WASHINGTON (CN) – President Donald Trump took another stab at a travel ban Monday, signing a new executive order that will “temporarily pause” immigration of nationals from six Muslim-majority countries for 90 days and suspend refugee admissions for 120 days.
The new ban is narrower in scope than the old one, but will still tighten security measures for travelers from countries the administration deems a terror threat – Syria, Iran, Yemen, Libya, Somalia and Sudan.
“Each of these countries is a state sponsor of terrorism, has been significantly compromised by terrorist organizations, or contains active conflict zones,” the new executive order states.
“Any of these circumstances diminishes the foreign government’s willingness or ability to share or validate important information about individuals seeking to travel to the United States,” it continues.
But critics of the new ban say the current vetting process is rigorous enough to have prevented instability in those countries from posing a genuine national security threat, and has been successful in stopping would-be terrorists from entering the country.
“The crux of the order is the same, which is to prevent the entry into the United States of visitors and would-be immigrants from six – not seven now but six – majority Muslim countries,” Elizabeth Goitein, co-director of the Liberty and National Security Program at the Brennan Center for Justice said in a phone interview.
From her perspective, the new immigration order is simply “Muslim Ban 2.0.”
“This travel ban is being ordered without any evidence of any particularly heightened threat coming from visitors from those countries,” she said.
Indeed, the new order removes Iraq from the list of banned countries, even though it specifically sites an instance of two Iraqi nationals admitted as refugees who the U.S. government convicted of terrorism-related charges.
However, the government arrested the men for trying to funnel money to al-Qaida in Iraq, and help the terror group conduct attacks on American troops there. The two did not plot an attack on U.S. soil.
The new travel ban also notes that the government has arrested a Somali man on terrorism charges who came here with his parents as a refugee. But Goitein said the FBI ensnared him in a sting operation, convincing the man to agree to help in an agency-concocted plot to blow up a building in Portland, Oregon.
“The fact that these were the best examples the administration could come up with really shows that there is a dearth of any evidence supporting a national security justification for this order,” Goitein said.
The text of the new executive order claims that “hundreds of persons born abroad have been convicted of terrorism-related crimes in the United States,” and claims that the FBI is investigating more than 300 people who came to the U.S. as refugees in counter-terrorism investigations.
However, the Associated Press reported last month that a leaked 3-page Department of Homeland Security report had determined that insufficient evidence exists to support the president’s claims that citizens of these countries post a national security risk to the U.S.
The agency verified the authenticity of the report, but has since said it was not a comprehensive report.
The new travel ban does contain substantial changes from the previous ban, which a federal judge in Washington state halted on Feb. 3 in a ruling later upheld by the Ninth Circuit.
Unlike the old travel ban, which included Iraq, the new immigration order says Iraq “presents a special case.”
“The close cooperative relationship between the United States and the democratically elected Iraqi government, the strong United States diplomatic presence in Iraq, the significant presence of United States forces in Iraq, and Iraq’s commitment to combat ISIS justify different treatment for Iraq,” the new directive states.
In further support of Iraq’s exclusion from the new ban, the White House says the Iraqi government has taken additional steps in recent weeks to enhance travel documentation and information sharing.
“This intense review over the past month identified multiple security measures that the State Department and the government of Iraq will be implementing to achieve our shared objective of preventing those with criminal or terroristic intent from reaching the United States,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said during a press conference about the new executive order Monday morning.
But Goitein said the administration’s reversal on Iraq’s inclusion only adds to her skepticism of the intent of the new travel ban.
“After having essentially said we have compelling reasons to believe that this threat from this country is so great that we have to absolutely stop any travel from this country for 90 days, now the administration is saying ‘well no, we don’t have to do that at all,'” she said.
“That to me is what really gives the lie to this notion that any of this was a national security necessity in the first place,” she added.
Unlike the old travel ban, which the administration implemented the day it was signed, the new order will not take effect until March 16, despite the administration’s prior claims that the nation’s security could be at stake.
