- By Jeremy Redmon The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
President Donald Trump on Monday signed a revised travel ban for visitors 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 the president’s 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.
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 valid 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 aimed at giving 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. However, 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.
“Like every nation, the United States has a right to control who enters our country and to keep out those who would do us harm,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Monday. “This executive order seeks to protect the American people as well as lawful immigrants by putting in place an enhanced screening and vetting process for visitors from six countries.”
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. Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson said he was reviewing the new executive order to determine his next legal steps.
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 has denied his 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.
An Atlanta airport spokesman said officials there would work with U.S. Customs and Border Protection “to ensure all applicable laws and directives are followed.” Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines, the largest carrier at Hartsfield-Jackson, said it expects to receive instructions from that same federal agency about the executive order.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly joined Sessions in speaking in support of the revised 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,” he said, “believes that this executive order – just as the first executive order – is a lawful and proper exercise of presidential authority.”
Edward Ahmed Mitchell, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations Georgia Chapter, called Trump’s unconstitutional.
“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, said the new travel ban is “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.”
Staff writer Kelly Yamanouchi contributed to this report.