Trump’s New Travel Ban ‘Fact Based’ But Still Controversial

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It will become much more difficult, or even impossible, for citizens of eight countries to enter the United States under new rules announced Sunday by the Trump administration, the third edition of its controversial restrictions on travel.

The national security implications of the new ban remain unclear, experts said. Whatever security benefits the measures have could be eclipsed by increasing negative perceptions of the U.S. among the world’s Muslims. Six of the countries listed are Muslim majority. The measure will start affecting travel October 18, and unlike the earlier versions, these prohibitions are indefinite.

Five of those previously listed countries — Libya, Somalia, Iran, Yemen and Syria — join Venezuela, North Korea and Chad, where the White House says that vetting measures are insufficient to insure visitors or immigrants do not pose a threat to the U.S. There are some exceptions for Iranians who plan to travel for business or educational reasons.

In the case of Venezuela, the restrictions apply to officials in the Caracas government, which has taken increasingly dictatorial measures to suppress unrest as the country’s economy deteriorates. Relations between the North Korea and the United States have sunk to historic lows after Pyongyang’s tests of missile and nuclear weapons this summer.

“This is different than certainly the first executive order,” said Gen. Michael Hayden, former director of the NSA and CIA. “This one appears to be more thought out. More specific. It’s not a blanket prohibition. I could probably argue over one aspect or another, but I freely admit the executive branch has a lot of headroom in making these kinds of decisions, and this one appears to be more fact-based than the one they tried to shove out the door in January.”

Hayden added that the rules could allow the U.S. to pressure countries into compliance.

“It appears they have wisely used inclusion or exclusion from this list to put pressure on foreign governments to perform better, which apparently several have,” Hayden said.  Iraq was previously removed from the original list and Sudan is no longer on the latest revised list.

Hayden added that it would be necessary to see how the new rules play out to see if they will have a negative impact on the U.S. reputation as a welcoming place.

But Robert Richer, former CIA Associate Director for Operations said that whether or not the ban stays in place, the effect on national security for the better would be minimal. Before the ban, consular services in the designated countries took measures to ensure no one with intent to harm the United States got a visa.

“Of the attacks in the U.S. since 9/11, the majority have been by legally resident Americans,” Richer said. “It seems to be a ban for a ban’s sake, only to show some sort of political movement in support of his [Trump’s] base.”

And he said the move could further decrease an already tattered U.S. reputation.

“I spend a good portion of time overseas. You cannot get any worse than how we are perceived right now over the last six seven months,” Richer said. “We’re not being perceived well at all.”

Whether this latest move will stand up in court remains uncertain, but there are already indications that it will.

The U.S. Supreme Court indicated Monday that it might dismiss another legal challenge against the second version of the ban, given that the new order includes non-Muslim-majority nations, Venezuela and North Korea.  The court canceled arguments scheduled in the case and asked both parties to submit briefs on whether the new order renders the case moot.

“President Trump’s original sin of targeting Muslims cannot be cured by throwing other countries onto his enemies list,” American Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Anthony D. Romero said in a statement Monday.

The ACLU said it is still preparing to argue against the Trump administration’s travel ban, which lower courts have struck down on the basis that it discriminates against too wide a swath of individuals and carries the implication of bias against a religion.

But the justification for this latest ban might stand up better in court, said former CIA director John McLaughlin.

“This is based on objective criteria of local government cooperation, and procedures and courts yield typically on those issues, especially as in this case with American lives at stake,” he said.

Wilson Dizard is a national security editor at The Cipher Brief. Follow him on Twitter @willdizard.