The watered-down travel ban that President Donald Trump ordered Monday may be easier to legally defend than the more sweeping one that was poorly drafted and blocked by the courts. But this revised version remains terrible public policy that is not supported by the facts. Such an arbitrary approach will harden anti-American sentiment around the world and will not better protect the nation from terrorists.
The order Trump signed at the White House imposes a 90-day ban on new visas for citizens of six majority-Muslim countries: Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. America will suspend its refugee program for 120 days and accept no more than 50,000 refugees next year, about half the cap set by the Obama administration. The Trump administration said it would enforce the provisions "humanely" and professionally as it works to toughen the vetting process to ensure that nationals from the six countries do not pose a threat to American security.
The new guidelines shave down the harder edges of ban that a federal district court judge in Washington state suspended last month, a decision upheld unanimously by a three-judge federal appeals panel for the 9th Circuit. The ban will not affect legal permanent residents, those holding visas and dual citizens from entering the country. It no longer includes a provision that offered a religious preference to Christians, prompting critics to tag the measure as a Muslim ban, and it removes Iraq from the list of target countries after Trump officials maintained that Iraq had agreed to tougher vetting.
Still, the administration has not made a convincing case for singling out these nations, or explained what it hopes to gain by putting a pause on travel and the refugee program. Officials did not address what Iraq had said or done to be removed from the list, making it apparent the decision was politically inspired to stem the backlash in Iraq and avoid upsetting U.S.-led efforts there to fight the Islamic State.
The administration offers a broad justification for the ban, forgoing any specifics about the threat levels from these states or the reasons why the government cannot improve security without a temporary ban. In fact, since 9/11 there have been no fatal terrorist attacks in this country by assailants with family connections in the six countries covered by the ban (there have been at least three nonfatal incidents where the attackers were from Iran or Somalia). The order will not take effect until March 16, undercutting the White House's argument that these countries pose a pressing security threat. And while the administration removed the specific religious preference for Christians, many in the Muslim world still see the United States as targeting people of one religion.
Monday's rollout was as much an exercise in face-saving as it was about policy. Having lost the first round in court and after an embarrassing weekend, the White House sought to distance Trump from a controversial issue he has personalized since before winning election. The president signed the order in private, and dispatched his secretaries of state and homeland security and the attorney general to announce the order to the press. They did not take reporters' questions.
The revised ban was widely expected and will affect fewer people, and it likely won't cause the same level of chaos as the original order. But there still is no justification for a blanket ban on these countries, or for taking a significant step to curb the resettlement of refugees.