Trump Administration Expected To Issue New Travel Restrictions

Sep 22, 2017
Originally published on September 22, 2017 8:08 pm
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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

A deadline is coming for the Trump administration's travel ban. A major piece of the ban is set to expire this weekend, and the president is still deciding what to replace it with. His acting homeland security secretary has recommended actions described as tough and tailored. Meanwhile, the U.S. Supreme Court is set to hear a challenge to the travel ban next month. We'll hear more about that in a moment from NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg.

First, NPR's Scott Horsley is here to talk about the decision facing the president. Hey there, Scott.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Hi, Kelly.

MCEVERS: So this deadline this weekend - what is it?

HORSLEY: Well, a major component of the president's travel ban was this 90-day freeze on visitors from six countries - Syria, Somalia, Sudan, Libya, Yemen and Iran. Remember; when that ban was first announced, there were airport demonstrations, lots of legal challenges. The executive order was held up for months.

But in June, the Supreme Court allowed most of the ban to take effect with some exceptions, and that started the 90-day clock which runs out on Sunday. The administration's plan was to use that 90 days to review the way it screens would-be visitors not only from the six targeted countries but from around the world and to make sure the U.S. gets the information it needs to weed out potential terrorists.

MCEVERS: What's the administration learned during this 90-day review period?

HORSLEY: Well, the Homeland Security Department identified a group of countries - according to Wall Street Journal, 17 countries - where the U.S. didn't feel it could adequately screen travelers either because the countries could not or would not provide the necessary information. For example, the U.S. wants information that would let it verify the travelers' identities and to see what their home countries know about them to see if they pose a threat.

So countries that were not providing that level of information were put on notice that they could face a travel crackdown from the U.S. And in some cases over the last 90 days, those countries came around. In other cases, though, the information is still lacking, and that's where the White House is considering new restrictions.

MCEVERS: What would those look like?

HORSLEY: This is where that tough, tailored talk comes in. The acting secretary of Homeland Security has recommended a range of actions that would be country-specific. In some cases, it might involve just enhanced screening so people could still come to the U.S., but they'd have to jump through some extra hoops first.

In other countries, the secretary is recommending more restrictive measures. We don't really know what those would look like, but it could mean a continued ban on travel from some parts of the globe. This time there would not be a 90-day clock, though. Instead the restrictions would continue until the individual countries met the new requirements.

MCEVERS: Do we know which countries would be affected by this and how?

HORSLEY: We don't. The White House is being very cagey. When they rolled out the initial ban, there was no notice. There was lots of chaos. So they tried to be more orderly this time. And they had a conference call for reporters this afternoon, but there was very little information. So we're just going have to wait and see when the president makes up his mind.

MCEVERS: Now we're going to turn to NPR's Nina Totenberg. As I mentioned, the Supreme Court still has this case on its docket as well. How does this affect that? Do we know?

NINA TOTENBERG, BYLINE: Well, it's hard to tell since the government briefers today told us almost nothing about what potentially even is in the new order, what countries are going to be affected, et cetera. Well - but whatever President Trump finally produces as his newest executive order, this case is set for the second week of the Supreme Court term, October 10. And I doubt it's going to be called off before then.

The government undoubtedly will argue that the case is moot, that the ban that was struck down by the lower courts is no longer in effect and that there's a new ban in town, so to speak, or a new order in town. The other side will undoubtedly counter-argue that the case is not moot because nothing is to prevent the Trump administration from re-enacting the travel ban or anything else about the ban - the order that was struck down. Moreover, part of this case involves the administration's temporary total ban on refugees, which does not expire until after the Supreme Court argument. It will still be in effect when this case is argued.

President Obama had designated 110,000 refugee slots under a 1980 congressionally enacted law for those slots for refugees. And the Trump administration has already cut that to 50,000 this year, the lowest number in 37 years, and is said to be contemplating even more drastic cuts next year to the great consternation of the Catholic bishops and other groups that help with refugee resettlement.

MCEVERS: NPR's Nina Totenberg and Scott Horsley, thanks to both of you.

HORSLEY: You're welcome.

TOTENBERG: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.