President Donald Trump on Saturday defended his executive order barring travellers from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the US.
“It’s not a Muslim ban,” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office as he signed several executive orders.
“It’s working out very nicely. You see it at the airports, you see it all over,” he added.
Trump’s order halted refugee arrivals into the US for 120 days, and it barred citizens of Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen for 90 days.
The order was meant to “protect the United States from foreign nationals entering from countries compromised by terrorism” and implement “a more rigorous vetting process.”
But the new restrictions caused chaos and confusion at airports across the country on Saturday, as refugees and even permanent residents of the US were detained by border agents.
A White House official told reporters that people from the seven countries who hold US green cards will be cleared to enter the US on a case-by-case basis. If they plan to travel outside the country, they must now check with a US consulate before leaving to find out if they can return, the official said.
The official also rebuked the notion that Trump’s order amounted to a Muslim ban, noting that several predominantly Muslim countries are not affected. The official said the number of people affected by the action is “relatively small.”
“It’s important to keep in mind that no person living or residing overseas has a right to entry to the US,” the official said.
Lawyers have already filed legal challenges to Trump’s order, arguing it is “unconstitutional” and “a violation of international law.”
Protests over the order erupted at John F. Kennedy airport on Saturday after two Iraqi refugees who had been granted asylum and were carrying valid visas were detained by border agents and denied entry. At least seven other travellers were reportedly detained at the same airport on Saturday, one official told The New York Times.
One of the Iraqis, Hameed Khalid Darweesh, was released Saturday afternoon after two New York lawmakers arrived at the airport and demanded to see him.
Hundreds of protesters descended on the airport’s Terminal 4, wielding signs that read, “No ban, no wall,” and, “Refugees welcome,” local media reported.
It’s unclear how many travellers have been affected by the order so far, but refugee advocates and lawyers say they have been receiving reports of immigrants and refugees being detained at airports across the country.
“They’re literally pouring in by the minute,” Becca Heller, the director of the International Refugee Assistance Project, told The Times.
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