Trump stays firm despite backlash on US entry curbs

As global criticism mounts against his immigration ban, President Trump took to Twitter Monday to target Delta Air Lines and New York Senator Chuck Schumer's 'fake' tears as causes of last weekend's airport chaos.VIDEO: REUTERS
Baghdad-born accountant Haider Sameer Abdulkhaleq Alshawi back with his family at the airport in Houston on Sunday, after being detained in New York the previous day following Mr Trump's executive order on immigration.
Baghdad-born accountant Haider Sameer Abdulkhaleq Alshawi back with his family at the airport in Houston on Sunday, after being detained in New York the previous day following Mr Trump's executive order on immigration.PHOTO: NYTIMES

He blames problems at US airports on computer outage, protesters; no ban on green card holders

The furore surrounding US President Donald Trump's immigration clampdown continued for a second day, as aides offered conflicting interpretations of its reach, political leaders condemned the move and major international companies said it threatened to strangle the free flow of workers and commerce.

Protests continued at airports in several American cities as small numbers of detained travellers were subjected to rigorous questioning before being allowed entry.

But the Department of Homeland Security tempered a key element of the order, clarifying that those from the seven nations who are permanent residents holding so-called green cards would not be blocked from returning to the US, as some were after the directive was issued.

Mr Trump's order last Friday blocked citizens from Muslim-majority Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen from entering the United States for at least 90 days. It also banned the entry of refugees from anywhere for 120 days and those from Syria indefinitely.

The goal was to screen out "radical Islamic terrorists" and give priority for admission to Christians who Mr Trump said have been killed in large numbers in the Middle East.

In a tweet yesterday, he blamed the problems at the airports on a Delta Air Lines computer outage, protesters and Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer, who was among those who criticised the order. "Only 109 people out of 325,000 were detained and held for questioning... (Homeland Security) Secretary (John) Kelly said that all is going well with very few problems."

In another tweet, Mr Trump said: "There is nothing nice about searching for terrorists before they can enter our country. This was a big part of my campaign. Study the world!"

White House officials, conscious that the executive order made good a campaign pledge popular with Mr Trump's supporters, also downplayed the chaos at airports. Chief of Staff Reince Priebus said it was not unreasonable to ask more questions of someone travelling in and out of Libya and Yemen.

But aides offered conflicting interpretations of the order's reach. Some green card holders from the targeted nations said they were turned back or prevented from boarding flights to the US amid the confusion.

Political leaders, including several Republicans, slammed the order. Republican Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham said: "It is clear from the confusion…  this order went into effect with little to no consultation with the departments of State, Defence, Justice, and Homeland Security."

Sixteen Democratic state attorneys-general called Mr Trump's order "unconstitutional, un-American and unlawful". The 56-member Organisation of Islamic Cooperation warned that Mr Trump's order would strengthen the position of extremists worldwide. In Britain, a petition demanding Britain cancel a planned state visit by Mr Trump gathered over a million signatures.

Company chiefs scrambled to respond as well, including General Electric's CEO Jeff Immelt, who said it has "many employees from the named countries" who are critical to its success. Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz said the company would hire 10,000 refugees worldwide, starting in the US.

Meanwhile, the American Civil Liberties Union, which won an order in a New York court to release incoming passengers detained at JFK International, has seen a surge in online donations, with US$24.1 million (S$34.4 million) pouring in over the weekend.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 31, 2017, with the headline 'Trump stays firm despite backlash on US entry curbs'. Print Edition | Subscribe