President Donald Trump’s controversial travel ban will morph into a new set of restrictions on travelers from an expanded set of countries, U.S. officials announced Sunday night as major parts of the order were close to expiring.
The current policy, which denies visas to citizens of six majority Muslim countries, will be replaced by a new set of travel limits on eight countries, including all but one of those on the previous list. The nations facing travel restrictions under the new policy are Chad, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Syria, Venezuela and Yemen, officials said Sunday. Existing visa-holders are exempt, and waivers will remain available for travelers with U.S. ties.
One country on the current list, Sudan, was dropped from the new restrictions, which will take effect Oct. 18.
“Making America Safe is my number one priority. We will not admit those into our country we cannot safely vet,” Trump wrote on Twitter on Sunday evening.
Earlier in the day, as he prepared to return from his New Jersey golf club to the White House, Trump was asked what provisions he wanted to see in the latest set of travel restrictions.
“The tougher the better,” Trump said, without elaborating.
While the new proclamation restricts some travel from two non-Muslim countries — North Korea and Venezuela — those limits will have little practical impact. Few North Koreans travel to the United States. The new restrictions on Venezuela apply only to government officials, not to the broader population.
A Trump administration official who briefed reporters Sunday evening said the changes were not aimed at making the policy appear less like the “Muslim Ban” Trump promised during the presidential campaign.
“The restrictions, whether previously or now, were never ever, ever based on race, religion or creed,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Elaine Duke sent the president a report on Sept. 15 detailing her suggestions for how to deal with countries not perceived to be cooperating or complying with U.S. requests for data on the identities of and terrorism risks posed by potential travelers.
Senior administration officials met with Trump on Friday to discuss the issue, but there was no announcement as the expiration of the six-country ban drew closer. The ban was set to expire Sunday night.
The announcement comes at a sensitive time for litigation over the travel ban order Trump issued in March. The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments Oct. 10 on the legality of the measure, but the justices have already suggested that the dispute may be moot due to the temporary nature of the directive.
A senior administration official said the Justice Department will file a notice Sunday night with the Supreme Court informing the justices about the new directive.
Trump issued his first travel ban order one week after he took office in January, banning travel to the United States by nationals of seven majority Muslim countries: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. Announced with immediate effect, it triggered widespread protests at U.S. airports and significant confusion about its application, particularly to green card holders.
Many critics said the measure was a thinly veiled version of the Muslim ban Trump championed during the presidential campaign. After courts blocked key parts of the first directive, Trump issued a new order in March dropping Iraq from the list of targeted countries and removing other language that courts suggested indicated religious animus. He also excluded existing visa and green cardholders from the impact of the suspension.
The revised order still encountered quick resistance from the courts, which issued injunctions against aspects of the ban.
The Supreme Court cut those injunctions back somewhat in June when it agreed to take up the question of whether Trump’s order was legal. Under the high court’s interim order, close family members of U.S. citizens or residents are exempt from the visa ban and another portion of Trump’s directive halting refugee admissions. The justices also exempted people with bona fide ties to U.S. companies, schools or organizations.
However, Trump has continued to complain publicly that the existing ban is too weak.
“The travel ban into the United States should be far larger, tougher and more specific-but stupidly, that would not be politically correct!” he wrote on Twitter earlier this month after a terrorist attack in London.
The tweet continued Trump’s pattern of complicating the work of his administration’s lawyers by undercutting their arguments.
While the Justice Department has argued that none of the restrictions target any particular religion, Trump’s public call for a “more specific” and less “politically correct” ban suggests his desire may, in fact, be to limit travel by Muslims.
In addition, while government lawyers repeatedly called his March order a “temporary pause” — language that came directly from the executive order he signed — the president has dismissed that kind of construction as sophistry.
“The lawyers and the courts can call it whatever they want, but I am calling it what we need and what it is, a TRAVEL BAN!” he tweeted in June.
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