Members of the Trump administration announced and defended a new executive order restricting travel from six Muslim-majority nations on Monday.
The order, which replaces a similar one currently tied up in court, still suspends the United States’ refugee program, and temporarily halts the issuance of visas to Syria, Sudan, Iran, Somalia, Libya and Yemen.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson justified removing Iraq from the order at a press conference Monday, alongside Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security John Kelly.
“This intense review over the past month identified multiple security measures that the State Department and the government of Iraq will be implementing to achieve our shared objective of preventing those with criminal or terroristic intent from reaching the United States,” Tillerson said.
He also called Iraq “an important ally in the fight to defeat ISIS, with their brave soldiers fighting in close coordination with America’s men and women in uniform.”
Sessions echoed language in Trump’s recent address to a joint session of Congress when he said “the majority of people convicted in our courts for terrorism-related offenses since 9/11 came here from abroad.”
That term, “terrorism-related,” covers a broad array of convictions that oftentimes have nothing to do with terrorism.
“We also know many people seeking to support or commit terroristic acts will try to enter through our refugee program,” Sessions said. “In fact today more than 300 people, according to the FBI, who came here as refugees are under an FBI investigation today for potential terrorism-related activities.”
“The Department of Justice believes that this executive order, just as the first executive order, is a lawful and proper exercise of presidential authority,” he said.
Kelly, noting that the new ban did not affect legal permanent residents or those “with current authorization to enter our homeland,” maintained that the order focused on “preventing entry.”
“This executive order is prospective in nature,” he said. “Its focus is on preventing entry of new foreign nationals from the six designated countries.”
The order goes into effect on March 16, despite Trump’s repeated claims that delaying the implementation of his original order would have allowed terrorists to enter the country in the interim. After the President successfully read an address to a joint session to Congress last week, unnamed members of his administration told reporters that he delayed the issuance of this new order, so that it would have its own “moment,” one senior administration official told CNN.