WASHINGTON — Declaring “making America safe is my number one priority,” President Donald Trump on Sunday night expanded his contentious travel ban with a new order restricting entries from North Korea, Venezuela and Chad.
The restrictions retained five of the six Muslim-majority countries covered by a March 6 executive order imposing the ban, but dropped Sudan, which administration officials said had complied with U.S. security requirements.
In a proclamation, Trump said the countries targeted in the new ban had refused to share information the U.S. government had requested on terrorism, visa security, criminal histories and other issues related to national security.
“We cannot afford to continue the failed policies of the past, which present an unacceptable danger to our country,” the proclamation said. “My highest obligation is to ensure the safety and security of the American people, and in issuing this new travel order, I am fulfilling that sacred obligation.”
In a tweet just after issuing the new restrictions, Trump said: “Making America Safe is my number one priority. We will not admit those into our country we cannot safely vet.”
The new restrictions take effect Oct. 18, and administration officials said they would be indefinite.
Muslim-majority countries will still be the primary targets. Only 110 North Koreans received visas to the U.S. in the last fiscal year, and the restrictions on people form Venezuela cover only government officials and relatives.
Critics said the original ban as well as the second one discriminated against Muslims, violating the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, which forbids the government from favoring any religion over another.
“The fact that Trump has added North Korea — with few visitors to the U.S. — and a few government officials from Venezuela doesn’t obfuscate the real fact that the administration’s order is still a Muslim ban,” said Anthony Romero, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union. “President Trump’s original sin of targeting Muslims cannot be cured by throwing other countries onto his enemies list.”
This marks the third travel ban Trump has imposed. The first, imposed in an executive order a week into his presidency, unleashed chaos at airports, mass protests in the U.S. and worldwide, condemnation from a broad spectrum of international leaders — and unprecedented attacks by a president on the federal judiciary after judges blocked his travel ban.
Hours before the current travel ban was to expire Sunday night, a senior administration official denied that the ban discriminated against Muslims.
The U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments Oct. 10 on the constitutionality of the March travel ban. But it remained unclear Sunday night whether the high court will go ahead with the hearings, now that the travel ban has been replaced by yet another iteration.
The 90-day ban on entries from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen harms “Muslim communities across the country, disrupting personal, professional, and academic activities and unfairly and irreparably stigmatizing Muslims,” a coalition of U.S. Muslim groups said in a friend-of-the-court brief filed Friday. The coalition called the ban, which leaves in place the 120-day suspension of almost all refugee entries, “nothing more than religious intolerance masquerading as an attempt to address (unfounded) security concerns.”
But a senior administration official, who requested anonymity, told reporters in a conference call Sunday night: “The restrictions either previously or now were never, ever, ever based on race, religion or creed. Those governments are simply not compliant with our basic security requirements.”
In late June, the Supreme Court allowed the revised March 6 executive order imposing the travel ban to partially take effect, but ruled it could apply only to those who lack a “bona fide” relationship with a person or organization in the U.S.
Trump had declared the unanimous Supreme Court decision “a clear victory for our national security.”
Two federal appeals courts blocked the ban. One ruled the executive order violated the Constitution by singling out Muslims, the other that the president exceeded his executive authority.