Just weeks before the Supreme Court was to hear a challenge to the Trump administration’s travel ban, the administration announced new restrictions to the ban on Sunday.
“Following an extensive review by the Department of Homeland Security, we are taking action today to protect the safety and security of the American people by establishing a minimum security baseline for entry into the United States,” President Donald Trump stated on Sunday. “Our government's first duty is to its people, to our citizens — to serve their needs, to ensure their safety, to preserve their rights, and to defend their values,” Trump stated.
On Sunday evening, the Trump administration announced it was continuing the travel ban indefinitely just before it was set to expire, expanding the number of countries of restricted travel to eight, as part of “enhanced national security measures.” It also set new security standards for other countries to help the U.S. vet visa applicants and immigrants.
In March, President Donald Trump had signed an executive order “on Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States.” It was a revision from his January executive order on immigration. In the revised order, foreign nationals from six countries would be temporarily barred from travelling to the U.S. except in special cases. The countries were Iran, Somalia, Yemen, Libya, Syria, and the Sudan.
Then before the travel ban was set to expire on Sunday evening, the administration increased the number of restricted countries to eight, dropping the Sudan and adding North Korea, Chad, and Venezuela. The policy will be continued indefinitely, and the new countries experiencing “certain travel limitations and restrictions” will be added to the list on Oct. 18.
The administration also announced that it would, “for the first time in history,” set up minimum standards for other countries to comply with, for vetting of visa applicants and immigrants looking to travel to the U.S. President Trump said the revised policy would improve U.S. national security and establish “a minimum security baseline for entry into the United States.”
“We cannot afford to continue the failed policies of the past, which present an unacceptable danger to our country,” Trump stated. “My highest obligation is to ensure the safety and security of the American people, and in issuing this new travel order, I am fulfilling that sacred obligation.”
The March executive order on immigration had directed the Secretary of Homeland Security to investigate whether “additional information would be needed from each foreign country” to issue visas and admit immigrants. Then in July, the administration said it came up with new minimum standards for other countries, with regard to the vetting of visa applicants and other immigrants. The standards related to the issuing of electronic passports, “sharing criminal data” and helping identify potential security threats to the U.S. looking to enter. The administration gave countries 50 days “to work with the United States to make improvements” to their existing standards.
According to the administration, the eight countries remaining on the restricted travel list “remain currently inadequate in their identity-management protocols and information-sharing practices or present sufficient risk factors that travel restrictions are required.” The countries can be removed from the list once they comply.
Iraq, however, did not comply with the standards but Trump “determined” that “entry restrictions are not warranted.” Iraq was originally on a list of countries with restricted travel in the President’s first executive order on immigration in January, but was not listed in the revised executive order in March, reportedly because of a deal with the U.S. to accept Iraqi nationals living in the U.S. who had been given a final order of removal from an immigration judge, in exchange for being removed from the list.
A challenge to the constitutionality of the previous order was scheduled to be heard by the Supreme Court on Oct. 10 in oral arguments. However, the court canceled those arguments after Sunday’s revisions were announced.
Bishop Joe Vasquez, chair of the U.S. bishops’ migration and refugee services committee, had voiced serious concerns before about the travel and refugee bans. The immigration executive order had also shut down refugee admissions for 120 days and set a cap on refugee admissions for FY 2017 at 50,000, less than half of the 110,000 set as a goal by the previous administration.
Bishop Vasquez said he was “deeply troubled by the human consequences of the revised executive order on refugee admissions and the travel ban,” saying it “still leaves many innocent lives at risk.” “The U.S. Catholic Bishops have long recognized the importance of ensuring public safety and would welcome reasonable and necessary steps to accomplish that goal,” he said. Yet the current refugee resettlement process is secure, with “the most vigorous vetting process of anyone who enters the United States.”
Lawyers and advocates for Muslim immigrants said on Monday that the administration’s new travel ban still constitutes a “Muslim ban” since most of the eight countries’ populations are Muslim-majority, and that Trump had on the campaign trail proposed a ban on Muslims seeking to the enter the U.S. There are also reports that the administration will consider lowering its cap on refugees even more in the next fiscal year, to below 50,000. The new quota is expected to be announced by the end of September.