Saturday 7 December 2019

Donald Trump defends travel ban after widespread protests

Iranian green card holder Shima Behgooy cries on the shoulder of her father-in-law Ahmad Behgooy, who is a naturalised US citizen, after being held at Dallas Fort Worth International Airport (Dallas Morning News/AP)
Iranian green card holder Shima Behgooy cries on the shoulder of her father-in-law Ahmad Behgooy, who is a naturalised US citizen, after being held at Dallas Fort Worth International Airport (Dallas Morning News/AP)
A protester against Donald Trump's refugee policy faces police at John F Kennedy Airport in New York (AP)

President Donald Trump's senior aides have defended his sweeping US travel ban in the face of widespread protests.

During a round of Sunday show interviews, Mr Trump's advisers stressed that just a small proportion of travellers had been affected by the order, which temporarily bars the citizens of seven majority-Muslim nations from entering the country.

The aides also reversed course and said that citizens of those countries who hold permanent US residency "green cards" will not be barred from re-entering the country, as officials had previously said.

"I can't imagine too many people out there watching this right now think it's unreasonable to ask a few more questions from someone travelling in and out of Libya and Yemen before being let loose in the United States," insisted Mr Trump's chief of staff Reince Priebus. "And that's all this is."

The changes, said White House adviser Kellyanne Conway, are "a small price to pay" to keep the nation safe.

But others see the order as ill-conceived and rushed.

The order, which also suspends refugee admissions for 120 days and indefinitely bars the processing of refugees from Syria, has sparked widespread protests and denunciations from Democrats and a handful of Republicans.

Many have accused the administration of rushing to implement the changes, resulting in panic and confusion at the nation's airports.

"You have an extreme vetting proposal that didn't get the vetting it should have had," said Republican Senator Rob Portman, who urged the President to "slow down" and work with lawmakers on how best to tighten screening for foreigners who enter the United States.

"In my view, we ought to all take a deep breath and come up with something that makes sense for our national security" and reflects the fact that "America's always been a welcoming home for refugees and immigrants," he said.

The comments came the morning after a federal judge in New York issued an emergency order temporarily barring the US from deporting people from the seven majority-Muslim nations subject to Mr Trump's travel ban.

The judge said travellers who had been detained had a strong argument that their legal rights had been violated.

The order barred US border agents from removing anyone who arrived in the US with a valid visa from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen. It also covered anyone with an approved refugee application.

But the Department of Homeland Security said the court ruling would not affect the overall implementation of the White House order.

"President Trump's executive orders remain in place - prohibited travel will remain prohibited, and the US government retains its right to revoke visas at any time if required for national security or public safety," the department said in a statement.

Top congressional Republicans, meanwhile, were backing Mr Trump despite concerns raised by a handful of lawmakers.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he supports more stringent screening mechanisms, though he cautioned that Muslims are some of the country's "best sources in the war against terror".

"I think it's a good idea to tighten the vetting process But I also think it's important to remember that some of our best sources in the war against radical Islamic terrorism are Muslims, both in this country and overseas," he said.

He also stressed the need "to be careful as we do this", and said it would be up to the courts to decide "whether or not this has gone too far".

Mr Trump billed his sweeping executive order as a necessary step to stop "radical Islamic terrorists" from coming to the US. It included a 90-day ban on travel to the US by citizens of Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia or Yemen.

But it is unclear the measures would prevent attacks on American soil.

The directive did not address homegrown extremists already in America, a primary concern of federal law enforcement officials. And the list of countries in Mr Trump's order does not include Saudi Arabia, where most of the September 11 hijackers were from.

Mr Priebus, who is Mr Trump's chief of staff, said the ban could be expanded to more countries in the future.


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