Iraq removed from visa restriction list; travel order will apply to new applicants
WASHINGTON (Sinclair Broadcast Group) - Iraq is no longer on a list of countries "compromised by terrorism" that need "a more rigorous vetting process."
The White House released new guidance Monday related to President Trump's refreshed executive order suspending visa applications from Sudan, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen.
Trump privately signed the new order Monday while Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Attorney General Jeff Sessions formally unveiled the new edict. They did not take questions from reporters.
The administration, releasing a Q&A document explaining the process, stated Iraq is being treated "differently" because negotiations have resulted in an increased "cooperation with the U.S. Government on the vetting of its citizens applying for a visa to travel to the United States.
"As such, it was determined that a temporary suspension with respect to nationals of Iraq is not warranted at this time."
Foreign nationals from the six designated countries, however, are not eligible to enter the U.S. if they didn't have a valid visa as of 5 p.m. ET on January 27, 2017.
People who do hold a valid visa will not be affected.
According to a media briefing call, the White House stated they made a decision to go forward with the new executive order to address court concerns; they assert there was nothing wrong with the first order - signed in January.
The new order does not apply to refugees already scheduled to travel to the U.S. by the State Department.
However, the Refugee Admissions Program will be suspended for the next 120 days "while DHS and interagency partners review screening procedures to ensure refugees admitted in the future do not pose a security risk."
When the program resumes, no more than 50,000 people will be admitted to the U.S. within the refugee program for the fiscal year.
In the meantime, The White House stated they will adhere to being transparent by releasing information from the Department of Homeland Security every 180 days.
That information will include the number of foreign nationals who have been charged with terrorism-related offenses while in the U.S., removed from the states based on terrorism-related activity, and info regarding the "number and types of acts of gender-based violence against women, including so-called 'honor killings,' in the United States by foreign nationals."
Explaining the reason behind the ban, the administration used an example from 2014 to argue their point.
In Portland, Oregon, a refugee from Somalia was arrested for "attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction in connection with a plot to set off a bomb at a Christmas tree-lighting ceremony."
He was sentenced to 30 years in prison.
"The Federal Bureau of Investigation has reported that approximately 300 persons who entered the United States as refugees are currently the subjects of counterterrorism investigations."
The low-key rollout was in contrast to the first version of the order, which Trump signed a week after his inauguration in a high-profile ceremony at the Pentagon's Hall of Heroes as Secretary of Defense James Mattis stood by.
In addition, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer was not scheduled to hold an on-camera briefing Monday, leading to the appearance that the president was distancing himself from the order, which was a signature issue during his campaign and the first days of his presidency. The order also risks being overshadowed by unsubstantiated accusations Trump made over the weekend that former President Barack Obama had ordered the wiretapping of his phone during the campaign.
Trump officials say that even with the changes, the goal of the new order hasn't changed: keeping would-be terrorists out of the United States while the government reviews the vetting system for refugees and visa applicants from certain parts of the world.
Tillerson described the new order Monday morning as "a vital measure for strengthening our national security."
The original travel ban caused chaos at airports around the country as Homeland Security officials scrambled to interpret how it was to be implemented and travelers were detained before being sent back overseas or blocked from getting on airplanes abroad. The order quickly became the subject of several legal challenges and was put on hold last month by a federal judge in Washington state. The original order was rescinded Monday.
Kelly said Congress and others have been briefed about the order, which won't take effect until March 16, and there should be no surprises. He called the effort "prospective" and reiterated that it applies only to refugees who aren't already on their way to the United States and people seeking new visas.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.