Saturday 16 December 2017

Trump aims to outflank Congress on Muslim plan

Vice president-elect Mike Pence departs Trump Tower in New York after meeting with Donald Trump. Photo: Reuters
Vice president-elect Mike Pence departs Trump Tower in New York after meeting with Donald Trump. Photo: Reuters

Ruth Sherlock

Donald Trump may push through a registry for immigrants from Muslim-majority countries without seeking congressional approval, a member of his transition team has said.

Kris Kobach, the Kansas secretary of state and adviser to Mr Trump, said the president elect's immigration team were drafting executive orders to secure the rapid construction of a wall along the border with Mexico.

The Republican president elect initially called during his campaign for a "total and complete shutdown of Muslims" entering the US, later revising his position to "extreme vetting" for new arrivals from countries where extremist groups were active.

To this end, Mr Kobach told Reuters that his team had suggested reinstating the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS), a policy briefly implemented after the September 11 attacks.

Under the programme, people from countries deemed "higher risk" were required to undergo interrogation and fingerprinting on entering the US. Some male US non-citizen residents over the age of 16 were also required to check in at government offices.

NSEERS was abandoned in 2011 after it was deemed to be redundant and criticised for unfairly targeting immigrants from Muslim-majority nations.

Low-profile: Donald Trump. Photo: AP
Low-profile: Donald Trump. Photo: AP

Mr Kobach helped design the programme while working in the department of justice under George W Bush.

Mr Trump's office would not immediately confirm Mr Kobach's role on the transition team but he claims to have helped develop the strategy to "make Mexico pay" for a border wall.

Mr Trump has promised to focus on deporting immigrants with criminal records. Human rights groups have said the president elect could also include people who have received a speeding or parking ticket.

Yesterday Mexico, which has refused to bear costs for building a wall, said it was establishing a helpline for its citizens living in the US.

Bill De Blasio, the Democrat mayor for New York, warned Mr Trump against hard-line immigration policies that would sow mistrust.

He said he had reminded Mr Trump that New York police had 900 Muslim employees, and also called on the president-elect not to enact immigration policies that would see families "torn apart".

Meanwhile, Mr Trump took to Twitter yesterday to deny New York Times reports of chaos in his team.

"The failing New York Times story is so totally wrong on transition. It is going so smoothly. Also, I have spoken to many foreign leaders," Mr Trump said.

Jared Kushner, Mr Trump's son-in-law and close adviser, is reportedly purging the organisation of allies of Chris Christie, the New Jersey governor and former leader of the transition team who prosecuted Mr Kushner's father while he was a US attorney.

Mr Trump responded to speculation about appointments by tweeting that only he knows who the "finalists" are, drawing comparisons with his Apprentice reality television show.

The president elect also used social media to deny rumours that he had sought "top-level security clearance" for his adult children.

Democrats in Congress yesterday sent a letter to Mr Trump asking him to rescind the appointment of Steve Bannon, the Breitbart News executive, as a senior White House adviser.

It pointed out stories from the website that are derogatory towards Jews and Muslims, among other groups.

"Millions of Americans have expressed fear and concern … and your appointment of Mr Bannon only exacerbates and validates their concerns," the letter read.

Mr Trump has kept a low-profile since his stunning victory a week ago, letting advisers and allies set the tone. He has used his Twitter account as his main tool for disputing talk of his transition as unwieldy and unprepared.

Despite Mr Trump's assurances, people close to the transition process described advisers "fighting for power" as the Republican plunges into the enormous task of setting up his administration.

Mr Trump emerged from his eponymous New York tower briefly on Tuesday night for a private dinner with his family. He travelled without the traditional press pool of journalists, breaking a protocol designed to ensure the public has access to information about the president elect's whereabouts, schedule and meetings.

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