WASHINGTON ― The White House intends to temporarily shut down travel from a wide swath of countries to the United States and implement dramatic restrictions on immigration and refugee admission, according to a draft version of a White House executive order obtained Wednesday by The Huffington Post.
The document, which could still be amended before being officially signed, confirms the details reported by HuffPost on Tuesday, and adds new information about the planned strategy. According to the draft executive order, President Donald Trump plans to:
Block refugee admissions from the war-torn country of Syria indefinitely.
Suspend refugee admissions from all countries for 120 days. After that period, the U.S. will only accept refugees from countries jointly approved by the Department of Homeland Security, the State Department and the Director of National Intelligence.
Cap total refugee admissions for fiscal year 2017 at 50,000 ― less than half of the 110,000 proposed by the Obama administration.
Ban for 30 days all “immigrant and nonimmigrant” entry of individuals from countries designated in Division O, Title II, Section 203 of the 2016 consolidated appropriations act: Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen. These countries were targeted last year in restrictions on dual nationals’ and recent travelers’ participation in the visa waiver program.
Suspend visa issuance to countries of “particular concern.” After 60 days, DHS, the State Department and DNI are instructed to draft a list of countries that don’t comply with requests for information. Foreign nationals from those countries will be banned from entering the U.S.
Establish “safe zones to protect vulnerable Syrian populations.” The executive order tasks the secretary of defense with drafting a plan for safe zones in Syria within 90 days. This would be be an escalation of U.S. involvement in Syria and could be the first official indication of how Trump will approach the conflict there.
Expedite the completion of a biometric entry-exit tracking system for all visitors to the U.S. and require in-person interviews for all individuals seeking a nonimmigrant visa.
Suspend the visa interview waiver program indefinitely and review whether existing reciprocity agreements are reciprocal in practice.
The draft order, which is expected to be signed later this week, details the Trump administration’s plans to “collect and make publicly available within 180 days ... information regarding the number of foreign-born individuals in the United States who have been radicalized after entry into the United States and engaged in terrorism-related acts.” It also describes plans to collect information about “gender-based violence against women or honor killings” by foreign-born individuals in the U.S.
The language is unclear as to whether the names of these individuals, which could include American citizens, would be made public, nor does the document define “radicalized” or “terrorism-related acts,” leaving open the potential to sweep vast numbers of people onto the list. The move is reminiscent of the expansive enemies lists created by former FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover last century.
Trump’s first few days in the White House have been marked by a chaotic lurching from one issue to another. That drafts of executive orders are circulating and leaking to the press is another mark of early dysfunction.
Trump’s initial campaign promise, that he would ban all Muslims from traveling to the United States, has been dialed back to a blanket ban on all travel from a smaller number of countries. But the focus is still on Muslims. The executive order says that priority will be given in the future to refugees who face religious persecution, “provided that the religion of the individual is a minority religion in the individual’s country of nationality.” In other words, an exception will be made for non-Muslims in the Middle East, which undercuts the argument that the policy does not target Muslims specifically.
The White House and the Department of Homeland Security declined to comment. Trump hinted at an announcement in a tweet on Tuesday night.
Although it reflects anti-refugee sentiment spreading worldwide, the draft of Trump’s order represents a dramatic upending of current U.S. policy toward some of the globe’s most unstable regions. It will inevitably face opposition from human rights groups, civil liberties organizations, Democrats and even members of the Christian right, who have encouraged a sympathetic approach to the refugee crisis.
The civil war in Syria, now in its sixth year, has left 4.8 million Syrians as refugees, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Since the war began in 2011, the U.S. has admitted only about 18,000 refugees from Syria, due in part to a lengthy vetting process that typically takes from 18 to 24 months. But as the humanitarian crisis in Syria worsened, former President Barack Obama pushed for an increase in admissions. During the last fiscal year, the U.S. accepted over 10,000 Syrian refugees.
Despite the low number of admissions and the intensive, multi-agency screening process, resettling Syrian refugees in the U.S. has become a controversial issue. In response to Obama’s push to welcome more people from the country, more than half of U.S. governors ― all but one of them Republicans ― attempted to block Syrian refugees from resettling in their states.
Throughout the presidential race, Trump seized on the growing national opposition to refugee resettlement. He first proposed banning Muslims from entering the U.S. in December 2015, following the mass shooting in San Bernardino, California. Though his specifics varied over the year that followed, Trump continued to promise to heavily restrict immigration from countries with Muslim-majority populations.
At least one refugee resettlement organization has already been briefed on the expected decline of refugee admissions to 50,000. That number is significantly lower than ceilings proposed before the Syrian civil war began.
Because the draft executive order gives religious minorities priority in refugee admissions, that may mean Christians in most countries in the Middle East will be favored over Muslims.
Former intelligence analysts have pointed out that a policy that specifically discriminates against Muslims perpetuates the narrative that the U.S. is at war with Islam, which serves as a powerful recruiting tool for jihadist groups like the so-called Islamic State and al Qaeda.
“I ask Allah to deliver America to Trump,” one ISIS spokesman wrote in August.
Read the draft executive order here:
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story said that according to the draft executive order, the visa waiver program would be suspended indefinitely. In fact, it would suspend the visa interview waiver program indefinitely.