of State and the Attorney General, has determined that a small number of countries — out of nearly 200 evaluated — remain deficient at this time with respect to their identity-management and information-sharing capabilities, protocols, and practices,” Trump says in the executive order. “In some cases, these countries also have a significant terrorist presence within their territory.”

Legal experts say this analysis process, coupled with the fact that not all countries are Muslim-majority, may make this version of the travel ban more resilient to legal challenges.

As with the January travel ban, the second version published in March, faced a federal court injunction that was later affirmed by the Ninth Circuit.

The U.S. Supreme Court granted a stay that some aspects of the ban take effect, however, refusing U.S. entry to nationals from the six proscribed nations unless they can demonstrate a “bona fide relationship” to the United States.

A new spate of legal challenges ensued, attempting to clearly define that term. Oral arguments were set to proceed before the high court on Oct. 10, but on Monday the court canceled the hearing and ordered all parties to file briefs as to whether Trump’s new order renders the case moot.

The first two versions of the travel ban suspended travel for a period of 90 to 120 days while the administration conducted a review of each country’s immigration policies, but the latest version seeks to ban travel from the specified countries indefinitely.

Contrasted against the hastily signed first executive order, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster touted the new travel ban as a more tailored version, due to both its rigor and how it addresses each country individually.

Somali nationals, for example, will not be able to emigrate to the United States, but certain individuals will be allowed to travel to the United States after passing enhanced vetting processes. Iranian nationals will still be able to take part in student exchanges, but only after passing more robust screening processes.

The proclamation imposes the most severe and comprehensive restrictions on Syria and North Korea, both of which are described by the administration as failing to cooperate at all with immigration screening.

Critics of the travel ban said Trump’s inclusion of North Korea is a blatant attempt to disguise the discriminatory aspects of the previous two.

“Six of President Trump’s targeted countries are Muslim,” ACLU Executive Director  Anthony Romero said in a statement. “The fact that Trump has added North Korea — with few visitors to the U.S. — and a few government officials from Venezuela doesn’t obfuscate the real fact that the administration’s order is still a Muslim ban. President Trump’s original sin of targeting Muslims cannot be cured by throwing other countries onto his enemies list.”

The National Iranian American Council called it “absurd” to argue that the new ban will make America more secure.

“The countries included in Trump’s latest ban are merely those with whom the U.S. has bad relations, not from where threats have actually emanates,” a statement from the group says. “Iran, for instance, is a country that has very poor relations with the U.S. and yet there is no credible threat from Iranians visiting the U.S. Not a single person has died on American soil due to an Iranian terror attack.”

Noting that none of the countries responsible for the 9/11 terrorist attacks feature on Trump’s list, the council shared the statistic that nationals of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt conducted the foreign-national-based terrorist attacks responsible for 94 percent of all Americans killed on U.S. soil.

The Trump administration points to the 90-day review of security measures in place in other countries as evidence of the need for the restrictions.

“As President, I must act to protect the security and interests of the United States and its people,” the executive order states.

The Trump administration has argued during court challenges that the president has broad discretion when it applies to the nexus of immigration and national security, and that the preliminary injunctions represent inappropriate overreach by the judicial branch into matters under executive purview.

Many legal experts say the oral arguments set to commence on Oct. 10 will be moot now that the administration has sought to install yet another version.

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