President Trump is planning to sign an updated version of his controversial executive order banning travel from certain predominantly Muslim countries sometime this week, administration officials say.
While this plan is subject to change, the revised order could be signed as soon as Monday, CNN reported on Saturday. Initially, the president planned to sign the order last Wednesday, but pushed it back in the wake of his widely well-received joint address to Congress.
"We want the (executive order) to have its own 'moment,'" a senior administration official reportedly told CNN.
The original order, signed Jan. 27, had temporarily blocked citizens of seven predominantly Muslim countries – Iraq, Iran, Syria, Somalia, Sudan, Libya and Yemen – and all refugees from entering the United States. The order, now frozen by the courts, was met with widespread backlash from both liberal and conservative critics who denounced it as discriminatory, unconstitutional, and, ultimately, a hindrance in the fight against the so-called Islamic State. As Trevor Bach reported for The Christian Science Monitor in January:
Across the country and throughout the world, Mr. Trump’s sweeping executive order produced an uproar rarely felt from a presidential act. The order indefinitely banned Syrian refugees from entering the United States. It also temporarily banned all refugees for 120 days and immigrants from seven Muslim-majority nations, including Yemen for 90 days. Over the weekend, refugees were caught in limbo at American airports, permanent residents were stranded away from their families, and world leaders and experts roundly condemned the act as cruel, counterproductive, and unconstitutional.
The White House is reportedly aiming to alleviate some of these concerns with revisions to the order. The updated order will reportedly exempt current visa holders and legal permanent residents, and will not include an exception for religious minorities.
The new order will also likely not impose a blanket ban on those from Iraq – a move reportedly supported by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Secretary of Defense James Mattis, national security adviser H.R. McMaster, and Homeland Security Secretary James Kelly, according to CNN. Critics of the initial ban argued that the inclusion of Iraq could be detrimental to cooperation between the US and Iraq in fighting the Islamic State, as Taylor Luck reported for the Monitor in February:
President Trump’s imposition of a temporary travel ban on seven Muslim countries is hurting the fight against the self-declared Islamic State, undoing two years of work on and off the battlefield, experts say. And a central question is emerging: Can the administration uphold what Arab officials see as a “Muslim ban,” when the US relies almost solely on Muslim states, groups, and allies to fight IS across the Middle East?
From Iraq to Syria to Libya, and beyond, Muslim leaders and fighters who have risked their lives to join the US-led coalition against IS are increasingly incensed by a policy they regard as an insult, devaluing their sacrifice and punishing them individually and collectively. Across the Muslim world, the policy also threatens to erode the mutual trust that allows the sharing of vital intelligence.
"The policy on the surface, and perhaps under the surface, is anti-Muslim [and] makes it hard for any Muslim country to be an open partner with the US," Clint Watts, a senior fellow at the Philadelphia-based Foreign Policy Research Institute and a former FBI special agent, told the Monitor at the time. "At a time when even the Trump administration is reluctant to deploy troops in the region, it really limits the options on the counterterrorism playing field."
But removing Iraq from the list of barred countries could raise more questions about the necessity of the order, and ultimately weaken the administration's argument that the ban is a necessary measure to protect the United States from terror attacks.
"Because the ban was lifted by a judge, many very bad and dangerous people may be pouring into our country," the president wrote on Twitter after the order was frozen. Mr. Trump and other officials noted that the seven countries included in the order had been identified by Congress and the Obama administration as problematic. But critics were quick to point out that the ban omitted Saudi Arabia, where most of the Sept. 11 hijackers hailed from.
"Now Justice Department lawyers might be pressed to justify why people from Iraq can enter the United States, when those from other countries with the same designation cannot," wrote Matt Zapotosky and Abigail Hauslohner for The Washington Post last week.
The ban will not go into effect immediately when it is signed, sources familiar with the situation told the Post.