The current order bans entry by people from Iran, Libya, Yemen, Somalia, Sudan and Syria
President Donald Trump is weighing replacing his ban on travellers entering the US from six predominantly Muslim nations with a set of more specific and tailored restrictions based, in part, on how much information countries share with the US.
The Department of Homeland Security has sent Trump recommendations for entry restrictions and additional visa requirements based on shortcomings in the information each country shares with the US and an assessment of the risk of terrorist infiltration the nation poses, administration officials told reporters on Friday. The changes could be put in place as soon as this weekend, with a new proclamation from Trump, officials said.
“The acting secretary has recommended actions that are tough and that are tailored, including travel restrictions and enhanced screening for certain countries,” said Miles Taylor, a counsellor to acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke.
Taylor and other officials on a conference call for reporters declined to say what countries would be affected or even whether it would be fewer or more than the six cited in the president’s original travel ban. They said the decisions would be left to the White House.
Taylor said the Homeland Security Department concentrated in its assessment on factors such as terrorist and criminal history information each country shares with the US, the security of passports issued and how well each country established identity of passport-holders. The US notified all countries in July of “baseline” standards they would need to meet to avoid travel restrictions.
While some countries were unable or unwilling to meet the guidelines, most provided the necessary information to meet the baseline, Taylor said. The State Department made clear to countries that they could face penalties if they did not provide the necessary information, he said.
The president received a decision briefing on the travel ban Friday, led by Duke. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster, and White House Counsel Don McGahn also participated, White House Deputy Press Secretary Lindsay Walters said.
The State Department will issue guidance to consular offices next week with information about how to implement the new restrictions, said Carl Risch, assistant secretary for consular affairs at the State Department.
“We regularly send guidance to the field and we would expect to do that next week if there’s any ambiguity about how a visa applicant is to be interviewed,” Risch told reporters Friday.
The travel restrictions could further inflame geopolitical tensions around the world as Trump is engaged in heated rhetoric against the governments of Iran, North Korea and Venezuela. Several countries did not respond to the US requests for more information.
“Some countries didn’t even have the courtesy to say ‘fly a kite’,” Taylor said. “We’re talking about countries that were willfully non-compliant and refused to engage with the United States. Some of those, perhaps, wouldn’t surprise you.”
He declined the identify those countries.
The US continued negotiating with some of the nations affected right up until Sept. 15, when Duke submitted her report to the White House. Taylor said some of them provided enough information or made changes to get removed from the list of countries with inadequate security.
“There were indeed a higher number of inadequate countries” at the beginning of the process than at the end, Taylor said.
A central portion of Trump’s travel ban is set to expire on Sunday, 90 days after the Supreme Court allowed the restrictions to go forward.
The Department of Homeland Security sent Trump a classified report Sept. 15 with details on its review of the vetting process for people entering the US, Taylor said. The report included a list of countries recommended for travel restrictions going forward.
The current order bans entry by people from Iran, Libya, Yemen, Somalia, Sudan and Syria. It was scheduled to expire on Sunday after the Supreme Court’s ruling in June, which tailored the ban to only include those who have no “bona fide relationship” to the US The original travel restrictions, which caused confusion at US ports of entry and set off spontaneous protests at airports when it was unveiled in January, led to sharp criticism of the administration from corporate leaders.
Trump suggested last week after a terror attack in London that the current restrictions on travel to the US don’t go far enough.
“The travel ban into the United States should be far larger, tougher and more specific,” Trump tweeted Sept. 15, hours after a homemade bomb on a city subway injured dozens. “But stupidly, that would not be politically correct!”
On March 6 Trump signed an executive order that was the second version of the ban first unveiled in January, which had been quickly blocked by courts and criticized by leaders from both parties.
During his presidential campaign, Trump called for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.” Opponents have used that language in court challenges against the current travel ban.
The new restrictions could have implications for a scheduled Oct. 10 argument at the Supreme Court, possibly even prompting the justices to cancel the hearing. The high-court case centers on the existing travel ban, including the part that expires Sunday and a separate provision that suspends refugee admissions until Oct. 24.
Justice Department spokeswoman Sarah Flores said government lawyers would continue to “vigorously defend” the travel restrictions, but she wouldn’t comment on how the new policy might affect the Supreme Court case.