Trump defends travel ban amid fierce backlash

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Trump signs executive orders calling for the
Trump signs executive orders calling for the “extreme vetting” of visa seekers from terror-plagued countries on Friday. (Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty Images)

President Trump lashed out on Sunday over those challenging his controversial executive order temporarily banning immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countries.

“America is a proud nation of immigrants and we will continue to show compassion to those fleeing oppression, but we will do so while protecting our own citizens and border,” Trump said in a statement issued late Sunday afternoon. “America has always been the land of the free and home of the brave. We will keep it free and keep it safe, as the media knows, but refuses to say.”

“The seven countries named in the executive order are the same countries previously identified by the Obama administration as sources of terror,” Trump continued. “To be clear, this is not a Muslim ban, as the media is falsely reporting. This is not about religion — this is about terror and keeping our country safe. There are over 40 different countries worldwide that are majority Muslim that are not affected by this order.”

He added: “We will again be issuing visas to all countries once we are sure we have reviewed and implemented the most secure policies over the next 90 days. I have tremendous feeling for the people involved in this horrific humanitarian crisis in Syria. My first priority will always be to protect and serve our country, but as President I will find ways to help all those who are suffering.”

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On Friday, Trump signed an executive order barring people from seven countries — including Syria, Sudan, Yemen, Iran, Iraq, Libya and Somalia — from entering the United States for 90 days. It also stopped all refugees from entering the U.S. for 120 days and indefinitely suspended the entry of refugees from Syria.

But critics, including several Republican lawmakers, say the policy goes too far.

“I think it’s a good idea to tighten the vetting process,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday. “But I also think it’s important to remember that some of our best sources in the war against radical Islamic terrorism are Muslims, both in this country and overseas.

“I think we need to be careful,” McConnell added. “We don’t have religious tests in this country.”

Trump was apparently unmoved.

“Our country needs strong borders and extreme vetting, NOW,” Trump tweeted earlier Sunday. “Look what is happening all over Europe and, indeed, the world — a horrible mess!”

“Christians in the Middle-East have been executed in large numbers,” he added. “We cannot allow this horror to continue!”

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Others criticized Trump for issuing the travel ban without warning, a move that led to chaos at some U.S. airports.

“It is clear from the confusion at our airports across the nation that President Trump’s executive order was not properly vetted,” Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said in a joint statement. “We are particularly concerned by reports that this order went into effect with little to no consultation with the Departments of State, Defense, Justice and Homeland Security.”

On NBC’s “Meet the Press,” White House chief of staff Reince Priebus said the administration’s lack of advance notice was by design.

“I don’t think you want a grace period,” Priebus said. “Because then people who want to do bad things to Americans would just move up their travel date two days in order to get into the country before the grace period is over. … And if you ask, a lot of the people at the customs and border patrol would just tell you you’ve got to just rip off the Band-Aid and you have to move forward.”

Trump was more forceful in his response.

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“The joint statement of former presidential candidates John McCain & Lindsey Graham is wrong — they are sadly weak on immigration,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “The two [senators] should focus their energies on ISIS, illegal immigration and border security instead of always looking to start World War III.”

The executive order sparked a wave of protests at airports around the country after more than 100 people, including some with current visas, were detained or turned around.

“We’ve got a couple dozen more that remain,” Priebus said. “And I would suspect as long as they’re not awful people that they will move through before another half a day today and perhaps some of these people should be detained further, and if they’re folks that shouldn’t be in this country, they’re going to be detained. So apologize for nothing here.”

On Saturday night, a federal judge in Brooklyn had issued an emergency stay temporarily blocking part of the order.

The decision, which will affect people who have been detained in airports, came after the American Civil Liberties Union and other activist groups filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of two Iraqis who were held at New York City’s John F. Kennedy International Airport.

“There is imminent danger that, absent the stay of removal, there will be substantial and irreparable injury to refugees, visa holders, and other individuals from nations subject to [Trump’s] executive order,” Judge Ann Donnelly said in her ruling.

Kellyanne Conway, a senior adviser to Trump, said the chaos caused by the executive order was a “small price to pay” for greater security.

Conway said those who were detained represent just 1 percent of the 325,000 who flew into the United States on Saturday.

“I was stopped many times … after 9/11,” she added. “I didn’t resemble, or share a name with or be a part of any type of terrorist conspiracy. But this is what we do to keep a nation safe.”

Conway added: “This whole idea that they’re being separate and ripped from their family … it’s temporary.”

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