Donald Trump's travel ban: President facing new legal threat as FBI investigate 300 refugees for links to Isil

Harriet Alexander

President Donald Trump on Monday signed a long-awaited new travel ban as it emerged that the FBI is investigating 300 people admitted as refugees for links to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. 

The ban was immediately met with threats of legal action. Eric Schneiderman, New York's attorney general, said he was scrutinising the new order and stood ready to challenge it.

“While the White House may have made changes to the ban, the intent to discriminate against Muslims remains clear,” he said. “This doesn’t just harm the families caught in the chaos of President Trump’s draconian policies – it’s diametrically opposed to our values, and makes us less safe.”

Mr Trump signed the executive order into effect on Monday following conference calls from his staff explaining the provisos in the law.

At the same time, the department of homeland security told congressmen that the FBI was investigating 300 people admitted as refugees for links to the so-called Islamic State. The 300 refugees were part of 1,000 counterterrorism investigations involving Islamic State or individuals inspired by the militant group, congressional sources said. No details were given as to the cases, or the time frame.

But the news was clearly timed to boost support for Mr Trump’s ban.

According to his executive order, all refugee arrivals will be stopped for a period of 120 days. Unlike in the previous text, Syrian refugees are not singled out for a permanent ban on entry.

Furthermore, citizens from six countries will, from March 16, be prevented from entering the United States, unless they have previously been granted a visa.

At a glance | Donald Trump’s immigration ban

Iraq has been dropped from the list of six countries – now only citizens of Iran, Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Libya and Yemen are banned.  

And the new ban does not priorities entry for “persecuted minorities” – a proviso which critics said unfairly blocked the entry of Muslims.

Mr Trump’s first attempt to implement a travel ban, in January, was a chaotic series of announcements, clarifications, wrongful detentions, protests and court cases that culminated in an appeals court ruling that it was unlawful. Nigeria - a country not on the list - on Monday warned its citizens not to travel to the US after many were sent home at the airport.

But this time round the administration was determined to ensure that the roll-out of the ban was smooth.

Rex Tillerson, the secretary of state, on Monday used a press conference to reassure US allies that the measures would be implemented in an “orderly” way.

Tillerson

“As threats to our security continue to evolve and change, common sense dictates that we continually reevaluate and reassess the systems we rely upon to protect our country,” he said. “While no system can be made completely infallible, the American people can have high confidence we are identifying ways to improve the vetting process and thus keep terrorists from entering our country.

“To our allies and partners around the world, please understand this order is part of our ongoing efforts to eliminate vulnerabilities that radical Islamist terrorists can and will exploit for destructive ends.”

He explained that the decision to drop Iraq from the list of countries was due to an “intense review” of security procedures, and a realisation that the state department and the government of Iraq were already working on a rigorous screening programme.

Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, then laid out why the government felt the ban was necessary, stating that “the majority of people convicted in our courts for terrorism-related offenses since 9/11 came here from abroad.”

Jeff Sessions

He added: “The department of justice believes that this executive order, just as the first executive order, is a lawful and proper exercise of presidential authority.”

John Kelly, the homeland security chief, said: “Unregulated, unvetted travel is not a universal privilege, especially when national security is at stake.”

The roll-out was greeted with approval by most Republicans – even those who initially criticised the first attempt.

Paul Ryan, speaker of the house, praised it while Lindsey Graham, a Republican senator known for his scathing response to many of Mr Trump’s actions, said he thought it would withstand legal challenges.

"It's drafted in a fashion as to not be a religious ban, but a ban on individuals coming from compromised governments and failed states,” he said. “This executive order will help achieve President Trump’s goal of making us safer."

Protests - Credit: Getty

Bob Ferguson, the attorney general for Washington state - who successfully challenged Mr Trump's initial travel ban in court – said the president "has capitulated on numerous key provisions blocked by our lawsuit."

They include banning legal permanent residents, visa holders and dual citizens from entering the country, as well as explicit preferences based on religion.

But critics of the travel ban were not impressed by the new wording. Amnesty International described it as “wrong-headed and counter-productive.”

Trump Muslim ban protests

 

3:39AM

Ben Carson tries to clarify slave comments

Ben Carson, the new secretary of the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), is facing a backlash after referring to slaves brought to the United States against their will as "immigrants", writes Chris Graham.

