U.S. tempers part of Trump travel ban amid big protests, criticism

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By Doina Chiacu and Steve Holland | WASHINGTON

WASHINGTON President Donald Trump’s
administration on Sunday tempered a key element of his move to
ban entry of refugees and people from seven Muslim-majority
countries in the face of mounting criticism even from some
prominent Republicans and protests that drew tens of thousands
in major American cities.

Trump signed the directive on Friday, but the policy
appeared to be evolving on the fly. Democrats and a growing
number of Republicans assailed the move and foreign leaders
condemned it amid court challenges and tumult at U.S. airports.

The president’s critics have said his action unfairly
singled out Muslims, violated U.S. law and the U.S. Constitution
and defiled America’s historic reputation as hospitable to

In a fresh defense of the action on Sunday, Trump said his
directive was “not about religion” but keeping America safe. Trump has presented the policy as a way to protect the country
from the threat of Islamist militants.

U.S. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said in a
statement that people from the seven countries who hold
so-called green cards as lawful permanent U.S. residents would
not be blocked from returning to the United States from
overseas, as some had been following the directive.

In his statement, Kelly said: “I hereby deem the entry of
lawful permanent residents to be in the national interest.”

Outside the White House, where some viewing stands from
Trump’s Jan. 20 inaugural parade still stood, several thousand
protesters denounced him, carrying signs such as “Deport Trump”
and “Fear is a terrible thing for a nation’s soul.” Protests
also were staged in cities and airports in New York, Los
Angeles, Boston, Houston, Dallas and elsewhere.

The Republican president on Friday put a four-month hold on
allowing refugees into the country, an indefinite ban on
refugees from Syria and a three-month bar on citizens from Iran,
Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

Border and customs officials struggled to put Trump’s
directive into practice. Confusion persisted over details of
implementation, in particular for the people who hold green

Senator Bob Corker, the Republican chairman of the U.S.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a Trump supporter, said
the president’s order had been poorly implemented, particularly
for green card holders.

“The administration should immediately make appropriate
revisions, and it is my hope that following a thorough review
and implementation of security enhancements that many of these
programs will be improved and reinstated,” Corker said.

Trump defended his action.

“To be clear, this is not a Muslim ban, as the media is
falsely reporting,” Trump said in a statement on Sunday. “This
is not about religion – this is about terror and keeping our
country safe. There are over 40 different countries worldwide
that are majority Muslim that are not affected by this order.”

He added: “We will again be issuing visas to all countries
once we are sure we have reviewed and implemented the most
secure policies over the next 90 days.”

The department on Saturday said Trump’s action did apply to
people with green cards who were returning to the United States
from the seven nations. A White House official said later on
Saturday that green card holders who had left the United States
and wanted to return would have to visit a U.S. embassy or
consulate to undergo additional screening.

White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus went on the Sunday
morning news programs to say those people would not be blocked.

“As far as green card holders moving forward, it doesn’t
affect them,” Priebus said on the NBC program “Meet the Press.”

Priebus added that these green card holders would be
subjected to “more questioning” by U.S. Customs and Border
Patrol agents when they try to re-enter the United States “until
a better program is put in place over the next several months.”

In an apparent indication that Kelly’s instructions were
being implemented, some green card holders arriving in the
United States said they had no trouble clearing customs.

Mahdi Tajsarvi, an engineer who lives in Virginia, said he
and his wife, Arezoo Hosseini, both Iranian citizens with U.S.
green cards, were asked a few routine questions by authorities
at Dulles International Airport outside Washington on Sunday
evening and let through within a few minutes.


Priebus also said Customs and Border Patrol agents would have “discretionary authority” when they encountered someone
arriving who they suspect “is up to no good” from certain
nations. Asked why Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Egypt
were not included on Trump’s list, Priebus said that “perhaps
other countries needed to be added to an executive order going

U.S. judges in at least five states blocked federal
authorities from enforcing Trump’s directive, but lawyers
representing people covered by the order said some authorities
were unwilling on Sunday to follow the judges’ rulings.

