Donald Trump

Trump signs plan to temporarily shut US door to most refugees

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 28 January, 2017, 5:14am
UPDATED : Saturday, 28 January, 2017, 11:53pm

President Donald Trump signed an executive action Friday that aims to temporarily halt the nation’s refugee programme and usher in the most sweeping changes in more than 40 years to how the US welcomes the world’s most vulnerable people.

The White House has yet to release the text of the signed document but a draft obtained earlier showed the measure would block all refugees from entering the US for 120 days and suspend the acceptance of refugees from war-torn Syria indefinitely.

“We want to ensure that we are not letting into our country the very threats that our soldiers are fighting overseas,” Trump said after swearing in new Defense Secretary James Mattis at the Pentagon.

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Trump would also block visa applicants entirely from a list of countries with counterterrorism concerns, including Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen, until a new “extreme vetting” procedure for visa applicants could be launched.

At least two refugees, both from Iraq, who were in the air heading to the United States when the order came into effect have been detained by customs upon arrival, The New York Times reported. Lawyers representing them have filed legal challenges, but were having difficulty arranging a meeting with their clients, it said.  

Google delivered a sharp message to staff traveling overseas who may be impacted by a new executive order on immigration from President Donald Trump: Get back to the US now.
Google chief executive officer Sundar Pichai slammed Trump’s move in a note to employees Friday, reported Bloomberg, telling them that more than 100 company staff are affected by the order.

“It’s painful to see the personal cost of this executive order on our colleagues,” Pichai wrote in the memo, a copy of which was obtained by Bloomberg News. “We’ve always made our view on immigration issues known publicly and will continue to do so.”

The US has admitted more than 3.3 million refugees since 1975, and allowed more than 80,000 refugees in last year alone. Under Trump’s plan, those numbers would plummet to a trickle, except for a narrow group of “religious minorities” that would include Christians fleeing largely Muslim countries.

The action, seen as part of Trump’s campaign pledge to ban Muslims from entering the country, sparked an international outcry, given the historic role that the U.S. and other industrialised nations have long held in embracing victims of war and oppression. The changes would be the most sweeping to US refugee policy since the Vietnamese resettlement programmes of the mid-1970s.

In recent months, Trump has backed away from a blanket ban on Muslims and instead said he would focus on blocking people coming from countries linked to terrorism.

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What looks like a summary of the order appeared in a news photograph of Trump taken Thursday on Air Force One. It is titled “Executive order to protect the nation from radical Islamic terrorism.”

The first item is to suspend visa issuance to “high-risk countries until ‘extreme vetting’ standards are put in place.” It also calls for a “temporary pause of refugee programme,” among other orders.

The Los Angeles Times/Tribune Washington Bureau obtained an eight-page draft of the executive order.

The new vetting procedures would block admission of individuals who engage in “acts of bigotry and hatred,” “place violent religious edicts over American law,” or “would oppress members of one race, one gender, or sexual orientation.”

Trump called the vetting procedures he would put in place “totally extreme” during an interview with Fox News on Thursday. “We’re going to have extreme vetting for people coming into our country and if we think there’s a problem, it’s not going to be so easy for people to come in anymore,” he said.

“I’m going to be the president of a safe country,” Trump told ABC News on Wednesday when asked about the policy. “We have enough problems.”

Trump promised safe zones in Syria to protect vulnerable people, but said that Germany and other European countries had made a “tremendous mistake by allowing these millions of people.” He said residents of countries left out of the ban — Afghanistan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia — would nonetheless face what he calls “extreme vetting,” and dismissed concerns that his actions would inflame tensions in the Muslim world.

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“The world is as angry as it gets,” he said. “What, you think this is going to cause a little more anger?”

Critics called Trump’s order a betrayal of long-held American ideals.

“It is a cruel measure that represents a stark departure from America’s core values,” former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said Thursday in response to Trump’s plan to curtail refugee resettlement. As a child, Albright fled the communist takeover of then-Czechoslovakia with her family and came to the U.S. as a refugee. She said she benefited personally from the American “tradition of openness” and that “this order would end that tradition, and discriminate against those fleeing a brutal civil war in Syria. It does not represent who we are as a country.”

“We should not be excluding any religion or nationality from the U.S. refugee resettlement programme,” said Michelle Brane, a director at the Women’s Refugee Commission.

Five Iraqi passengers and one Yemeni were barred from boarding an EgyptAir flight from Cairo to New York on Saturday after President Donald Trump halted the entry of citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries, sources at Cairo airport told Reuters.

The passengers, arriving in transit to Cairo airport, were stopped and re-directed to flights headed for their home countries despite holding valid visas, the sources said.