Iraq taken off the list because the Iraqi government has imposed new vetting procedures
President Donald Trump signed a revised executive order on Monday banning citizens from six Muslim-majority nations from traveling to the United States but removing Iraq from the list, after his controversial first attempt was blocked in the courts.
The new order, which takes effect on March 16, keeps a 90-day ban on travel to the United States by citizens of Iran, Libya, Syria, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen. It applies only to new visa applicants, meaning some 60,000 people whose visas were revoked under the previous order will now be permitted to enter.
Immigration advocates said the new ban still discriminated against Muslims and failed to address some of their concerns with the previous order. Legal experts said it would, however, be harder to challenge because it affects fewer people living in the United States and allows more exemptions to protect them.
Trump, who first proposed a temporary travel ban on Muslims during his presidential campaign last year, had said his original Jan 27 executive order was a national security measure meant to head off attacks by Islamist militants.
It sparked chaos and protests at airports, where visa holders were detained and later deported back to their home countries. It also drew criticism from targeted countries, Western allies and some of America's leading corporations before a US judge suspended it on Feb. 3.
"As threats to our security continue to evolve and change, common sense dictates that we continually re-evaluate and reassess the systems we rely upon to protect our country," Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told reporters after Trump signed the new order.
Democrats, a minority in Congress, quickly signaled fierce opposition to what they called a discriminatory ban.
"The Trump administration’s repackaging has done nothing to change the immoral, unconstitutional and dangerous goals of their Muslim and refugee ban," House of Representatives Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said in a statement.
Farhana Khera, executive director of Muslim Advocates, a civil rights group in Washington, said the Trump administration had "doubled down on anti-Muslim bigotry."
She told reporters on a conference call: "It’s crystal clear this is a Muslim ban."
Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he was "very encouraged" by the approach and pleased that Iraq was removed from the list.
Iraq was taken off the banned list because the Iraqi government has imposed new vetting procedures, such as heightened visa screening and data sharing, and because of its work with the United States in countering Islamic State militants, a senior White House official said.
Trump's original ban resulted in more than two dozen lawsuits in U.S. courts. The Justice Department estimated 60,000 people had their visas revoked by the first order but senior administration officials said on Monday those visas were now valid again for entry into the United States.
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said he expected the revised order to have the same uphill battle in the courts as the original version.
"A watered down ban is still a ban," he said in a statement. "Despite the administration's changes, this dangerous executive order makes us less safe, not more, it is mean-spirited, and un-American. It must be repealed."