Trump Administration Pledges Better Interagency Collaboration on Revised Travel Ban

From left, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly hold a press conference where they vow to collaborate on the new executive order. From left, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly hold a press conference where they vow to collaborate on the new executive order. Susan Walsh/AP

The Trump administration is promising more and improved interagency collaboration in implementing its revised ban on individuals traveling from six majority Muslim countries, senior officials said as the president signed a new executive order Monday.

One of the key differences between the initial January order and the revised document is the White House and the departments of Homeland Security, State and Justice are now “in sync,” with “no daylight” between them, a senior DHS official said. The rollout of Trump’s initial order caused significant confusion and disruption at airports, with uncertainty among Customs and Border Protection and other federal personnel over which travelers were subject to the ban. Senior department officials across government reportedly had not seen the final version of the order until Trump signed it.

This time around the implementation will be an “orderly process,” the senior Homeland Security official said. “We will not see any chaos or alleged chaos." 

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In a show of the newfound interagency collaboration, the leaders of DHS, State and Justice held a joint press briefing Monday morning.

“State will coordinate with other federal agencies and implement these temporary restrictions in an orderly fashion,” Secretary Rex Tillerson said.

As part of that effort, the administration will phase in the new policy gradually. Citizens and nationals of Sudan, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia and Yemen without a valid visa as of Jan. 27, 2017, will still be able to travel to the United States until March 16. Over the next 10 days, the government will provide guidance to federal personnel to ensure they “are not placed in any type of legal jeopardy for carrying out this executive order,” the DHS official said.

“DHS will faithfully execute the immigration laws and the president’s executive orders,” the department said in a statement, “and will treat everyone we encounter humanely and with professionalism.” CBP will issue guidance and contact stakeholders as part of its implementation procedures.

DHS Secretary John Kelly said his employees would be in violation of their sworn oaths if they declined to carry out laws passed by Congress and orders signed by the president. DHS employees are “decent men and women of character and conscience,” Kelly said.

A senior DHS official stressed that any stories of individuals being denied entry into the country between now and the March 16 implementation date would be a result only of normal CBP admissibility decisions and not influenced in any way by the new order. CBP makes those decisions “day in and day out,” the official said. Acting CBP Commissioner Kevin McAleenan may issue waivers to citizens of the six countries on a case-by-case basis when failing to do so would cause “undue burden.”

Other changes from the original order include removing Iraq from the list of countries whose citizens will be banned and making it prospective in nature, meaning those who currently hold legal status or visas will not see their travel disrupted. The new order also removed one of the previous iteration’s most controversial elements: striking the refugee status preference provided to religious minorities. The entire refugee program will still face a 120-day pause, though President Trump has removed the provision banning Syrian refugees indefinitely. Senior administration officials expressed confidence the order will survive legal scrutiny and make moot all outstanding court challenges on the previous version.

Trump tasked DHS, State and the Director of National Intelligence with conducting a “worldwide review” to determine what steps each of the six countries must take to enable the U.S. government to properly assess whether their citizens deserve entry into the country. At the conclusion of that review, an official said, the administration may deem it necessary to extend the ban or add other countries to it. Future bans may be limited to “categories of foreign nationals” in certain countries. The order calls on State to expand the Consular Fellows Program, which hires employees on a four-year contract through limited non-career appointments, including by substantially increasing the number of fellows.

The White House issued a separate presidential memorandum on Monday instructing DHS, State and Justice to implement new protocols and procedures “as soon as practical” for enhanced vetting of visas and other immigration benefits. 

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