WASHINGTON • President Donald Trump has signed an order restricting entry into the United States by people from six predominantly Muslim countries, reviving a signature initiative of his presidency that stalled in the face of court challenges and sparked global protests.
The directive, signed yesterday, takes effect on March 16 and removes Iraq from an initial list of seven countries - which includes Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen - whose citizens cannot travel to the US for the next 90 days.
Officials said that, unlike in the initial Jan 27 executive order, all pre-existing, valid visas from the six countries would be honoured.
The administration said the new order was needed to address urgent security threats. "As threats to our security continue to evolve and change, common sense dictates that we continually re-evaluate and reassess the systems we rely upon to protect our country," said Secretary of State Rex Tillerson yesterday.
In addition, the US Refugee Admissions Programme is being suspended for 120 days while a review of screening procedures is undertaken. When it resumes, the number of refugees admitted to the country will be limited to 50,000 in fiscal 2017, according to an administration fact sheet. That is less than half the limit set in the final year of the Obama administration amid a humanitarian crisis in Syria.
The US took in 10,000 Syrian refugees last year. Unlike with previous executive actions he has taken, Mr Trump did not make a public appearance to sign it. Instead, Mr Tillerson, Attorney-General Jeff Sessions and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly delivered statements outlining the order.
Mr Trump and his aides have repeatedly described the travel directive as an urgent national security matter.
Administration officials said the Federal Bureau of Investigation is looking into some 300 individuals admitted to the US as refugees as part of counterterrorism probes, but a congressional aide said it is unclear whether any of those investigations have turned up anything.
But the administration has repeatedly delayed issuing a revised order after a federal court blocked Mr Trump's original plan.
The new travel ban is certain to trigger a fresh round of legal challenges, risking another blow to the administration's prestige as it tries to marshal political capital to win passage of an ambitious legislative agenda, including the repeal and replacement of the Obamacare health law, a rewrite of the tax code and a reordering of federal budget priorities to build up the military at the expense of domestic spending.
BLOOMBERG, REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE