109 people denied entry to US? No, actually 721

Protesters at the South Carolina Statehouse during a demonstration on Tuesday in response to Mr Donald Trump's order to block the entry of refugees and travellers from seven predominantly Muslim countries.
Protesters at the South Carolina Statehouse during a demonstration on Tuesday in response to Mr Donald Trump's order to block the entry of refugees and travellers from seven predominantly Muslim countries.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Homeland Security corrects Trump's tally, says waivers also given despite freeze order

WASHINGTON • A far larger number of people were affected by US President Donald Trump's executive order on refugees than he initially said, Department of Homeland Security officials have acknowledged.

Mr Trump posted on Twitter that only 109 people were detained or denied entry into the United States after his order, but officials said 721 people had been denied boarding for the US after it began enforcing the travel ban.

The agency said it processed waivers for 1,060 green card holders as well as an additional 75 waivers for immigrant visa and non-immigrant visa holders.

Homeland Security officials said the White House was referring to the number of people who were either detained or denied boarding during the initial hours after the travel ban was signed, a total based on preliminary calculations.

The officials also disclosed that 872 refugees were granted waivers to enter the country, despite Mr Trump's executive order freezing resettlement. Customs officials said the waivers were granted because the refugees were "ready to travel". The refugees had been vetted by the government, they noted.

Mr John Kelly, Secretary of Homeland Security, said Mr Trump's order did not amount to a "travel ban".

DOOR NOT TOTALLY CLOSED

The vast majority of the 1.7 billion Muslims (who live) on this planet, the vast majority of them have, all other things being equal, access to the United States.

MR JOHN KELLY, Secretary of Homeland Security.

"This is a temporary pause that allows us to better review the existing refugee and visa vetting system," he added.

Mr Kelly confirmed that while he saw versions of the executive order, he did not see the final order before it was signed by Mr Trump.

Mr Kelly said executives at Homeland Security were involved in writing the order, but added that the knowledge of it and its distribution were limited.

He said he had known for some time that the order was coming, but he was not involved personally in the process to the degree to which he "corrected grammar or say we needed to change things".

The New York Times reported on Monday that Mr Kelly was on a conference call about the order when it was signed on Friday, and was given his first full briefing about its contents later that day.

Mr Trump's order initially created chaos and confusion at airports.

Passengers, many of them with green cards that allow them to live and work in the US, were barred from flights into the country.

A number of people with visas were suddenly unsure if they would be allowed into the US, and many were stopped when they arrived.

Neither Homeland Security nor related agencies posted any information on their websites or social media accounts informing the public about Mr Trump's travel ban until Sunday.

Immigration proponents and lawyers representing people stuck at airports said they were unable to speak to anyone at Customs and Border Protection or at the headquarters of Homeland Security.

The first briefing on the order by Homeland Security officials for the news media was at 9pm on Saturday (10am Sunday, Singapore time), long after news reports raised questions about the effects of the order and after thousands of people had lined the sidewalks and terminals of international airports to protest against the ban.

During the Tuesday briefing with the news media, the acting commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, Mr Kevin McAleenan, rejected criticism of the agency's efforts to enforce the order.

"We worked quickly to implement, and I think the process has really smoothed out," he said.

Mr Kelly also insisted that there was no confusion.

"Our officers who are at the counters, so to speak, the only chaos they saw was what was taking place in other parts of the airport," he said.

Despite the ban on travellers from seven majority Muslim countries - Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen - Mr Kelly said the US remains open to visitors despite their religious beliefs.

"The vast majority of the 1.7 billion Muslims (who live) on this planet, the vast majority of them have, all other things being equal, access to the United States," he added.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 02, 2017, with the headline '109 people denied entry to US? No, actually 721'. Print Edition | Subscribe