WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Monday issued a revised set of restrictions on travel and immigration, signing an executive order more narrow in scope than his initial, court-halted ban in an effort to clear legal hurdles.
Iraq was dropped from the list of predominantly Muslim countries whose citizens will be barred for a 90-day period. Sudan, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia and Yemen are still specified.
Syrian refugees are no longer singled out for indefinite restriction, but the refugee admissions program as a whole will be suspended for 120 days.
Green-card holders and travelers who already hold valid visas will be exempted, among other groups.
Religious minorities, such as Christians, are not prioritized.
“Rather than leave America’s security in limbo while the litigation dragged on . . . the President acted to protect the national security,” White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said, adding that new directive addresses legal concerns in part by “clarifying the intent of the original executive order.”
Trump adopted a lower-profile approach Monday, especially compared to the fanfare-filled rollout of the ban issued Jan. 27. He signed the executive order behind closed doors and left the news conference announcement to three Cabinet members.
The initial ban set off confusion among immigration officers and protests at airports on behalf on detained travelers. It also prompted a series of legal challenges, the most prominent one from a federal appeals court that ruled Feb. 9 to uphold a freeze.
Democratic leaders and civil rights groups immediately condemned the new executive order for what they said was continuing to unconstitutionally target Muslims and predicted a fresh round of lawsuits.
“The Trump administration has conceded that its original Muslim ban was indefensible,” said Omar Jadwat of the American Civil Liberties Union. “Unfortunately, it has replaced it with a scaled-back version that shares the same fatal flaws. The only way to actually fix the Muslim ban is not to have a Muslim ban.”
Trump’s aides stressed his legal right to impose limits on entry into the United States. “President Trump is exercising his rightful authority to keep our people safe,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said.
“The fact remains that we are not immune to terrorist threats and that our enemies often use our own freedoms and generosity against us,” Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said, adding changes to the U.S. vetting and immigration process are in order.
The new executive order goes into effect March 16, at which time the original ban is revoked.
Tillerson called Iraq an “important ally in the fight to defeat ISIS.” Spicer, separately, said Iraq increased its cooperation with U.S. immigration and improved its vetting process.
Iraq welcomed its removal from the list of countries impacted by the ban and lauded the partnership in facing the Islamic State, according to the Associated Press.
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who was critical of the implementation of the original ban, applauded the new version for advancing “our shared goal of protecting the homeland.”
But Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) called for a repeal of the “un-American” restrictions.
“It still attempts to turn innocent immigrants and refugees into scapegoats, and it still doesn’t do the things that would actually make us safer, like going after lone wolves and closing the loopholes in the visa waiver program,” he said on the Senate floor.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) said the order is “still coldhearted, discriminatory and detrimental to our security.”
New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who filed a suit against the original ban, said “the intent to discriminate against Muslims remains clear.”
The Council on American-Islamic Relations and the New York Immigration Coalition both tagged it “Muslim Ban 2.0.”
Trump had yet to publicly address the new ban as of Monday evening, but wrote about it in a campaign fundraising email.
“As your president, I made a solemn promise to keep America safe. And I will NEVER stop fighting until we implement the policies you — and millions of Americans like you — voted for,” he wrote to supporters.