Trump’s Eight-Country Travel Order Back on Track, For Now

By Patrick Goodenough | December 5, 2017 | 4:20am EST
Global Entry and Automated Passport Control kiosks streamline passengers’ entry into the United States. (Photo: James Tourtellotte/CBP)

( – President Trump’s most recent travel order, targeting nationals of eight countries of security- or terror-related concern, can be enforced while opponents pursue legal challenges in lower courts, the Supreme Court ruled on Monday.

Without giving reasons for the decision, the court said in a brief order that it expected the lower court review to be completed “with appropriate dispatch.”

It noted that Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg would have denied the administration’s application for the order to be enforced while the legal challenges proceed.

Opponents of what some have labeled Trump’s “Muslim Ban 3.0” expressed dismay at the ruling.

“The Supreme Court's actions today are a good reminder that we can’t simply rely on the courts to address the Trump administration’s efforts to marginalize Muslims and other minorities,” said Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) attorney Gadeir Abbas.

We must all do everything we can to oppose Muslim Ban 3.0.,” he said.

Under the proclamation issued in September, varying levels of restrictions apply to nationals of North Korea, Chad, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Yemen and Venezuela.

The administration said the decision was the result of a comprehensive study into all countries’ information-sharing and identity-management practices – and it pointed out that U.S. engagement with a larger group of governments had winnowed the number down to the final eight.

“Making America Safe is my number one priority,” Trump tweeted at the time of the proclamation. “We will not admit those into our country we cannot safely vet.”

A U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer uses new technology to screen arriving visitors to the United States. (Photo: CBP)

Some but not all of the eight had been singled out in an earlier iteration of the travel order because, the administration said, they were determined to be of terrorist concern.

Those were Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen (in addition to Sudan, which is not included in the most recent order.)

Those same countries were in fact identified by the Obama administration as security risks. In 2015 and 2016 the Department of Homeland Security determined that Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Yemen, Iraq and Sudan raised legitimate terrorism concerns, making visitors from those countries eligible for additional security under legislation signed by President Obama in late 2015.

Nonetheless, Trump has been accused of targeting Muslims in particular, with critics citing his own “Muslim ban” comments during the election campaign and since his inauguration.

When a federal judge in Maryland last October issued a partial halt on the travel order he pointed to some of those comments, including Twitter postings, suggesting that Trump was targeting Muslims in violation of the Establishment Clause in the Constitution’s First Amendment.

‘Baseline’ for security cooperation

Trump’s September proclamation said the DHS had developed a “baseline” for the type of information foreign governments must provide to enable the U.S. to confirm the identities of, and potential security risk posed by, people wanting to enter the U.S.

The three baseline criteria are “identity management” (information required from foreign government to determine whether those wanting to travel to the U.S. “are who they claim to be”); security and public safety threat information (whether a government provides data on applicants’ suspected or known terrorist or criminal history); and national security factors (such as whether a country is a terrorist safe haven.)

An evaluation of all countries led to 16 being identified as “inadequate” and 31 more as “at risk” of becoming so.

Over a 50-day engagement period, the State Department encouraged all countries to improve their performance.

This “yielded significant improvements in many countries,” leaving just seven to be found wanting. The eighth, Somalia, was added because special conditions were found to be present there.

The applicable restrictions in the proclamation varied among the eight countries:

No national of North Korea was allowed to enter the U.S., either as immigrants or non-immigrants. Pyongyang was found to be not cooperating with the U.S. “in any respect” and also failed to satisfy information-sharing requirements.

No national of Syria, a designated state-sponsor of terrorism, was allowed to enter the U.S., either as immigrants or non-immigrants.

Nationals of Iran were not be permitted entry as immigrants, or as non-immigrants -- except in the latter case on student and exchange visas, but accompanied by enhanced screening and vetting.

Nationals of Libya, Yemen and Chad were not allowed entry as immigrants, or as non-immigrants on business and tourist visas

Nationals of Somalia were not allowed to enter the U.S. as immigrants, but could enter as non-immigrants although with additional scrutiny.

Restrictions for Venezuela apply to non-immigrant tourist and business visits by officials (and family members) from government agencies that are involved in screening and vetting procedures, such as the foreign and justice ministries and intelligence services.

Federal judges in Maryland and Hawaii earlier blocked the order’s implementation in cases of “foreign nationals who have a credible claim of a bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States.”

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