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Foreign Affairs

Trump Defends Immigration Clampdown, Says It Is Not ‘Muslim Ban’

U.S. President Donald Trump has defended his executive order to temporarily halt travel from seven Muslim-majority nations, insisting it was "not a Muslim ban."

The president added that the United States would resume issuing visas to all countries once secure immigration measures were put in place in the next 90 days.

The comments on January 29 came as protests mounted in the United States and abroad and a number of U.S. lawmakers joined the foreign chorus against the measures.

"America is a proud nation of immigrants and we will continue to show compassion to those fleeing oppression, but we will do so while protecting our own citizens and border. America has always been the land of the free and home of the brave," Trump said in an official written statement.

"To be clear, this is not a Muslim ban, as the media is falsely reporting. This is not about religion -- this is about terror and keeping our country safe," he said, noting that more 40 Muslim countries were not affected by the order.

White House chief of staff Reince Preibus defended the moves and denied that there had been chaos at airports around the United States, where thousands of protesters rallied on January 28

He told NBC television on January 29 that of the 325,000 people who entered the country January 28, 109 were detained.

"Most of those people were moved out. We've got a couple dozen more that remain and I would suspect that as long as they're not awful people that they will move through before another half a day today," he told NBC.

New Vetting Process

Vowing to protect the country from "foreign terrorists," Trump on January 27 ordered the suspension of immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countries for 90 days until a new vetting process is put in place.

The countries involved in the order were Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Sudan, and Yemen.

But underscoring some of the confusion that accompanied the order, Preibus also said foreigners from those countries who are legal permanent U.S. residents -- known informally as green-card holders -- would in fact be allowed back into the United States, but only on a case-by-case basis.

That appeared to contradict the wording of the order, which suggested even green-card holders were affected.

Still, the order resulted in some travelers who had legal authorization to enter the country being detained at U.S. airports on January 28. In some cases, they were taken off flights they had already bordered in some foreign countries.

Late on January 28, a U.S. federal judge issued a partial stay on the order. Judge Ann Donnelly's order temporarily halted the deportation of people holding valid visas or refugees stranded at airports.

The ruling was issued after lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union filed a court petition on behalf of two Iraqis who were detained at New York's John F. Kennedy airport. Known as the ACLU, the organization is the one of the leading legal bodies defending civil liberties in the United States.

The order affected up to 200 people detained at U.S. airports or who were in transit, the ACLU said.

Two other federal judges, in Massachusetts and Virginia, issued similar orders for foreign travelers arriving at their region's airports, including Washington's Dulles International Airport, a major arrival point for international travelers.

The Department of Homeland Security, which oversees the U.S. customs and border service and immigration policy, said the ruling would not affect the overall implementation of the executive action.

"President Trump's Executive Orders remain in place -- prohibited travel will remain prohibited, and the U.S. government retains its right to revoke visas at any time if required for national security or public safety," it said in a statement.

'Self-Inflicted Wound'

Many of the protests continued on January 29. Hundreds of people gathered outside the gates on the north side of the White House to protest the order, many chanting, "Let them in! Let them in!"

A growing number of Democratic lawmakers in Congress spoke out against the order, and at least three Republicans also criticized its breadth and how it was being implemented.

Republican Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham -- both of whom routinely criticize Trump -- called the rollout hasty.

"We should not stop green-card holders from returning to the country they call home. We should not stop those who have served as interpreters for our military and diplomats from seeking refuge in the country they risked their lives to help. And we should not turn our backs on those refugees who have been shown through extensive vetting to pose no demonstrable threat to our nation and who have suffered unspeakable horrors, most of them women and children," they said in a joint statement.

Ultimately, we fear this executive order will become a self-inflicted wound in the fight against terrorism," the senators said.

Republican Senator Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the executive order had not been properly put into effect.

"We all share a desire to protect the American people, but this executive order has been poorly implemented, especially with respect to green-card holders," Corker said in a statement.

'Gift To Extremists'

The order was also criticized by the countries involved and some of America's closest allies.

U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May said she does "not agree" with the restrictions and will appeal to the United States if it affects British nationals.

In Berlin, a spokesman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she believes the fight against terrorism "doesn't justify putting people of a particular origin or particular faith under general suspicion."

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a January 28 Twitter post that Canadians welcome "those fleeing persecution, terror and war" regardless of their faith.

In Tehran, Iran summoned Switzerland's ambassador, who represents Washington's interests, to protest the Trump ?rder.

The Foreign Ministry earlier announced it would reciprocate with a ban on U.S. citizens entering the country, but Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said the restrictions would not apply to Americans who already have a valid visa.

Zarif also wrote on Twitter late on January 28 that Trump's decision was "a great gift to extremists," saying "collective discrimination aids terrorist recruitment by deepening fault-lines exploited by extremist demagogues to swell their ranks."

The Iraqi parliament's foreign affairs committee said on January 29 that the U.S. travel curbs imposed on Iraqis were "unfair" and asked the government in Baghdad to "reciprocate" the American decision. Later on January 29, parliament reported reportedly passed a measure that called for blocking all visas to U.S. citizens, which would affect some military and civilian contractors and journalists.

Sudan's Foreign Ministry called Trump's order "very unfortunate" after Washington lifted sanctions on the country just weeks ago for cooperation on combating terrorism.

Copyright (c) 2015. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036.

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