“The fundamental point here, is there was no national security justification on Jan. 27 and nothing has happened in the interim that would change that,” Goitein said. “So despite the attempt to essentially just put more language into the order and more throat clearing, what we still don’t see in this order is any actual substantive justification for these draconian measures,” she added.
After the chaos that followed implementation of the first travel ban, President Trump had said he was advised not to allow a grace period to give those with nefarious intent the opportunity to enter the country.
This time around, the administration has provided a 10-day grace period before the travel ban goes into effect.
Another difference between the two executive orders is that the new one does not require a blanket ban that will revoke already-existing visas. Instead, the new ban will only block travelers who did not obtain a valid visa by 5 p.m. on Jan. 27.
Likewise, the new order will not apply to diplomats, green card holders, lawful permanent residents and dual citizens, nor will it provide a blanket ban on the admission of Syrian refugees or give preference to particular religious groups.
It will, however, pause refugee admissions and suspend consideration of refugee applications for 120 days. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said Monday that during the pause he will work with the director of national intelligence to determine what new procedures should be used to adjudicate refugee admissions.
Like the old travel ban, the new one will cap refugee admissions at 50,000 in 2017.
Kelly said during a press conference that the administration is rigorously reviewing immigration vetting programs.
According to the text of the new immigration ban, Kelly will work with Tillerson and the director of national intelligence to conduct a “worldwide review” to determine what, if any, additional information would be required from nationals of the six countries to adjudicate a visa application.
Kelly also spoke directly to the some of the controversy that surrounded implementation of the previous travel ban.
“The White House worked closely with the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice and the Department of State to create an order that addresses previous concerns and protects the homeland and every one of our citizens,” Kelly said.
“We are going to work closely to implement and enforce it humanely, respectfully and with professionalism. But we will enforce the law,” he later added.
Kelly’s comments and the new travel ban come on the heels of a pair of Freedom of Information Act lawsuits filed Friday in federal court in the District of Columbia that are seeking information about the chaos that ensued from implementation of the first travel ban.
Both lawsuits, filed on behalf of the James Madison Project and journalists Noah Shachtman of the Daily Beast and Ken Vogel and Josh Gerstein of Politico, seek the disclosure of records from the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security that would shed light on the degree to which the White House consulted them before and after implementation of the so-called “Muslim Ban.”
One of the lawsuits is asking the agencies for communications between the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel and the White House and Congress about the legality of the travel ban as it applied to certain nationalities, refugees, legal permanent residents and valid green card holders, and any final determinations about how it would apply to U.S. citizens with dual citizenship to the seven previously banned countries.
The other lawsuit is seeking any guidance the Transportation Security Administration provided to commercial and private airliners that operate at U.S. airports in terms of admission and/or deportation of travelers subject to the ban, as well as any TSA guidance provided to the airlines on judicial rulings and restraining orders.
According to both lawsuits, DHS the TSA, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Citizenship and Immigration Services have not provided a “substantive response” to the requests.
Mark Zaid, one of the attorneys who filed the lawsuits along with Bradley Moss, said in a phone interview the lawsuits aim to elicit what, if any, coordination occurred between the White House, other executive agencies, Congress and the airlines in implementing the ban.
More specifically, the requests seek to discover how the White House is conducting itself when issuing new policies, especially ones that have global implications, like the travel ban, Zaid said.
“How much are they doing it solely on their own – flying by the seat of their pants – or actually seeking out expert advice to make sure that what they’re doing is not only lawful, but also makes sense,” Zaid said.
“It’s not even just coordination from a government standpoint, which is obviously something I think most of us would expect to have been done,” he added. “But it is also taking into account that these policies impact non-governmental actors like the airlines, who needed to know in advance are they supposed to let certain nationalities on their airlines when coming to the United States.”
Zaid said he would not be surprised if the requested documents reveal there was very little or no coordination between the White House and the other executive agencies tasked with implementing the order.
The Departments of Justice and Homeland Security did not immediately respond to request for comment on the lawsuits.