U.S. Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, prominent
Republican foreign policy voices, said in a joint statement
Trump’s order may do more to help recruit terrorists than
improve U.S. security.

“Ultimately, we fear this executive order will become a
self-inflicted wound in the fight against terrorism,” they said,
adding the United States should not stop green card holders “from returning to the country they call home.”

“This executive order sends a signal, intended or not, that
America does not want Muslims coming into our country,” the

Trump blasted the two senators in a Twitter statement,
calling them “sadly weak on immigration.”

In a another Twitter message earlier on Sunday, Trump said
the United States needed “strong borders and extreme vetting,

“Christians in the Middle-East have been executed in large
numbers. We cannot allow this horror to continue!” added Trump,
who successfully tapped in Americans’ fear of attacks during his
election campaign.

Trump’s tweet did not mention that many more Muslims have
been killed in the bloody Syrian civil war and other violence in
the targeted countries.

Condemnation of Trump’s action poured in from abroad,
including from traditional allies of the United States.

In Germany, which has taken in large numbers of people
fleeing the Syrian civil war, Chancellor Angela Merkel said the
global fight against terrorism was no excuse for the measures
and “does not justify putting people of a specific background or
faith under general suspicion,” her spokesman said on Sunday.

Canada will offer temporary residency to people stranded in
the country as a result of Trump’s executive order on
immigration, Canadian Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen said.

Briefing reporters at the White House on condition of
anonymity, a U.S. administration official rejected criticism of
the way Trump’s plan had been carried out, saying: “So it really
is a massive success story in terms of implementation on every
single level.”

Chuck Schumer, the top Democrat in the Republican-led U.S.
Senate, had a different view, calling Trump’s administration
incompetent. “One hand doesn’t know what the other is doing,”
Schumer said.

“I think banning refugees, banning immigrants, banning
religions like Islam or any other religion, is un-American,”
said Will Turner, 42, draped in a U.S. flag among a crowd of
several thousand people in front of the White House chanting: “No hate, no fear, refugees are welcome here.”

An official of the conservative billionaire industrialist
Koch brothers’ political network of donors criticized Trump’s
immigration order at the donors’ winter gathering in Indian
Wells, California.

“Our country has benefited tremendously from a history of
welcoming people from all cultures and backgrounds. This is a
hallmark of free and open societies,” Brian Hooks said in a

Civil rights and some religious groups, activists and
Democratic politicians have promised to fight Trump’s order and
Schumer said his party would introduce legislation to overturn
it. Republicans control both the House of Representatives and
the Senate.

Priebus said that of 325,000 people who arrived from foreign
countries on Saturday, 109 people were detained for further
questioning, and most of them were moved out, with just a “couple dozen more that remain” detained.

“It wasn’t chaos,” he said.

Judges in California, Massachusetts, Virginia and Washington
state, each home to international airports, issued their rulings
after a similar order was issued on Saturday night by U.S.
District Judge Ann Donnelly in New York’s Brooklyn borough in a
case involving two Iraqis caught by the order as they flew into
the country.

Attorneys general from California, New York, 13 other states
and Washington, D.C., condemned and pledged to fight what they
called Trump’s “dangerous” and “unconstitutional” order.

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu, Susan Cornwell, Steve Holland, Yara
Bayoumy, Yeganeh Torbati, Lesley Wroughton, Nathan Frandino in
Washington, Richard Cowan in Indian Wells, Calif., Dan Levine in
San Francisco; Mica Rosenberg, Jonathan Allen, Melissa Fares,
Daniel Trotta, Andrew Chung, Chris Francescani and David Ingram
in New York; Andrea Hopkins and Anna Mehler Paperny in Toronto;
Andrea Shalal and Andreas Rilke in Berlin, Paul Sandle in London
and Daina Beth Solomon in Los Angeles)

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