In an introductory speech to staff at the HUD after he was confirmed by the Senate last week, Mr Carson shared anecdotes from his past career as a neurosurgeon and praised immigrants who worked long hours to build a better life for their children.

Ben Carson remarks that "there were other immigrants who came in the bottom of slave ships" https://t.co/urmwCkqUqqpic.twitter.com/TMl2rDCpOO

— CNN International (@cnni) March 7, 2017

"There were other immigrants who came here in the bottom of slave ships, worked even longer, even harder for less," said Mr Carson, who is African-American.

Enslaved Africans did not voluntarily come to the United States and were denied freedom for hundreds of years.

he later tried to clarify his comments in a post on Facebook.

Read the full article here. 

3:33AM

Obamacare replacement rolled out

House Republicans on Monday released their long-awaited plan for unravelling former President Barack Obama's health care law, a package that would scale back the government's role in health care and likely leave more Americans uninsured.

House committees planned to begin voting on the 123-page legislation on Wednesday, launching what could be the year's defining battle in Congress and capping a seven-year Republican effort to repeal the 2010 law. Though GOP leaders expect their measure to win the backing of the Trump administration, divisions remain and GOP success is by no means ensured.

The plan would repeal the statute's unpopular fines on people who don't carry health insurance. It would replace income-based subsidies the law provides to help millions of Americans pay premiums with age-based tax credits that may be less generous to people with low incomes. Those payments would phase out for higher-earning people.

Read the full article here.

10:07PM

Trump tweets support for ExxonMobil

Remarkably, the three tweets relating to the oil giant are President Trump's only tweets today.

His secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, was the chairmon of Exxon until he entered government.

 

8:23PM

Massachusetts attorney general considering legal action

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey says she's considering all legal options in response to President Donald Trump's reworked travel ban.

She calls the revised ban misguided and describes it as "a clear attempt to resurrect a discredited order and fulfill a discriminatory and unconstitutional campaign promise."

Healey, a Democrat, had joined several other attorneys general in a lawsuit that ultimately blocked the original order.

Protest

The ban issued on Monday would bar new visas for citizens from six Muslim-majority countries and temporarily shut down America's refugee programme.

Maura isn't the only Massachusetts Democrat who's critical of the revised order. Sen. Edward Markey calls the ban discriminatory and says it will serve as a "recruitment tool" for terrorists. Congressman Seth Moulton says the ban targets men, women, and children fleeing persecution.

Boston Mayor Martin Walsh says the city will stand by its immigrant community.

7:44PM

David Miliband: Stopping refugee resettlement "catastrophic"

David Miliband, head of the New York-based International Rescue Committee, said the ban targets "the most vulnerable, most vetted population that is entering the United States."

Miliband - Credit: Rex

He called the move:

"a historic assault on refugee resettlement to the United States, and a really catastrophic cut at a time there are more refugees around the world than ever before."

7:35PM

New travel ban "a tacit acceptance that the first one was flawed"

Virginia's attorney general says the Trump administration's revised travel ban is a tacit admission that the original ban was constitutionally flawed.

Mark Herring, a Democrat, is one of several attorneys general who sued to stop the ban. He said his office is reviewing its legal response.

travel ban - Credit: AFP

He said that while the new order "appears to be significantly scaled back, it still sends a horrible message to the world."

5:48PM

New York attorney general "stands ready" to take legal action against ban

State attorneys general brought a string of suits against the original ban, broadly arguing that their states' interests were harmed by keeping out lawful residents and students who contributed to local life and the economy.

Eric Schneiderman

Eric Schneiderman, New York's attorney general, said he was scrutinising the new order and stood ready to challenge it.

“Courts across the country have made clear: President Trump is not above the Constitution.

"While the White House may have made changes to the ban, the intent to discriminate against Muslims remains clear. This doesn’t just harm the families caught in the chaos of President Trump’s draconian policies – it’s diametrically opposed to our values, and makes us less safe.

"My office is closely reviewing the new executive order, and I stand ready to litigate -- again -- in order to protect New York’s families, institutions, and economy.”

5:44PM

Amnesty plans protest day tomorrow

Amnesty International USA is holding a press conference later today to outline their opposition to the ban.

