President Donald Trump’s newly revised decree “protecting the nation from foreign terrorist entry into the United States” amounts to the same unfounded Muslim ban that a federal appeals court blocked last month.
Trump issued his latest executive order Monday morning with a single tweet from Press Secretary Sean Spicer announcing the news—a departure from his usual “lights, camera, action” presidency. The White House press office did not list the event on the daily schedule emailed to reporters, and members of the White House press corps were only told about the executive order after Trump had signed it.
The executive order again implements a 90-day ban on entry to the United States from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen—six of the seven previously designated countries. Iraq “presents a special case,” exempt from the ban due in part to the “close cooperative relationship between the United States and the democratically elected Iraqi government.”
Refugees from around the world won’t be able to find safe haven on U.S. soil, as the newest Muslim ban—like the original—caps the number of refugees at 50,000 for fiscal year 2017.
Trump ordered a 120-day moratorium on U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) decisions regarding refugee status and visas. He no longer singled out Syrian refugees, who were targeted indefinitely under the original Muslim ban.
The overall thrust of the executive order nevertheless remains the same.
“In our view, this stands as a ban on people coming into the country from predominately Muslim countries,” Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, told Rewire in a phone interview. “It is an invitation for dangerous racial profiling of particular minority groups, and we will continue our fight in the courts.”
Secrecy Might Signal a Hesitant Administration
U.S. presidents regularly issue executive orders without fanfare. But Trump has turned what was once routine into spectacle. The photo op for Trump’s expansion of restrictions on international family planning aid, which will lead to more unintended pregnancies, unsafe abortions, and maternal and newborn deaths, most strikingly featured a wall of white men overlooking his Oval Office desk.
Trump struck a defiant tone when he signed the first Muslim ban in January. Reporters looked on as he wielded his pen in a room at the Pentagon dedicated to service members who have received the Medal of Honor. Signing the revised Muslim ban behind closed doors speaks to Trump’s inclination to shield unpopular actions from the press and public.
Doing so potentially signals the administration’s wariness about the ability of the courts to uphold discriminatory actions.
Some media reports framed the revised Muslim ban in terms of the concessions that Trump made amid an expected onslaught of fresh legal challenges. Politico reported that the new restrictions do not apply to legal permanent residents and visa holders and further “removes language that appeared to give priority to Christian refugees applying from predominantly Muslim countries,” which did not pass muster in the courts.
Trump openly campaigned on a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.”
Legal Standing Remains in Doubt
The executive order won’t go into effect until March 16. The administration wrote the delay into the new Muslim ban presumably to ward off the almost immediate wave of protests in response to the first ban, which took effect immediately.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions promised to use the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to defend Trump’s ban. Sessions spoke at a press conference along with DHS Secretary John Kelly and Rex Tillerson, the former ExxonMobil CEO and “friend” of Russian President Vladimir Putin at the helm of the U.S. Department of State.
The administration officials did not take questions from the press.
Trump spent part of the new executive order defending the old one, even though a unanimous panel of judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit handed down a rebuke last month of every DOJ argument defending it.
The Lawyers’ Committee’s initial legal challenge remains pending in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
“This amended order in no way changes the situation for our clients, impacted individuals whose status remains unclear,” Clarke said. “If anything, this executive order raises more questions for them.”