'We won't gamble with US lives,' says security secretary on travel ban
US President Donald Trump's administration defended its controversial travel ban yesterday, saying there would be "no gambling with American lives" as it was revealed that 872 refugees facing "undue hardship" would be allowed into the country this week before the measure takes effect.
John Kelly, Mr Trump's new homeland security secretary, said: "This is not a ban on Muslims. We cannot gamble with American lives, I will not gamble with American lives.
"These orders are a matter of national security and it is my sworn responsibility to defend and protect the American people."
Using an American football analogy, he added: "It is easier to play defence on the 50-yard line than the one-yard line. This will be implemented humanely and professionally."
Mr Trump had previously called his policy a "ban" but Mr Kelly said: "This is not a travel ban, it is a temporary pause that will allow us to analyse the strengths and weaknesses of our immigration system which is already the most generous in the world."
The executive order barred people from seven predominantly Muslim countries entering the US for 90 days.
It was signed by Mr Trump on Friday night with no advance notice, causing chaos at US airports and protests around the world. The countries listed were Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. Mr Kelly indicated that they may remain on the list for longer than 90 days. Mr Trump's order also halted the US refugee programme for 120 days.
Around 900 US State Department officials signed an internal "dissent memo" critical of the travel ban, it emerged last night.
The foreign service officials and diplomats argued that the ban was counter to American values and would damage its international standing.
Kevin McAleenan, acting head of the US Customs and Border Protection agency, said 872 refugees would be granted waivers this week. He said those refugees were ready for travel and stopping them would cause "undue hardship".
Mr McAleenan said that, since the order was signed, 721 travellers out of hundreds of thousands entering the US had been denied entry.
Over the course of a year around 90,000 people enter the US on visas from the seven countries.
Paul Ryan, the Republican House Speaker, backed the ban but said confusion over its implementation had been "regrettable", especially in whether it applied to green card holders from the seven countries.
Mr Ryan said: "There is nothing wrong with taking a pause and making sure we have the proper vetting process so we do not have a problem like Paris. The president has a responsibility to the security of this country."
Mr Ryan met fellow Republican members of Congress and told them to expect protests in their districts.
Antonio Guterres, the UN Secretary-General, called on Mr Trump to lift the ban "as soon as possible".
He said: "Blind measures not based on solid intelligence tend to be ineffective as they risk being bypassed by what are today sophisticated global terrorist movements."
On Monday, Mr Trump fired Sally Yates, the acting US attorney general, after she refused to enforce the policy on principle.
Ms Yates said it was not consistent with the Department of Justice's "solemn obligation to always seek justice and stand for what is right".
The White House accused her of "betraying the Department of Justice by refusing to enforce a legal order designed to protect the citizens of the United States".
Sean Spicer, Mr Trump's spokesman, called her decision "bewildering and defiant".
Meanwhile, Senate Democrats yesterday renewed an assault on Mr Trump's pick for attorney general, Republican Senator Jeff Sessions, questioning his independence after the president fired the Ms Yates.
Invoking procedural rules, Democrats succeeded in delaying Judiciary Committee action on the Sessions nomination until today after intense exchanges with Republicans at a hearing.
His loyalty to Mr Trump was a top target during debate by the panel, which is expected to vote on party lines to recommend his confirmation by the full Senate. (© Daily Telegraph, London)