Washington: US President Donald Trump signed a sweeping new executive order Friday to suspend refugee arrivals and impose tough new controls on travelers from seven Muslim countries.
Making good on one of his most controversial campaign promises, and to the horror of human rights groups, Trump said he was making America safe from “radical Islamic terrorists.”
“This is big stuff,” he declared at the Pentagon, after signing an order entitled: “Protection of the nation from foreign terrorist entry into the United States.”
“I’m establishing new vetting measures to keep radical Islamic terrorists out of the United States of America. Don’t want them here,” Trump said at the Pentagon.
“We only want to admit those into our country who will support our country and love deeply our people,” he said.
Trump’s decree suspends the entire US refugee resettlement program for at least 120 days while tough new vetting rules are established.
These new protocols will “ensure that those approved for refugee admission do not pose a threat to the security and welfare of the United States.”
In addition, it specifically bars Syrian refugees from the United States indefinitely, or until the president himself decides that they no longer pose a threat.
Meanwhile, no visas will be issued for 90 days to migrants or visitors from seven mainly-Muslim countries: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.
During the suspensions of the refugee and visa programs, new rules will be devised for what Trump as called the “extreme vetting” of applicants’ backgrounds.
Some exceptions will be made for members of “religious minorities,” which — in the countries targeted by the decree — would imply favorable treatment for Christians.
Civil liberties groups and many counterterror experts condemned the measures, declaring it inhumane to lump the victims of conflict in with the extremists who threaten them.
“‘Extreme vetting’ is just a euphemism for discriminating against Muslims,” said Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union.
Romero argued that, by choosing countries with Muslim majorities for tougher treatment, Trump’s order breaches the US Constitution’s ban on religious discrimination.
Ahmed Rehab, director of the Chicago chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said his group would mount legal challenges to fight the order “tooth and nail.”
“It is targeting people based on their faith and national origin, and not on their character or their criminality,” he said.
Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani activist and Nobel peace laureate who was shot in the head by the Taliban in 2012, said she was “heartbroken.”
She urged Trump not to abandon the world’s “most defenseless children and families.”
But the measure will be popular with Trump’s nationalist base, and stops short of a threat made during last year’s campaign to halt all Muslim travel to the United States.
Trump’s supporters defend the measures as necessary to prevent supporters of al-Qaida or the Islamic State group from infiltrating the US homeland disguised as refugees.
And the State Department, which with the Department of Homeland Security will have to implement the measures, said it was ready to put them into immediate effect.
“We will announce any changes affecting travelers to the United States as soon as that information is available,” spokesman Mark Toner said.
“We take seriously our responsibility to safeguard the American public while remaining committed to assisting the world’s most vulnerable people.”
Trump, who met with the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon, has the authority to determine how many refugees are accepted annually, and he can suspend the program at any time. Refugee processing was suspended in the immediate aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks and restarted months later.
During the past budget year, the US accepted 84,995 refugees, including 12,587 people from Syria. President Barack Obama had set the refugee limit for this budget year at 110,000.
Trump, according to the draft of the executive action, plans to cut that to 50,000. The draft order says that while the program is suspended, the US may admit people on a case-by-case basis “when in the national interest” and the government will continue to process refugee requests from people claiming religious persecution, “provided that the religion … is a minority religion in the individual’s country.” That suggests it would allow the admission of Christians from Muslim-majority countries.
Applauded by some in his own party, Trump’s refugee action was strongly criticized by some Democrats.
“History will judge where America’s leaders stood today,” said Illinois Senator Dick Durbin, ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Immigration. “Faced with the humanitarian crisis of our time, the United States cannot turn its back on children fleeing persecution, genocide and terror.”