US President Donald Trump has signed a wide-ranging executive order, halting all refugee admissions and barring temporarily people from seven Muslim-majority countries. His decision has been sharply criticized by rights groups.
Here are some key points from the full text explained.
What is happening?
- A suspension of the US Refugee Admissions Program for 120 days.
- An indefinite ban on Syrian refugees.
- A 90-day suspension on anyone arriving from seven Muslim-majority countries – Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen. Some visa categories, such as diplomats and the UN, are not included in the suspension.
- Priority will be given to religious minorities facing persecution in their countries. In an interview, Mr Trump singled out Christians in Syria.
- A cap of 50,000 refugees to be accepted in 2017, against a limit of 110,000 set by former President Barack Obama.
- A suspension of the Visa Interview Waiver Program, which allows consular officers to exempt some applicants from face-to-face interviews if they are seeking to renew their temporary visas within a year of expiry.
- Exceptions could be made on a case-by-case basis.
How is it being implemented?
There has been a lot of confusion and uncertainty. A federal judge has issued a temporary halt to the deportation of visa holders or refugees stranded at US airports, after the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a case in response to Mr Trump’s executive order. The group estimated that between 100 and 200 people were being detained at airports or in transit. The administration said 109 people were held altogether.
Air passengers are being prevented from boarding US-bound flights. There were also reports of cabin crew who were barred from entering the country. There are no figures.
It is still unclear, for example, how the order affects citizens from those seven countries who have legal permanent US residency – so-called green card holders. Though this category is not mentioned specifically in the order, officials have indicated that those overseas at the time of the order will have to be assessed on a case-by-case basis before being allowed back into the US and extra screening might be required. And green-card holders already in the US are reportedly being advised to postpone plans to travel abroad.
The restriction also applies to dual nationals – so, for example, a British citizen who is also a citizen of Iran will not be able to enter the US, even though the ban does not include British nationals.
It is also not clear the impact the suspension of the Visa Interview Waiver Program would have on visa requests and consular services around the world. Experts said travellers might expect longer waiting times.
American citizens travelling to the seven countries could be detained for questioning as well in the future, Mr Trump’s chief of staff, Reince Priebus, said. They are not included in the order, either.
Is it legal?
It appears not to be on the face of it. And the courts will certainly have to weigh some of the arguments of the parties. The US did use to ban entrants from specific countries and entire regions.
But in 1965, the US Congress passed the Immigration and Nationality Act which said that no person could be “discriminated against in the issuance of an immigrant visa because of the person’s race, sex, nationality, place of birth or place of residence”. So, the exclusion of all Syrians would be enough to challenge Mr Trump in court. The fact that they are all Muslim countries lends weight to the argument that the order is “anti-Muslim” – which Trump aides have been keen to dismiss.
Supporters of Mr Trump’s order mention the post-9/11 attacks and the ability of the administration to take measures to protect national security.
And they cite the president’s powers stemming from a 1952 law on “Inadmissible Aliens” to “suspend the entry” of “any class of aliens” that he finds are detrimental to the interest of the United States.
They also suggest that US presidents can set aside the 1965 law. The most cited example is that of President Jimmy Carter who barred some Iranians during the 1980 crisis over 52 Americans being held hostage in Tehran.
Mr Trump said the halt on the refugee programe was needed to give government agencies time to develop a stricter vetting system and ensure that visas were not issued to individuals posing a national security threat.
Syrians applying for resettlement in the US were already subject to a complex process of background investigation and security screenings, in a process that could take between 18 to 24 months.
Mr Priebus said the seven countries had been included because Congress and the Obama administration had identified them as “the most watched countries harboring terrorists”. Others could be added later, he said.
Rights groups say Mr Trump’s order targets Muslims because of their faith and that they will legally challenge his move. They also say no refugees have been convicted of terrorism-related crimes.
They also say that the most recent attacks in the US were carried out by US nationals or citizens from the countries not included in the travel ban:
- Fort Lauderdale airport shooting (January 2017): A US citizen
- Orlando nightclub shooting (June 2016): A US citizen with Afghan parents
- San Bernardino shooting (December 2015): A US citizen with Pakistani parents, and a Pakistani citizen
- Chattanooga shootings (July 2015): A Kuwait-born US citizen
- Charleston church shooting (June 2015): A US citizen
- Boston marathon bombing (April 2013): Two Russian citizens with Chechen ethnicity
While announcing the plan, Mr Trump cited the attacks of 11 September 2001. But none of the 19 hijackers who committed the attacks came from countries included in the suspension. They were from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Egypt and Lebanon.
Some have pointed out that the list does not include countries where President Trump has business interests – like Saudi Arabia – a suggestion dismissed by the president’s chief of staff as not related.