They have also just announced a national day of action tomorrow, asking its 1.2 million members and supporters in the US to call their elected officials and urge them to stand against the new executive order. 

Protests - Credit: Getty

 

5:13PM

Secretary of State explains the ban

We now have the full transcript of the press conference which just concluded, in which the secretary of state, attorney general and secretary of homeland security explained the ban.

It's in stark contrast to the rolling out of the previous ban, in January, which was confused and unclear.

Rex Tillerson, the secretary of state, spoke first.

Tillerson - Credit: AP

He said:

The executive order signed by the president earlier today protecting the nation from foreign terrorist entry into the United States is a vital measure for strengthening our national security. It is the president's solemn duty to protect the American people, and with this order, President Trump is exercising his rightful authority to keep our people safe.

\As threats to our security continue to evolve and change, common sense dictates that we continually reevaluate and reassess the systems we rely upon to protect our country. While no system can be made completely infallible, the American people can have high confidence we are identifying ways to improve the vetting process and thus keep terrorists from entering our country.

To our allies and partners around the world, please understand this order is part of our ongoing efforts to eliminate vulnerabilities that radical Islamist terrorists can and will exploit for destructive ends. The State Department will coordinate with other federal agencies and implement these temporary restrictions in an orderly manner. Our embassies and consulates around the world will play an important role in making sure that our nation is as secure as it can be. And the State Department will implement the provisions in this order that allow for the admissions of refugees when it is determined they do not pose a risk to the security or welfare of the United States.

Upon the president's initial executive order issued on January the 27th, the State Department's consular affairs and diplomatic security offices immediately undertook a review in coordination with the Department of Homeland Security to identify additional measures that would strengthen our vetting of those seeking entry to the United States from seven named countries. These early efforts were concentrated on Iraq.

Iraq is an important ally in the fight to defeat ISIS, with their brave soldiers fighting in close coordination with America's men and women in uniform. 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.

I want to express my appreciation to Prime Minister al-Abadi of Iraq for his positive engagement and support for implementing these actions. The United States welcomes this kind of close cooperation with countries in every region of the world who share our commitment to national security. This revised order will bolster the security of the United States and her allies.

Now, we have spent the morning briefing the Congress, the press and we will continue to talk with key stakeholders this afternoon. Experts from the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice and the State Department hosted an hour-long call with the media on this topic this morning. Our collective teams will continue throughout the day to follow up with the Congress, the media and stakeholders to answer your questions.

4:58PM

Full text of memorandum explaining Trump's travel ban

Donald Trump says the travel ban is intended to keep Americans safe.

It is entitled: "Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States."

The memorandum accompanying the text reads:

To avert the entry into the United States of foreign nationals who may aid, support, or commit violent, criminal, or terrorist acts, it is critical that the executive branch enhance the screening and vetting protocols and procedures for granting visas, admission to the United States, or other benefits.

It specifies that the secretary of state must provide a monthly breakdown of visas issued.

Within 180 days, Mr Trump wants a report detailing the estimated long-term costs of the United States Refugee Admissions Program at the federal, state, and local levels, along with recommendations about how to curtail those costs. 

 

 

4:53PM

What is the travel ban about?

At a glance | Donald Trump’s immigration ban

 

4:52PM

Press conference ends without taking questions

The secretary of state, attorney general and secretary of homeland security have now finished speaking, and left the stage without taking questions.

4:51PM

John Kelly explains why ban necessary

John Kelly, the homeland security secretary, is now giving more detail.

He says:

Unregulated, unvetted travel is not beneficial to the United States.

The men and women of homeland security are sworn to enforce the laws as passed by the United States congress.

We do not make the law, but we are sworn to enforce it.

I want to thank the president for his leadership on this issue.

I have spent much of the day today on the phone explaining this.

There should be no surprises.

4:48PM

Jeff Sessions defends the ban

Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, has now taken the podium.

He insists that the travel ban is lawful.

Jeff Sessions

 

4:47PM

Rex Tillerson: Travel ban will keep the US safe

Rex Tillerson, the secretary of state, is giving a press conference now.

Tillerson

He says the travel ban will:

Achieve our shared objective to prevent those with criminal intent reaching the United States.

This revised order will bolster security for the United States and her allies.

4:45PM

Donald Trump signs new travel ban

The president has just signed a new travel ban.

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