White House

Officials defend Trump’s travel ban on Syrians as unrelated to chemical weapons


The Trump administration continues to defend itself against accusations that it was hypocritical to conduct an airstrike on behalf of Syrian children while standing behind its proposed temporary travel ban against six Muslim-Majority countries, including Syria.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Tuesday that the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government – “weapons of mass destruction” – was something that all nations, especially the United States, needed to be concerned about.

“The number one goal of this president is to make sure that we protect our people, our country, and to keep those people from having to flee,” Spicer said. “They have family there. And so that’s our number one goal . . . creating a safer environment, deescalating the conflict there. It is not to figure out how many people we can fly out.”

It was the second day in a row that Spicer defended the travel ban following the airstrikes. Trump is under increasing pressure to consider revising or retracting the ban, which would prohibit refugee resettlement for 120 days. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and others questioned him for launching cruise missiles on behalf of killed Syrian children while also forbidding children from entering the United States.

The travel ban has yet to go into effect. A federal judge in Hawaii last month temporarily blocked a revised version of the ban against citizens from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen just hours before it was due to go into effect. It was the second time a Trump order seeking to temporarily limit U.S. entry from Muslim-majority countries has been blocked by a federal judge.

The original order, which banned Syrians indefinitely, created chaos at U.S. airports as immigration and customs agents initially blocked the entry of all citizens from the seven countries, including those who had lived in the United States for years. The new order no longer bans Syrians indefinitely, but freezes for 90 days the entry of anyone from the six countries who do not already have a valid visa. It also puts a 120-day moratorium on refugee admissions.

Trump has said he was moved to order the military strike on a Syrian government air base after seeing harrowing images of a chemical attack on the town of Khan Sheikhoun by the Syrian government that killed at least 86 people, including at least 30 children.

“No child of God should ever suffer such horror,” Trump said in announcing the airstrike.

But advocates for the refugee community like Kevin Appleby, the senior director of international migration policy at the Center for Migration Studies of New York, argued that, while a chemical attack was horrific, “so were bombings falling on your house.” It’s all horrific violence that Syrians are fleeing, he said.

“If the president is moved by pictures, than we can provide all the pictures he needs of suffering refugee children,” Appleby said.

Trump supporters say it’s unfair to draw comparisons between a chemical attack and the 90-day suspension that the White House said is intended to allow the government to try to improve vetting measures.

Republican strategist Evan Siegfried said the administration wants the opportunity to reassess its security measures and address the challenges of attaining security information from countries that are unwilling or unable to provide.

“We could not ascertain the required information that would ensure that the people coming into this country were indeed not threats and perfectly fine,” Siegfried said. “This doesn’t mean everyone coming from those countries are suspect, but we’re taking a 90-day pause to improve vetting measures and then they’ll be able to come into the country.”