Trump eyes temporary ban on refugees

(Photo by Ron Sachs - Pool/Getty Images)

President Donald Trump is considering a blanket ban on refugees for up to four months, according to a draft executive order obtained by CNN, making good on a campaign promise to enact stringent measures on Muslim migrants trying to enter the US.

The plan also bars all persons from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia or Yemen from entering the US for 30 days, consistent with the “Muslim ban” that Trump promised during the 2016 presidential campaign. While the measure doesn’t reference Islam specifically, advocacy groups said the order was plainly targeting Muslims.

The order, if enacted, would put in place tough new vetting measures in an attempt to bar potential terrorists from entering the country. Sources familiar with the order said Trump could sign it as early as Friday, but caution the language is not yet final. A senior White House official made it clear that Trump will not sign executive orders Thursday targeting the refugee program or immigration from terror-prone countries.

“In order to protect Americans, we must ensure that those admitted to this country do not bear hostile attitudes toward our country and its founding principles,” the order reads. “We cannot, and should not, admit into our country those who do not support the US. Constitution, or those who would place violent religious edicts over American law.”

The plan outlined in the draft order indicates that once the 120-day suspension of refugee admissions ends, the US prioritize admissions of those refugees who are fleeing religious persecution, “provided that the religion of the individual is a minority religion in the individual’s country of nationality,” according to the order.

Admissions for Syrian refugees would be suspended indefinitely, until Trump determines the system has undergone a sufficient overhaul in vetting and screening practices. The plan would cap the total number of refugees admitted into the US during the 2017 fiscal year at 50,000, down more than half from the current level of 110,000.

In addition to the months-long suspension of refugee admissions into the US, the draft order would suspend the US visa waiver programs, which allows citizens of major US allies to enter the US on a temporary tourist visa.

The order also instructs the Pentagon and State Department to begin planning for “safe zones” inside Syria, which would provide safe harbor for civilians in the civil war-torn nation. The Obama administration had rejected safe zones as an ineffective solution to the humanitarian crisis there.

And it mandates the Department of Homeland Security expedite a program of tracking migrants using biometric data like eye scans and fingerprints.

Suspending the refugee program was bound to draw outcry from humanitarian groups, who have long pushed the US to accept more people seeking refuge from war and persecution.

Initial reaction from Muslim-American groups was scathing.

“Make no mistake — whatever language is used in President Trump’s executive orders on refugees, immigration and visa programs — Muslims are the sole targets of these orders,” said Nihad Awad, the national executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations during a news conference in Washington. “These orders are a disturbing confirmation of Islamophobic and un-American policy proposals made during the presidential election campaign.”

Lavinia Limón, president and CEO of the US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, called the 120-day suspension of the refugee program “extraordinarily cruel.”

“It’s a sad day not only for the refugees but for the country,” she said. “I wasn’t surprised given the campaign rhetoric. I was dismayed.”