U.S. President Donald Trump has continued to defend his executive order banning entry to refugees and people from seven Muslim-majority countries, while rights groups vowed to keep pressing legal action, thousands of people protested in cities across the country and Democrats prepared to issue legislation to block the ban.
In a series of tweets Monday morning, Trump said Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly told him that “all is going well with very few problems.” He added that “big problems at airports” were caused by a computer outage that hit Delta airlines, protesters and “the tears of” Senate Minority leader Chuck Schumer.
Schumer appeared to be holding back tears as he called Sunday for Trump to overturn the executive order.
The order, signed Friday, includes a 120-day suspension of refugee admissions and a 90-day entry ban for people from Iraq, Iran, Syria, Somalia, Sudan, Libya and Yemen.
The implementation led to confusion, particularly at the nation’s airports, where in some cases people holding green cards as permanent legal residents were detained for extra questioning before being allowed entry.
Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly issued a statement Sunday seeking to clarify the policy, saying he deems “the entry of lawful permanent residents to be in the national interest.”
In a separate statement, the Department of Homeland Security said the government retains its right to revoke visas at any time if necessary for national security. That followed an emergency order by federal court in New York temporarily barring the deportation of people who arrive at U.S. airports with a valid visa or an approved refugee application.
Judge Ann Donnelly wrote, “There is imminent danger that, absent the stay of removal, there will be substantial and irreparable injury to refugees, visa-holders, and other individuals from nations” who are subject to the president’s order.
Trump has repeatedly called for stricter screening of refugees, and the senior administration official who briefed reporters Sunday described the previous system as “woefully inadequate.”
Under President Barack Obama’s administration, refugees were required to undergo security checks, including strict vetting by law enforcement and intelligence agencies, and extensive interviews before they were allowed into the country. For many refugees, the process took up to two years to complete.
Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, told VOA’s Urdu service Trump’s order goes against the values of Americans who have historically welcomed those fleeing persecution and war.
“Donald Trump did not convince any of us that he has sound legal or national security concerns. For example, the Syrian refugees are subjected to at least two years of scrutiny and extreme vetting already, and once they come here they are safe, they are vetted. There is no terrorist attack that happened at the hands of a Syrian refugee, or any refugee, that we know,” Awad said. “So for him to base all his executive order on [that] false notion is un-American, unethical.”
The 57-nation Organization of Islamic Cooperation said Monday that Trump’s action will further complicate the challenges refugees face.
“Such selective and discriminatory acts will only serve to embolden the radical narratives of extremists and will provide further fuel to the advocates of violence and terrorism at a critical time when the OIC has been engaged with all partners, including the U.S., to combat extremism and terrorism in all their forms and manifestations,” said an OIC statement.
All seven countries featured in the executive order are OIC members.
The text of the order cites the September 11, 2001 terror attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people in the U.S., but does not apply to Saudi Arabia, where most of the hijackers involved were from.
Iran, Syria and Sudan are on the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism, while Iraq, Libya, Yemen and Somalia are listed as terrorist safe havens.
Sudan’s Information Minister Ahmed Bilal told VOA’s English to African service that his country hopes Trump will lift the ban after the 90-day period is up. He said he thinks the order will damage the U.S. “because it will make America almost isolated from the world.”
He also said Sudan had been looking forward to improving relations with the United States, and that there is “no reason” for Sudan to be among those listed as a sponsor of terrorism.
The designation has been in place since 1993 over concerns about Sudan supporting terror groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah, and its role in the mid-1990s as a “safe haven and training hub” for groups like al-Qaida.
Senior Republican U.S. Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, who are members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, criticized Trump’s order Sunday, saying the confusion at airports showed the measure was “not properly vetted.”
“We are particularly concerned by reports that this order went into effect with little to no consultation with the Departments of State, Defense, Justice and Homeland Security,” they said in a joint statement. “Such a hasty process risks harmful results.”
Trump responded on Twitter, calling McCain and Graham “weak on immigration” and saying they should be focused on Islamic State, illegal immigration and border security.
Other congressional reaction
Senator Chris Murphy, a Democrat, called the words from McCain and Graham a “strong statement” and said they should work together.
“I will introduce a bill this week to immediately overturn this dangerous, hateful order,” he posted on Twitter.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell expressed support Sunday for more strict screening, but said he is against religious tests.
“I think it’s a good idea to tighten the vetting process,” he told ABC News. “But I also think it’s important to remember that some of our best sources in the war against radical Islamic terrorism are Muslims, both in this country and overseas.”
Republican Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona said Trump is right to be concerned about national security, “but it’s unacceptable when even legal permanent residents are being detained or turned away.”
People affected by order
Twenty-eight-year-old Iranian national Neda Daemi, a 16-year legal U.S. resident, was released after being detained for 10 hours Saturday. Daemi spoke with two lawyers and added she was not asked to sign any papers. She said she had flown to Los Angeles from Tehran where she was visiting family members.
Somali refugee Binto Siyad Aden and her children were released late Saturday after they were detained in Virginia. They had arrived on a family reunion visa from Kenya.
Aden’s husband, Farhan Sulub Anshur – a U.S. citizen from Minnesota – said he believes his wife and two children were released after a court intervened.
“You can’t image our joy and feelings now. They have been released and we are here together at a hotel near the airport,” Anshur said.
He told reporters his wife was subjected to harsh treatment from law enforcement while in detention at the airport.
“They harassed her and threatened her with handcuffs and arrest; they forced her to sign a form stating that her and her children will be deported, but she refused to sign for the kids and told them their father is an American citizen,” he said.