The Trump administration announced new restrictions Sunday on visitors from eight countries — an expansion of an existing travel ban that has spurred fierce legal debates over security, immigration and discrimination.
In announcing the new rules, officials said they are meant to be both tough and targeted. The move comes on the day the key portion of President Trump’s travel ban, one that bars the issuance of visas to citizens of six majority-Muslim countries, was due to expire.
“As president, I must act to protect the security and interests of the United States and its people,” Trump wrote in a proclamation announcing the changes for citizens from specific nations. On Twitter, he added: “Making America Safe is my number one priority. We will not admit those into our country we cannot safely vet.”
Trump’s original travel ban, signed as an executive order in the first days of his presidency, was always meant to be a temporary measure while his administration crafted more permanent rules. A senior administration official cautioned that the new restrictions are not meant to last forever, but are “necessary and conditions-based, not time-based.’’
The new travel ban represents the third version offered by the Trump administration.
Three nations were added to the list of countries whose citizens will face the restrictions: Chad, North Korea and Venezuela — although the restrictions on Venezuela are narrowly crafted, targeting that country’s leaders and their family members.
One country, Sudan, fell off the travel ban list issued at the beginning of the year. Senior administration officials said a review of Sudan’s cooperation with the U.S. government on national security and information-sharing showed it was appropriate to remove it from the list.
The new restrictions will be phased in over time, officials said, and the restrictions will not affect anyone who already holds a U.S. visa. For those visitors affected by the changed restrictions, the new rules will go into effect Oct. 18, according to the proclamation.
The new rules vary per country, barring entry into the United States of immigrants and nonimmigrants from Chad, Libya and Yemen, on business, tourist or business-tourist visas. It bars entry of Iranian citizens, as immigrants or nonimmigrants, but provides an exception for Iranian students, provided they receive extra screening. The proclamation bars immigrants and nonimmigrants from North Korea and Syria. It bars immigration by citizens of Somalia.
Critics of the administration have argued that the travel bans are an unconstitutional attempt to deliver on Trump’s campaign promise of “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.” Administration officials deny that any of the bans were aimed at Muslims, saying they are based on security concerns about visitors from countries with failing or weak governments.
“The restrictions either previously or now were never, ever ever based on race, religion or creed,’’ one senior administration official said. “Those governments are simply not compliant with our basic security requirements.”
Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, said adding North Korea and Venezuela to the administration’s list does not fix the travel ban’s core problem.
“President Trump’s original sin of targeting Muslims,” he said, “cannot be cured by throwing other countries onto his enemies list.”
The original version, signed as an executive order in January, blocked citizens of seven majority-Muslim countries — Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Somalia, Libya, Yemen and Syria — as well as all refugees across the globe.
When that measure was blocked in court, Trump signed a revised order removing Iraq from the banned list and only barring the issuance of visas to citizens of the six remaining countries and all refugees.
The second order, too, was blocked by judges, but the Supreme Court in June allowed it to go into effect with a significant caveat. The administration, the court said, could not block from entering the country those with a “bona fide” connection to the United States, such as family members or those with firm offers of employment.
The ban on citizens of the six countries was to last 90 days; the ban on refugees was to last 120 days. The refugee ban is set to expire Oct. 24, and it was not immediately clear what impact the new restrictions might have on it.
The Supreme Court has scheduled arguments for Oct. 10 on whether the measure, at its core, is legal. The Justice Department signaled Sunday night that the new rules could affect how the court handles the case — lawyers for the administration filed a letter asking for new court briefs to address issues raised by the new rules.
In explaining how the administration came to cite these eight countries, officials said many governments already met U.S. requests — using secure biometric passports, for example, and willingly passing along terrorism and criminal-history information. Others agreed to make changes and share more data. But some were either unable or unwilling to give the United States what it needed, officials said.
The president had signaled earlier this month that an expansion of the travel ban was likely. Citing an attack in London, Trump wrote on Twitter, “The travel ban into the United States should be far larger, tougher and more specific — but stupidly, that would not be politically correct!”
Robert Barnes contributed to this report.