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Critics take aim at Trump’s new version of immigration order

U.S. President Donald Trump delivers his first address to a joint session of Congress in Washington on Feb. 28, 2017.

Jim Lo Scalzo/Reuters

Donald Trump is making a second attempt at blocking citizens of some Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States, with an executive order that will bar fewer people in a bid to avoid the legal problems that sank his previous edict.

But opposition to the President's new order is already gearing up, as critics charge Mr. Trump's assertions of securing the country's borders are nothing but a pretext for Islamophobia. And the courts will have to decide if Mr. Trump's move is within the President's power to set immigration policy – or unconstitutional religious discrimination.

The new order bans citizens of six countries – Iran, Syria, Somalia, Libya, Sudan and Yemen – from receiving visas to travel to the United States for 90 days and bars all refugee claimants from entering the country for 120 days.

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Mr. Trump signed the order in private Monday morning and dispatched three cabinet members to announce it at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection headquarters in Washington.

"This order is part of our ongoing efforts to eliminate vulnerabilities that radical Islamist terrorists can and will exploit for destructive ends," Secretary of State Rex Tillerson declared.

In an e-mail to supporters, Mr. Trump wrote he was "keeping America safe" by targeting countries that have been "compromised by radical Islamic terrorism."

The previous order barred citizens of seven countries from entering the United States and went into effect abruptly with no warning period. As a result, travellers landed in the United States only to discover they were barred from entering.

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The edict also did not make clear whether permanent residents – so-called green-card holders – were subject to the ban, stranding some U.S. residents overseas, leaving others unable to travel, tearing families apart and disrupting businesses.

The original decree also contained provisions for prioritizing Christian asylum-seekers from majority-Muslim countries.

The new edict does not apply to anyone who already has a visa, green-card holders, dual citizens and people with refugee status. The order does not take effect until March 16, giving border guards and airlines time to prepare.

It also takes one country, Iraq, off the banned list, in hopes of avoiding a fight with a key ally in the war against the Islamic State group. In exchange, Iraq agreed to co-operate more closely with U.S. officials to vet travellers.

The new order also rolls back the apparent favouritism for Christians, with a section that explicitly says the edict is "not motivated by animus toward any religion."

The previous version of the order, issued in late January, caused a week of bedlam before James Robart, a federal judge in Seattle, issued a temporary lifting of the order in early February. The case before Judge Robart was brought by state governments that argued the order hurt their residents, economies and universities by making it impossible for some residents to travel for work, robbed the states of tax revenue from people who could no longer come from overseas to work and barred some international students and faculties from government-run higher-education institutes.

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Immigration lawyer Stephen Yale-Loehr described Monday's order as "old wine in a new bottle." Even though it will apply to fewer people, it will still raise the same objections: Companies and universities can still argue they are being robbed of potential workers and students, and families in the United States will argue they are being hurt by not being allowed to bring other family members over.

Prof. Yale-Loehr, who teaches law at Cornell University, pointed out that Mr. Trump's central legal argument – that people from those six countries pose a security risk – is also on shaky ground. A report from the Department of Homeland Security, leaked to the Associated Press last month, concluded a person's citizenship was an "unlikely indicator" of whether they would pose a threat.

Much will depend on whether the courts decide to take Mr. Trump's comments about Muslims into account.

"The courts will have to decide if they only look at the four corners of the executive order, or if they look at information outside of that," Prof. Yale-Loehr said.

During the election campaign, Mr. Trump promised "a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States."

Opponents of Mr. Trump's immigration clampdown served notice they would fight the new order as hard as they had the last.

Salil Shetty, Amnesty International's secretary-general, said Mr. Trump's order would "slam the door on those fleeing the very terror he claims to be fighting." The American Civil Liberties Union said it would launch a new legal challenge and called for opponents of the order to pressure their senators into taking a position on it. Several state governments that sued to stop the original order – including Washington, Massachusetts and Virginia – said they were reviewing their options.

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer called the order "mean-spirited and un-American." Senator Bernie Sanders described the ban as "racist" and said Mr. Trump was giving "ideological ammunition to terrorists seeking new recruits to kill Americans."

Speaker Paul Ryan, meanwhile, congratulated the White House in a statement: "This revised executive order advances our shared goal of protecting the homeland."

At the arrivals area of Dulles International Airport near Washington, volunteer lawyers have been camped out for the past five weeks helping travellers from overseas navigate the border.

Nicole Goldstein said that, even after the courts lifted the original executive order, she and her fellow lawyers have been getting regular requests for help from the families of travellers – predominantly Muslims and people of colour – who have been held up for hours at customs.

While the new order may avoid the confusion that consumed the terminal when the original edict dropped, the discrimination remains, she said.

"The order goes a long way to handling some of the procedural issues, but it's still a Muslim ban," she said. "Everybody knows that it's a Muslim ban."

Video: U.S. revises immigration executive order, dropping Iraq from list of banned Muslim-majority countries (The Globe and Mail)
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