(CNSNews.com) - President Donald Trump issued a new executive order Monday that suspends travel for 90 days for foreign nationals from six predominantly Muslim countries - Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen - until those countries improve their screening process.
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said the executive order “does not treat Syrian refugees different than any refugees."
“The suspension does not treat Syrian refugees different than any refugees. It does not separately address the persecution of religious minorities, but does permit waivers in the cases of undue hardship,” he said.
The previous executive order, issued on Jan. 27, suspended entry of Syrian refugees indefinitely.
“I hereby proclaim that the entry of nationals of Syria as refugees is detrimental to the interests of the United States and thus suspend any such entry until such time as I have determined that sufficient changes have been made to the USRAP to ensure that admission of Syrian refugees is consistent with the national interest,” the original executive order stated.
Spicer said litigation for the previous executive order would have taken about a year resolve, and the president needed to implement a new order “that addressed the court’s concerns.” He stressed that the first executive order “was fully lawful in the first place.”
“The president signed a new executive order this morning that continues to protect the nation from terrorists from entering the United States and a related presidential memorandum,” Spicer said.
“As we’ve always maintained, the executive order was fully lawful in the first place, and we would have won the related legal case on the merits, but rather than leave America’s security in limbo while the litigation dragged on, some estimates having that go up to potentially a year, the president acted to protect national security by issuing a new executive order that addresses the court’s concerns - some of which merely involved clarifying the intent of the original executive order,” he said.
“After reviewing the facts, after thorough consultation with the cabinet, the president has concluded these actions are necessary to protect the United States from those who unfortunately wish to do us harm,” Spicer added.
He highlighted two areas of the executive order. First, he said there would be a 90-day suspension of travel to the U.S. from those from the six countries. In the meanwhile, the State Department and Department of Homeland Security would review the targeted countries’ procedures to determine who the screening process can be improved.
“These six countries have been previously identified by Congress or the Obama administration as presenting heightened concerns about terrorism, specifically Iran, Sudan, and Syria have been designated as state sponsors of terrorism. Libya is an active combat zone where violent extremist groups thrive in ungoverned territory. Portions of Somalia have been a safe haven for terrorist groups. Most countries don’t even recognize the Somali documents,” Spicer said.
“Yemen is the site of an ongoing conflict between the government and an Iran-backed armed opposition. Both ISIS and al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula have exploited this conflict to expand their presence in Yemen and carry out hundreds of attacks. These governments simply cannot or not adequately supply satisfactory information about their own nationals,” he added.
Spicer said Iraq is not included in the list this time, because its government “took steps to increase their cooperation with our immigration authorities and improve their vetting process.”
“We hope other countries will also take proactive action to ensure the security of all of our nations. This is proof of both the need for and the effectiveness of the president’s actions,” he said.
“There are a number of exceptions to this temporary travel suspension,” Spicer said.
“The order explicitly states that the suspension does not apply to 1) green card holders, 2) foreign nationals currently in the U.S., 3) foreign nationals currently holding valid visas, 4) foreign nationals who are dual citizens of a designated country traveling on a passport issued by a non-designated country, and last, foreign nationals who have been granted asylum or admitted as refugees previously,” he added.
“There will also be a temporary 120-day suspension of the United States refugees admissions program. More than 300 people who have entered the United States as refugees are currently the subjects of counter-terrorism investigations by the FBI,” Spicer said.
The suspension of travel for these foreign nationals into the U.S. will also “reduce the investigative burdens on the agencies” that participate in the refugee program, which will allow them “to properly review and revise their standards and practices,” Spicer said.
“In regard to both of these provisions, the president places his full-on faith and trust in his experience and knowledge of his secretary of State and secretary of Homeland Security,” Spicer said. “This order makes it clear that they have broad authority to grant waivers based on their expert judgments.
“This suspension does not apply to refugees already scheduled for travel by the Department of State, which is explicitly stated in the text of the executive order. Additionally, the suspension does not treat Syrian refugees different than any refugees. It does not separately address the persecution of religious minorities, but does permit waivers in the cases of undue hardship,” he said.
“This order was drafted in close consultation with the relevant agencies. It also includes a delay effective date of March 16, giving those involved in its enforcement even more time to facilitate an orderly rollout. We welcome those who come to our country wishing to contribute and share in our nation’s prosperity and well-being, but we cannot allow our immigration system to become a vehicle for admitting people who intend to do us harm,” Spicer added.