Trump defends travel curbs despite outcry

US President Donald Trump speaking on the phone with the King of Saudi Arabia, Salman bin Abd al-Aziz Al Saud, on Jan 29, 2017.
US President Donald Trump speaking on the phone with the King of Saudi Arabia, Salman bin Abd al-Aziz Al Saud, on Jan 29, 2017.PHOTO: EPA

Courts offer relief to detained visitors from several Muslim countries amid protests

US President Donald Trump yesterday defended his latest immigration curbs despite protests at major airports and mounting criticism from world leaders and countries affected by his executive order.

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

Mr Trump said the goal was to screen out "radical Islamic terrorists" and give priority for admission to Christians. He rejected accusations that the move amounted to a ban on Muslims.

"Our country needs strong borders and extreme vetting, NOW. Look what is happening all over Europe and, indeed, the world - a horrible mess!" he tweeted, referring to the arrival of waves of immigrants in countries such as Germany.

Soon after the ban, federal courts in New York, Virginia and Washington states intervened to order the release of dozens of people from the seven countries carrying valid visas for the US who had been detained at airports following Mr Trump's executive order.

The court orders came as confusion reigned at airports in the Middle East and Europe over exactly which citizens from the seven nations are still allowed to fly to the US.

Many airports imposed blanket bans on US travel for those citizens, including permanent US residents holding green cards, many of whom found themselves stranded outside the country as they were prevented from boarding flights back.

Angry crowds descended on US airports - such as those in New York, Washington, DC, San Francisco and Denver - to protest.


Reports said the broadly worded executive order was signed with little input from the Department of Homeland Security. But yesterday, the department said it would comply with the judicial decisions, while continuing to enforce the President's executive order.

"Prohibited travel will remain prohibited, and the US government retains its right to revoke visas at any time if required for national security or public safety," the department said.

World leaders from Germany, France, Britain and Canada criticised Mr Trump's order and said their nations would not change their immigration policies.

Technology executives, human rights groups and Muslim leaders also spoke out against the ban.

But Mr Trump's supporters said it was necessary for the nation's security. Congressional Republicans largely fell behind Mr Trump, underlining the fact that the order was one of the campaign promises that got him into power.

Mr Su'ad Abdul Khabeer, an assistant professor of anthropology and African American studies at Purdue University in Indiana, wrote in a commentary: "Trump is continuing what he started on the campaign trail. He is tapping into the fear that breeds the kind of xenophobia that gets folks excited about walls and bans."


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 30, 2017, with the headline 'Trump defends travel curbs despite outcry'. Print Edition | Subscribe