WASHINGTON (CBSNewYork/AP) — President Donald Trump signed an executive action Friday night, suspending the nation’s refugee program and temporarily banning those coming from countries with terrorism concerns.
Trump traveled to the Pentagon, where he joined Defense Secretary James Mattis for the signing of an executive action to bring sweeping changes to the nation’s refugee policies and put in motion his plans to build up the nation’s military.
“I am establishing new vetting measures to keep radical Islamic terrorists out of the United States of America,” he said. “We don’t want them here.”
The order was signed on Trump’s most robust day of national security and foreign policy at the start of his presidency, marked by a meeting with British Prime Minister Theresa May and a lengthy phone call with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto.
During his election campaign against Hillary Clinton, Trump pledged to put in place “extreme vetting” procedures to screen people coming to the U.S. from countries with terrorism ties.
“We want to ensure that we are not admitting into our country the very threats our soldiers are fighting overseas,” he said. “We only want to admit those into our country who will support our country and love deeply our people.”
The order imposes a 120-day suspension of the entire U.S. Refugee Admissions Program and a 90-day ban on all entry to the United States from countries with terrorism concerns.
The State Department said the three-month ban in the directive applied to Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen — all Muslim majority nations.
The order also halts entry to the U.S. by Syrian refugees until the president determines that changes to the refugee assistance program ensure that admitting them won’t compromise national security.
The order makes no mention of a plan to provide safe zones in Syria and the surrounding area. A draft of the order had directed the Pentagon and the State Department to produce a plan for safe zones in the war-torn Mideast nation.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR, said it would file a federal lawsuit Monday challenging the constitutionality of the executive order.
“There is no evidence that refugees — the most thoroughly vetted of all people entering our nation — are a threat to national security,” said CAIR National Litigation Director Lena F. Masri. “This is an order that is based on bigotry, not reality.”
Trump also signed a presidential memorandum on “rebuilding” the U.S. Armed Forces, giving Mattis 30 days to conduct a “readiness” review and report back on steps that can be taken this year to improve conditions.
The draft also requests recommendations on whether the U.S. should reopen CIA detention facilities outside the United States. Critics said the clandestine sites have marred America’s image on the world stage.
Trump, who met with the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon, has the authority to determine how many refugees are accepted annually, and he can suspend the program at any time. Refugee processing was suspended in the immediate aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks and restarted months later.
During the past budget year, the U.S. accepted 84,995 refugees, including 12,587 people from Syria. President Barack Obama had set the refugee limit for this budget year at 110,000.
Trump, according to the executive order, plans to cut that to 50,000. The order says that while the program is suspended, the U.S. may admit people on a case-by-case basis when “in the national interest” and the government will continue to process refugee requests from people claiming religious persecution, “provided that the religion of the individual is a minority religion in the individual’s country.”
In an interview with CBN News, Trump said persecuted Christians would be given priority in applying for refugee status. “We are going to help them,” Trump said. “They’ve been horribly treated.”
Applauded by some in his own party, Trump’s refugee action was strongly criticized by some Democrats.
“Tears are running down the cheeks of the Statue of Liberty tonight as a grand tradition of America, welcoming immigrants, that has existed since America was founded has been stomped upon,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, said.
“These policies do not reflect the values of the United States or of New York City. We must continue to embrace refugees in need who are victims of terror, not terrorists,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement. “We must protect and celebrate religious pluralism. In this great city of immigrants we will remain true to our values and always welcome all who yearn to breathe free.”
Trump’s order was signed on Holocaust Remembrance Day, which brought to mind the global effort to help refugees during World War II and its aftermath.
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