Even experts are struggling to understand President Donald Trump’s sweeping executive order that froze refugee admissions and blocked people from seven predominantly Muslim nations from entering with visas. We combed through the complicated eight page order to find the key parts so you don’t have to.
Why was the order needed?
The White House said the first priority of the Trump administration is the safety of the American people. The order cites the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks and administration officials note attacks in Boston and San Bernardino carried out by U.S. residents as examples of what they want to prevent. Calling it a national security issue, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said the order is intended to give the administration time to review the immigration system and determine how to improve the vetting of immigrants.
Who is affected?
The order sets up three distinct groups: Syrian refugees, who are barred from entering the United States indefinitely; refugees from all other countries, who are barred from resettlement for 120 days, and refugees from Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen, who are banned from entering the U.S. for 90 days. The Trump administration says immigrants holding permanent U.S. residence, so-called green-card holders, from these countries will undergo additional questioning when they arrive to determine they don’t pose any harm to the country.
What role did Obama play?
The Trump administration has cited the Obama administration in defending the order, and it is correct that the order relies on actions take during President Obama’s tenure. Most directly, it was under Obama that Congress and the Department of Homeland Security identified the seven countries affected by the order. The Obama administration passed the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015 after the November 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris that led to the designation of the seven countries on the list.
Can the White House do this?
That is an issue that will likely be settled in court. The White House says it believes the president has unfettered control over who is allowed into the country, but federal judges over the weekend blocked deportations of people who arrived after the order was issued. A court in Boston ruled that no one can be stopped from entering the U.S. on the authority of Trump’s directive alone. White House officials said it hasn’t been decided if those rulings will be appealed and late Monday, the acting attorney general ordered Justice Department lawyers not to defend the order in court.
Who is exempt?
The order excludes foreign nationals traveling on diplomatic visas, North Atlantic Treaty Organization visas and those traveling to the United Nations.
What about Christians?
One of order’s most controversial aspects is its preferential treatment of Christians. The order doesn’t mention Christians specifically, but calls for immigration authorities “to the extent permitted by law, prioritize refugee claims made by individuals on the basis of religious-based persecution, provided that the religion of the individual is a minority religion in the individual’s country of nationality.” That clearly applied to Christians in the the majority-Muslim nations.
Does the order have provisions that aren’t about immigration?
The order also calls for the Department of Homeland Security to collect information about the involvement of immigrants in a variety of criminal acts, including “acts of bigotry or hatred (including ‘honor’ killings, other forms of violence against women, or the persecution of those who practice religions different from their own) or those who would oppress Americans of any race, gender, or sexual orientation.” The order said the first statistics are to be released in 180 days and then updated every 180 days thereafter. Similar information should be collected on foreign nationals who’ve been radicalized after entry into the United States, the order says.
What happens after the 90-day and 120-day freezes expire?
During those periods, government officials are supposed to be reviewing what information countries are able to provide the United States to better vet immigrants for terrorist connections. Once that has happened, the Department of Homeland Security and the State Department may seek to expand the list of countries of concern beyond the original seven. Trump has said that once the review is complete, the U.S. will begin issuing visas to citizens of all countries.