The Trump administration said Tuesday that internal communication problems and overreach by some airlines had complicated the rollout of an immigration order that temporarily bars entry to the U.S. for people from seven Muslim-majority nations.
That was the administration’s only acknowledgment of snags with President Donald Trump’s order, which has caused international travel disruptions and triggered several lawsuits since it took effect Friday. Mostly, officials at a news conference Tuesday defended the ban and said border personnel were in full compliance with federal court rulings that temporarily limited some of the powers under the order.
“We cannot gamble with American lives,” Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly told reporters.
Officials said they’d barred more than 700 foreigners with U.S. visas from entering the United States in the first three days of the sweeping travel ban, far more than the 109 travelers the White House had previously said had been “inconvenienced” by the ban.
At least another 872 people who’d been granted refugee status but were denied entry into the United States over the weekend will be allowed in this week, said the acting commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, Kevin McAleenan.
Some of those countries that are currently on the list may not be taken off the list anytime soon, if they are countries that are in various states of collapse, as an example.
John Kelly, secretary of homeland security
McAleenan blamed some of the commotion at domestic and foreign airports on airlines “that over-interpreted our guidance” on banned foreigners, but he acknowledged that the Trump administration had bungled aspects of the initiative, which generated raucous rallies at airports in at least a dozen major U.S. cities.
“I think it’s fair to acknowledge that communications, public and interagency, haven’t been the best in the initial rollout of this process,” McAleenan said.
The officials offered new interpretations and clarified other aspects of the ban on travelers from seven majority-Muslim countries: Libya, Iran, Iraq, Somalia, Syria, Sudan and Yemen.
One of the major changes: Dual citizens who hold passports from one of those countries but also have passports from non-affected countries, perhaps in Europe, will not be barred as long as they use the second passports, McAleean said.
“So if you are a citizen of the United Kingdom, and present your United Kingdom passport, the executive order does not apply to you,” he said at a news conference.
But Kelly also said that nationals from some of the seven countries might not get into the United States for a long time after the initial 90-day freeze had expired.
“Some of those countries that are currently on the list may not be taken off the list anytime soon, if they are countries that are in various states of collapse, as an example,” Kelly said.
At the news conference, Trump administration officials first asserted that there had been no violations of federal court rulings that ease the ban for permanent residents and some visa holders. Later, the officials clarified that there had been no “intentional” noncompliance.
“That’s in the realm of ‘alternative facts,’ ” said Elizabeth Foydel, policy counsel at the International Refugee Assistance Project, an advocacy group involved in the mobilization of thousands of attorneys.
Foydel said compliance had improved but that there had been several documented instances of Customs and Border Protection officers ignoring attorneys’ attempts to hand them copies of the judge’s ruling. In many cases, people were held for hours without access to attorneys.
If you are a citizen of the United Kingdom, and present your United Kingdom passport, the executive order does not apply to you.
Kevin McAleenan, acting commissioner of Customs and Border Protection
“There was willful resistance in some places by some of the officers,” Foydel said.
Foydel said the government also wasn’t forthcoming with names and numbers. The figure the Trump administration gave Tuesday – 721 – for visa holders who’d been denied entry was only for those who hadn’t been permitted to board and didn’t seem to include travelers who’d reached the U.S. and then been detained or deported.
Without firm numbers, Foydel said, advocacy groups have relied on word of mouth and airport-by-airport calls to cobble together a nationwide list of cases, a laborious effort with incomplete results. There’s also a big discrepancy in how the cases are recorded, with the government and advocacy groups disagreeing on what constitutes an “inconvenience” or a “detention.”
“There’s not some sort of master list that anyone’s been able to keep,” she said.
Kelly, a retired Marine Corps general and former head of the U.S. Southern Command, based in Miami, brushed off a series of media questions about his input into the White House executive order, saying that Trump had signaled for more than a year that he would take such action.
“Probably Thursday we found out that it would be signed the next day,” Kelly said, adding that his staff had been aware of it but he hadn’t offered direct input “from the perspective of correcting the grammar.”
Kelly, 66, said the Trump administration was determined to carry out the executive order “humanely and with professionalism,” and added: “We are responding immediately to any court orders.”
A University of Michigan Law School page that tracks judicial challenges to aspects of the travel ban lists eight additional lawsuits on top of an initial federal suit in Brooklyn, NewYork, that led federal Judge Ann Donnelly to grant a stay for those affected by Trump’s executive order.
Kelly said the border crackdown was aimed at countries with weak governments and individuals with issues in their backgrounds that indicated security problems.
“There are many countries – seven we are dealing with right now – that in our view, in my view, don’t have the kind of law enforcement, records-keeping, that can convince us that one of their citizens is indeed who the citizen says they are,” Kelly said.
He added that individual border agents may examine social media used by a potential visitor, check telephone contact information and see which websites they visit.
“We have to be convinced,” Kelly said.
Another Trump appointee, barely half a day after the White House announced him, offered a hint that roundups may be in the offing soon within the United States of immigrants here illegally who commit felonies and remain in the country.
“You know, folks, there are jurisdictions across the country where aliens are arrested, criminally convicted of serious crimes, and walk out of these jurisdictions without any cooperation with us,” said Thomas Homan, the acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
“They are back in the communities, back in our communities,” said Homan, who was named to the post late Monday to replace an Obama-era director.
Homan said he was determined to address the issue of criminal immigrants, which was a refrain of Trump’s campaign, which regularly featured relatives of victims killed by migrants who were in the U.S. illegally.
“I’m here to execute a mission,” Homan said.